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The Wu-Tang Clan's chief producer, the RZA (aka the Abbott, Prince Rakeem, the Rzarector, Bobby Steels, and Bobby Digital) was born Robert Diggs. He first surfaced in the early '90s as a member of the rap unit All in Together Now, a group that also featured fellow Wu-Tang members the Genius (aka GZA) and Ol' Dirty Bastard. Following All in Together Now's dissolution, he signed to Tommy Boy under the name Prince Rakeem, issuing the 1991 EP Ooh I Love You Rakeem before joining the Wu-Tang; the group's 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was one of the most influential hip-hop records of the era, with RZA's lean, menacing production work much imitated throughout the rap community in the years to follow. In addition to remaining a member of the loose-knit Wu-Tang family and producing many of the group members' solo efforts, RZA also joined the Gravediggaz, helming their 1995 debut 6 Feet Deep; his first full-length solo LP, RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo, followed in 1998. In 1999, RZA Hits, a compilation of some of the Wu-Tang family's best-known tracks, from both group and solo projects, was released under RZA's name. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, his soundtrack for the Jim Jarmusch film -- in which he made a cameo, beginning a series of small acting roles -- was released in 2000. One year later, he released his second Bobby Digital record, Digital Bullet. A mix album, The World According to RZA, followed in 2003, as did his third official solo album, The Birth of a Prince. He continued to field soundtrack work, including Quentin Tarantino's two-volume Kill Bill films and the Japanese animation series Afro Samurai, as documented on 2007's Afro Samurai and 2009's Afro Samurai: The Resurrection. Tarantino then persuaded the producer to finish a full-length movie script he had been working on. With Eli Roth as his co-writer, shooting began in 2011 on the RZA-written and directed film The Man with the Iron Fists. Both the film and its soundtrack landed in 2012 featuring music from the RZA and his Wu-Tang associates Ghostface Killah and Method Man, along with tracks from Kanye West and the Black Keys. While RZA continued his contributions to Hollywood -- starring in films like G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Brick Mansions -- he wouldn't return to the music world until 2014. That year, Wu-Tang released their sixth LP, A Better Tomorrow, which peaked in the Billboard Top 40. RZA also produced an EP titled Only One Place to Get It, a project distributed for free by Dr. Pepper. The four songs featured guests Rockie Fresh, Tinashe, RAC, and Robert DeLonge over RZA's production. Another Wu album arrived the next year with much fanfare and controversy. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was a limited-edition double album, so limited, in fact, that only one copy of the album exists. It was purchased for two-million dollars with the stipulation that it cannot be commercially distributed until 2103. After negative fan reaction, RZA announced that part of the proceeds from the sale would go to charity. Taking a step back from Wu-Tang, RZA joined forces with Interpol frontman Paul Banks for their collaborative project Banks & Steelz. Anything But Words arrived in August 2016 and featured guest appearances by Ghostface Killah, Kool Keith, Method Man, Masta Killa, and Florence Welch. ~ Jason Ankeny & Neil Z. Yeung
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July 5, 1969 in Brooklyn, NY
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