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Ol’ Dirty Bastard: The Brilliant Artist Behind the Legendary Antics

In his decades as an A&R representative for Tommy Boy, Elektra Records, and elsewhere, Dante Ross has worked closely with some of hip-hop’s greatest artists, including De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Brand Nubian, and many more. In this excerpt from his 2023 memoir, Son of the City, Ross recalls his close association with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, from signing him in 1993 to making his classic 1995 solo debut.

FROM 1990 TO 1999, The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show aired on Columbia University’s community radio station WKCR — a listener-supported station, meaning it was commercial-free. It was hosted by a DJ named Adrian Bartos, a.k.a. Stretch Armstrong, and my boy, Bobbito Garcia. The show was an organic, free-form platform for 1990s rappers, which ran the gamut talent-wise from Biggie Smalls to Hieroglyphics, and everyone imaginable in between. Future superstars Jay-Z, Big Pun, and Nasty Nas all made their way to “89 Tech Nine,” as the show was known.

The show was a major outlet for my artists, as well as a great place to spot emerging talent — not to mention my favorite place to hang late night on a Thursday eve. They came on the air at 1 p.m. and rocked until five in the morn. I rarely missed a show. The amazing thing is that, for all the history that came through its doors, KCR was a dumpy little studio with a broadcast board on the way out. There were a few bummy couches and a low ceiling and some charming fluorescent lights to add to the character. To enter the studio, you walked up several flights of stairs and passed through a labyrinth-like record library that I boosted a few joints from over the years. The whole place had a funky ambience to it. It was not lush in any sense of the word. It was, however, historic, and it had vibes. Heavy vibes. The show was where you needed to be if you were an MC and serious about your spit game in the early Nineties. There were no other proving grounds like it.

I was home listening one spring night in 1993 when I heard Bobbito say that one of that evening’s guests was going to be Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Being a Wu-Tang fan already and thinking that ODB was one of the crew’s potential breakout stars, I listened intently. I was aware that he was available for a solo deal, since Steve Rifkind, the president of Loud Records, had apparently agreed to a deal with the Wu that allowed all of its individual members to pursue solo careers. My friend Matty C, a future A&R legend (who at the time worked at The Source magazine and would later work at Loud Records), had let me in on the info. I was intrigued with the idea.

Over the air, I could hear that the tiny studio was crammed with Dirty, RZA, and a few other members of the mighty Wu-Tang Clan. The energy was pure hip-hop, reminiscent of a basement cipher, as often was the case on the show. The Wu had a beyond-healthy buzz. They also cultivated a real sense of danger that made them all the more exciting. The music was lo-fi and off-kilter. To me it felt very punk rock, and this is why I believe they eventually connected deeply with white alt-rock audiences.

I listened closely as I heard Dirty rock over the “Protect Ya Neck” beat for an ungodly number of bars. It was a spectacular performance. I can’t believe there wasn’t a herd of A&R cats headed up there to try to sign him. I realized later on that many of the lyrics he kicked that night would end up on various Wu and Dirty solo cuts, including a scorching verse from “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and some of “Brooklyn Zoo,” unbeknownst to me at the time.

His “freestyle” was amazing, as was “Protect Ya Neck,” a song that rewrote all the rules of what a hit song should be. The song contains no chorus to speak of — just a posse cut of unknown rappers, who happened to be some of the best in the game, spitting a verse each. Couple that with the kung fu–friendly name and sound effects, and it was something unique, creative, and visionary. I was jumping out of my skin, so I called the station and asked if I could come through. Luckily, I had carte blanche to pop in anytime.

Fifteen minutes later, I entered the studio to see Dirty, RZA, and a few other Wu-Tang members. The Wu posse were dressed in the soon-to-be-infamous Wu Army fatigue-style gear. They were, for the most part, sans jewelry, which I found interesting since that was the prevalent style in hip-hop at the time. They sounded and looked unique. I was impressed.

I quickly introduced myself to RZA.

“What up, I’m Dante Ross, I been digging what you’re doing for a second now. What’s going on, G?”

“Peace,” he said. “I know who you are.”

I was a little surprised and somewhat happy to be honest.

“I met you with the God Melquan, when I was making that other shit,” RZA said.

Melquan was someone I knew from the Latin Quarters days. It was the first time I connected that RZA, the abbot of the Wu, was formerly Rakeem, who had released an ode to the ladies on Tommy Boy titled, awkwardly enough, “We Love You Rakeem.” Let’s just say some reinvention had happened. Or better yet, a de-evolution of sorts had occurred. RZA was no longer trying to fit in a box. Rather, he was giving the world an honest, raw, and uncut vision of who he really was.

We both chuckled, and the ice had been broken. RZA is a funny cat, very charming, and extremely sharp. He had a wise calm about him and a disarming sense of humor. He oozed charisma. I liked the guy immediately. I started to hit him up about signing Dirty and Meth as a duo. I thought they would be the new Run-D.M.C. or some crazy shit. Where I got the balls to pitch this idea, I’ll never know. RZA, however, already had a game plan firmly in place and slowed me down — politely, I might add.

“Yo, let’s get up tomorrow at your office and build, son,” he said.

He missed the meeting the next day, but build we would. He did come see me that following week, actually showing up with several Wu members, including Dirty, their co-manager Mookie, and Inspectah Deck, but not Meth. This was concerning for me, as I hadn’t given up on my master plan to sign Meth and Dirty. I explained my idea to RZA again, but in a matter of seconds he shot me down.

“Your thought’s ill, but that’s not the science,” he said. “Meth is going to be with Russell and them at Def Jam.” He explained to me the Wu-Tang Clan was going to sign to Loud, which I thought was already done. Apparently it wasn’t, though RZA told me he had committed verbally to Steve Rifkind, hence why I never had a shot at signing the Wu-Tang Clan, though technically I did sign ODB before the Wu-Tang Clan officially closed their deal.

RZA noted that my roster of acts was “dusted,” the street slang for forward-thinking, dysfunctional, creative, and, well…dusted. Dirty being a part of my team made perfect sense since I had the “Gods” on my roster. Several of my acts, including Brand Nubian and Busta Rhymes, were also Five Percenters, just like RZA and ODB. I was open to the idea because I knew I was going to get at least one of the brightest stars in the Wu-Tang Clan. That day, RZA told me that Dirty would be the first gold rap record on Elektra. This was a testament to his confidence. Little did I know how important Raekwon and Ghostface would be down the line, or I would have tried to sign them as well.

I have to say, if I hadn’t run up to the station that day, I don’t think I would have gotten Dirty. The rap game has always been all about relationships, and the fact that I’d always supported my brothers Stretch and Bobbito to the fullest opened the door to my relationship with Dirty and blessed me with hundreds of memories with the man. During our working relationship, Dirty and I developed an unusually close friendship. It would be an understatement to say it was a wild ride.

MY NEW BOSS at Elektra, Sylvia Rhone, was not, in any sense of the word, enamored with me at this time. But I did have the crown jewel in my back pocket, and that was one Russell Jones, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Make no mistake, before the drugs got my man, ODB was without a doubt one of the most creative artists I’ve ever worked with.

His vision for his first record cover was an example of this.

“D, I got thoughts, crazy thoughts for the record cover,” he said in his Dirt McGirt speak.

I listened intently as he explained.

“My welfare card should be the cover, son.”

I thought for a second and remembered that UB40 had done the same a good ten years-plus prior on a record called Signing Off. There was a precedent for it, so I figured maybe we could do it, too. I marched Dirty upstairs to the art department and found my groovy coworker, Ali Truch.

“Can I use the color copy machine for a few?” I asked her. This was before the days when scanners were commonplace in offices.

“What are you working on?” she asked.

Dirty quickly blurted out his entire record cover plot. Ali, being a rap enthusiast, laughed and helped us blow up his welfare card using her color Xerox machine. The image itself was super-pixelated, but the idea clearly came across in full. She then suggested we turn the New York State logos into Wu-Tang “W”s, which we added later. She thought the record cover would fly, as did I. She asked to borrow his card for a few hours, and she quickly mocked up a little something for us. When she came down to my office with the prototype, we were immediately blown away. She then offered to show it to the record company higher-ups, which she did.

A few days later, we got the seal of approval to roll with Dirty’s welfare card record cover concept. This was a prime example of Dirty’s focused vision. He was a performer who had one of the most astute understandings of his own career path I’d ever witnessed. Another example of his genius was the photo shoot for Return to the 36 Chambers. When it came time to shoot the photos for the record, we basically had no idea what we were going to do outside of capturing an image for the mock welfare card. I hired Danny Clinch, an old pro and all-around great guy, who had also shot record covers for the likes of both Pete Rock and Nas.

Danny shot Dirty in the studio for an hour or so, capturing the needed image. He had the location van outside ready to go. We knew we would need shots for the LP package, but we didn’t really have a concept in mind. Danny wisely asked Dirty if he had any thoughts. Dirty took that as a signal to go for it creatively and suggested we roll to his old stomping grounds in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn, and specifically, the house of his cousin, 60 Second Assassin.

“His rest looks fucked up,” Dirty said.

After Dirty told his cousin we were en route, we headed out to Bed Stuy. Today it looks like a hipster carnival, but back then it was one of the most dangerous hoods in all of Brooklyn. Upon arrival, the location driver was so shook that he threatened to leave. Now, you have to understand the lay of the land. We were in the cut — on a block that housed two chop shops, a weed spot, and God knows what else. Add a crack spot around the corner, and you get the picture. We were in the heart of the Stuy. Shit was no joke, and we were a crew of white people led by ODB. It was a pretty comical, yet legitimately treacherous scene. ODB quickly solved the problem by getting two of his neighborhood cohorts to guard the van and make the driver feel a bit safer.

We proceeded to 60 Second Assassin’s humble abode on the fifth floor of a godforsaken tenement. I had grown up around shit like this, so I was used to it. I suspected Danny was not, but he didn’t skip a beat when it came time to get busy. He was a trooper. When we entered the apartment, Dirty went into art director mode.

“This crib ain’t fucked up enough,” he said.

He sent Danny’s assistant to the store to get ten blunts, some 40s, and some hood snacks. When she returned, Dirty proceeded to guzzle down a 40, empty the blunt guts onto the floor, and open the snacks and carefully arrange them around the pad. Next, he stacked two broken radios on top of each other and took off his shirt.

“Let’s do this,” he said.

Danny snapped off a few test shots then dove in headfirst, creating one of the most definitive rap music images of all time. That same day, after the shoot, Dirty walked me to the weed spot down the block. When we walked in, the hustlers who ran the spot looked at me suspiciously.

“He’s not a cop,” Dirty said. “It’s all good. Sell him a few bags.”

And so they did, chuckling at Dirty’s antics the whole time. I copped two bags of Brooklyn Brown, a.k.a. dirt weed, and proceeded to smoke a blunt in the location van. It was the sweet smell of victory, if you will.

“And they thought you was a DT [detective],” Dirty said, laughing.

THROUGHOUT MY ENTIRE life as an A&R man and record producer, rappers have always been trying to borrow money from me. One thing, though: When a rapper asks for a loan, he isn’t really borrowing money, he is simply jerking you. I got got a few times by the likes of Grand Puba and Charlie Brown, and I’d learned the hard way: Do not lend an artist money. You will not get it back. In fact, only two rappers have ever paid me back: Everlast (my best friend, no less), and of all people, ODB.

Of course, Dirty’s motives for paying me back weren’t quite as pure as Everlast’s had been.

On a Sunday afternoon, I was at my pad in Greenwich Village watching the NBA finals with a few of my old graffiti writing crew. There was Wolf, my big homie Team, and my ace Paul Moore, a Black kid from BK who Dirty knew, as he’d been in L.A. with me when ODB came through on a West Coast promo tour a few months earlier. Mid-game, Dirty hit me up by phone. “Yo, D, I got that hundred dollars I owe you,” he said. “I’m a swing by and give you that.”

I told my boys Dirty was going to stop by, and they were understandably excited by the prospect. Sometime around the end of the third quarter, Dirty rang my bell. As soon as I answered, he charged up my stairs. Upon seeing my boys on the couch, Dirty stopped short.

“That’s the most white boys I ever seen you with, n*****,” he said, using the word he called me constantly. I’m not a fan of the word, but coming from Dirty, I felt oddly honored.

I pointed out Paul.

“Yeah, that’s what I mean. I never seen you with so many white boys before,” Dirt cracked.

My friends all started laughing their asses off, Paul included.

Dirty pulled out five crisp twenty-dollar bills and asked me where the bathroom was. I pointed toward the shitter. He charged toward the bathroom with a wide grin on his face. I knew I was in for it, and so did my boys, who started with the snaps instantly.

Dirty shut himself up in the bathroom, and several minutes passed. “Man, I think he’s melting porcelain in there,” Paul said.

“D, you’re gonna have to get a new throne when he’s done,” Wolf chimed in.

We all laughed at this. A few minutes passed, and Dirty still hadn’t emerged. “We need to get some crime scene tape around the door, ’cause that shit’s definitely a felony,” my man Paul said.

I took some gaffers tape I had laying on my coffee table and put it across the door. Dirty heard us laughing and started cracking wise while on the toilet.

“Y’all know I saved this one up for ya, right?” he said through the door. This just made us all start cracking up even more.

“I can smell it through the door,” I said. Though not true, it seemed possible.

“The air freshener’s under the sink,” I yelled to no avail.

Several more moments passed. Dirty finally opened the door. Upon seeing the mock crime scene, complete with tape, he started rolling.

“Y’all some funny motherfuckers,” he said with a huge ODB smile.

By this point, he had us all doubled over. He then proceeded to spray about half a can of air freshener all over the bathroom, living room, and kitchen, grinning the whole time. Even so, the stench wafting out of the bathroom was putrid.

“That’s it, my bathroom’s officially out of service,” I declared, causing more laughter, and prompting me to make a “Condemned by the ODB” sign for my bathroom door later that day.

Dirty said his goodbyes and gave me a super warm hug before he left. His appearance at my apartment that day has become legendary amongst that group of friends, and this is the Dirty I always keep close to my heart.

That day, not only had my friends touched greatness, but they had smelled it as well.

AMID THE SHENANIGANS with Dirty, I was having a rough time at Elektra. I had a new boss and had caught a bad one with the second Pete Rock and CL Smooth album, The Main Ingredient, though I still believe that record is amazing. There was no “They Reminisce Over You” on it, and Sylvia was not a big fan of the record. She didn’t hear a hit, and she might have been right.

Late in the spring of 1995, I had just left Elektra and was in the process of starting my own label to be distributed by Def Jam. My office at Def Jam was, conveniently, right next door to my friend Chris Lighty. While shooting the shit one afternoon, he mentioned trying to get ODB to guest on an LL Cool J song, asking me if I could make it happen. At the time, Chris was the head of A&R at Def Jam, and LL was in the process of yet another reinvention after the mixed response to his last album, 14 Shots to the Dome. Chris and I had broken a lot of bread over the years, dating back to my early days in the game when he was better known as “Baby Chris” of the Violators. Chris and his crew were a wild bunch of street cats from the Bronx known for being able to handle their biz. He’d since become a huge force in the rap game.

I put Chris directly in touch with Dirty, who was pistol-hot and riding the wave of his first solo record’s immediate success. Everything seemed fine, that is until Dirty showed up at Chung King Studios wasted with a deranged sidekick, Crazy Sam, a wild hoodlum of a man who’d somehow ended up on a local TV show called Video Music Box and had made himself into a celebrity of sorts. You never knew what might jump off when he was in the mix. He and Dirty together were a volatile combo. On top of that, Sam and Chris had some kind of long-simmering beef, and the bad vibes quickly engulfed the room.

LL was not at the session, a fact that Dirty did not fail to notice.

“Fuck LL Cool J, n**** ain’t even here to rock with a n****,” Dirty said. “He ain’t a real mutherfucker. He doesn’t even wanna chill with Dirt McGirt, do he? He just wants the God’s vibes, but he can’t come and fuck with the God?”

Needless to say, Chris was not thrilled.

Dirty was doing a bunch of angel dust around this time, so I think he was probably on that, but it could have easily been booze or something worse. Things escalated to the point where Chris was ready to get into it with Dirty and Crazy Sam. When Sam made the mistake of acting like he had a biscuit on him, Chris let it be known he was actually packing. It was a tough spot for me. I had respect and love for Chris and Dirty as well, even if Dirty was being a complete asshole. At this point, I literally put my ass on the line and got between them.

Sam motioned for something, and Chris broke it down for him. “You pull anything out, it’d better be a sandwich, cause you gonna eat it, my man,” he said. This slowed Sam down a notch.

Dirty, who had been paid several thousand dollars, made it known he wasn’t giving any money back to anyone, which only increased tensions. The look on Chris’s face said it all. To this day, I am still surprised nobody got shot. Chris and his people were serious cats, and I honestly think if I hadn’t been there, violence would have erupted. I told Sam in no uncertain terms to chill and ushered Chris out of the studio and over to the elevator. “I’ll get Dirty out of the studio, and I swear the studio time won’t get charged to LL,” I said, even though it later was. Shit happens.

Chris let it be known he was going to see Crazy Sam one day.

“You mutherfuckers best never come to the Tunnel,” he said. At the time, Sunday night at the Tunnel was the most important night in hip-hop nightlife, and Chris ran it.

When Chris finally left the building, I breathed a deep sigh of relief, only to turn around and see Dirty grab an LL plaque off the wall.

“LL, fuck a LL, I’ll piss on a LL,” he said to nobody in particular. “N***** won’t even hang out with Dirty but wants to do songs with Dirty. Fuck that mutherfucker.”

Dirty then whipped out his dick and without hesitation preceded to piss on the plaque. I scolded him midstream, but he just laughed it off in true ODB fashion. I hit the office, spoke to the terrified studio manager — who at this point was in tears —and ended the session.

Dante Ross in New York, March 1993.

David Corio/Courtesy of Rare Bird Lit

ONE EVENING, I accompanied Dirty, his brother 12 O’clock, his cousin 60 Second Assassin, and my coworker Mike Jones for a meal before Dirty was scheduled to perform at the Palladium after cohosting the countdown on Hot 97 with Funkmaster Flex. We decided to eat at the Coffee Shop, a trendy eatery off Union Square that was close to the venue. As we approached the restaurant, we were stopped at the door by security who asked us for ID. I found this weird. Then again, I was in the company of some pretty rugged-looking characters. The white “doorman” flanked by his two Black security guards was giving us a hard time.

As things got tense, multiple TVs behind the doorman started playing the “C.R.E.A.M” music video. Dirty, who could not find his ID, pointed and said, “There’s my fucking ID.”

The security did a double take just as Dirty appeared on the screen, and he started laughing. The doorman still held his ground, that is until Dirt Dog pulled out his just-released album, cover and all. The security guards who had been standing outside in the bitter cold when we pulled up started cracking up. One of them asked for an autograph, and Dirty obliged.

The doorman was baffled by what was going on, but still he changed his tune realizing he was being a dick to someone potentially famous. He opened the inside door for us, but not before Dirty could have a word with the security guards. Dirty looked the two security cats dead in the grill and shot them the God’s honest truth and asked ’em, “You ever wonder why you’re outside in the cold when there’s devils inside all warm and shit?”

That day was sort of a microcosm of my whole time working with Dirty. I never knew what was coming next, and whatever was coming was usually crazy, but our interactions were also always filled with laughter and what I can only call some perverse form of innocence that Dirty possessed, if that makes any sense.

As great as it all was in hindsight, there was as much danger as there was just plain crazy behavior. On the crazy side, there was the time in the spring of 1995 when Dirty received public fellatio in front of several hundred people at the How Can I Be Down? Music Conference in Miami. Prior to ruining the Def Jam showcase, he found a young white groupie chick and proceeded to have her give him a very public blowjob.

“You wanna see me get it Elektra style?” he asked.

This cracked me up and disgusted me at the same time. Why he decided to refer to this public sex act as “Elektra style” only Dirty knows. Not yet having created the maximum amount of drama, Dirty ended his evening by bum-rushing the dancehall star and newly signed Def Jam artist Capleton’s show and ruining his performance. A melee erupted onstage between several of Dirty’s people and Capleton’s yardman posse. Somehow, Dirty emerged unscathed. That wouldn’t always be the case.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the last time he bum-rushed the stage, either. Right around the time “Brooklyn Zoo” dropped and was really gathering steam, he did it to the Lost Boyz at the Palladium in New York City. After they performed their debut hit “Lifestyles of the Rich and Shameless,” he strolled out onto the stage right in the middle of their set and intimidated the sound man into putting on his DAT tape, so he could drop the brand-new “Brooklyn Zoo,” plus his then as-yet-unreleased anthem “Shimmy Shimmy Ya.” He turned and addressed the thousand-plus people in the crowd, yelling at them. “Make some motherfucking noise if you love the Wu,” he shouted.

They did as instructed.

“Do you want me to give it to you raw?” he called out. “Are you fucking with that Brooklyn Zoo?”

The crowd was going nuts, and the tension between Dirty and the Lost Boyz, whose show he was ruining, was growing by the second. Dirty did both “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and absolutely destroyed it. The crowd erupted, furthering the Lost Boyz’ anger.

Sure enough, after Dirty was finished, while still on stage, the Lost Boyz surrounded us. But just as soon as they did, Dirty’s gang of ten-plus Brooklyn Zoo cats stepped up, creating a standoff of sorts that looked like it might end in mass mayhem. If it had jumped off, I’m sure someone would have gotten shot — most likely me. Thankfully, the lead Lost Boy, Mr. Cheeks, calmed down his boys, while I, with the help of 60 Second Assassin, cooled out the Brooklyn Zoo. It didn’t go down, but I was scared shitless nonetheless. I also feared that the next time I ran into the Lost Boyz, I was going to get a beating. If the evening’s master of ceremonies, Big Kap, hadn’t been on stage to mediate, I am positive something ugly would have happened. After the performance, Dirty and his crew were quickly escorted out of the venue for obvious reasons.

Rest in peace, Big Kap. You saved my ass that night.

THINGS GOT SO crazy with ODB that it almost seemed normal. For instance, over the course of just one month: He was arrested and hospitalized for jumping out of a second-story window in Queens after being attacked by a dog in a stranger’s house he had randomly invaded. I suspected substances were the reason he’d run into a neighbor’s house, as substances were usually involved with Dirty. He also got shot on a corner in Bed Stuy for refusing to run his jewels. I remember finding it really odd that when he got shot, he didn’t want to let anyone know where he was, not even his cousin, Buddha Monk, who was his right-hand man. After this incident, the New York Post somehow tracked me down to ask me questions about Dirty, but I didn’t tell them shit.

The media continuously tried to portray him as the poster child for what was wrong with hip-hop. They dismissed him as some kind of ghetto clown, and it pissed me off because there was more to him than that. I was there the time he called his mom to play “Sweet Sugar Pie” over the phone for her.

“Mama, I made that song for you,” he said, erupting into tears.

I couldn’t tell what she said on the other end of the call, but whatever it was, it made him break down even harder.

“I’m gonna make you proud, Mama,” he said.

It was an awkward sight, seeing the craziest cat I’ve ever worked with getting real with his mom. But Dirty was a multifaceted person and much deeper than most thought.

After the now-infamous welfare check-cashing fiasco on MTV, Dirty called me sobbing. He’d agreed to allow MTV to film him arriving in a limo to cash his welfare check for the segment. How the publicists at Elektra allowed him to do such a thing is beyond me, but I wasn’t informed of it at the time. If I had been, it never would have gone down.

As it was, an intoxicated ODB allowed MTV to follow him as he got out of a limo, cashed his welfare check, and took a piss on the Brooklyn promenade, all while his family waited on him in the ride. Maybe he should have known better. I always felt he got set up to look like an idiot in front of the whole world, but who knows. It almost cost him his kids, as they came close to being made wards of the state behind that bullshit. It still bothers me to this day.

While this incident propelled his legend, I also feel it lent to the thought that he was a buffoon — an image that a segment of white America has held on to. I find it offensive, and I think it speaks to a bigger, thinly veiled notion of racism. It is easier for white America to celebrate a Black man as a buffoon rather than an important artist. It’s that ironic hipster nonsense that made white people celebrate Gucci Mane’s public dysfunction as well as Flavor Flav, DMX, and countless other rappers. I personally find that kind of bullshit offensive. Dirty was never a clown to me; he was a great artist, and that is how I choose to remember my friend.

I was in L.A. working at the time the MTV segment aired, and I remember Dirty calling me about the incident. I could hear the pain in his voice as he expressed how much he felt like he’d been played. He was worried he was going to lose his “seeds” to the state and said that felt he had been set up by “devils.” He was scared that his bullshit was going to catch up with him. It was one of the only times I heard remorse in his voice. I felt for the man. He loved his kids above and beyond everything, and he realized MTV made him out to be a drunken fool.

“I ain’t a motherfuckin joke,” he said.

To me, ODB was never a joke, just an eccentric, misguided bug-out who’d been raised in group homes, on the street, and in juvie halls. He wasn’t built for the success the world gave him. He was a wild cat, but not the buffoon he’s often made out to be. Yes, I saw him attempt to ruin the Grammy Awards with a drunk diatribe when the Wu didn’t win the Best Rap Grammy, stating, “Wu-Tang’s for the children.”

But he was much more than that guy. And fuck it, that guy was awesome, too.

Over the years, I also had the pleasure of helping him get the Mariah Carey “Fantasy” remix gig after a phone call from Steve Rifkind. I saw him conceive most of his own videos, rap to every chick he ever came across, love his kids and then-wife, Icelene, and routinely eat a box of a dozen Entenmann’s chocolate doughnuts for breakfast and wash it down with a bottle of Cisco. On one trip to L.A., I took him to get a penicillin shot, and then helped teach him the wonders of eating sushi.

Much to my chagrin, he liked to scarf down sashimi while proclaiming, “Baby, I like it raw.”

While in the midst of working on Dirty’s record, I clearly remember thinking: I have to get this one to the finish line. It may never happen again. I somehow knew it would be an important moment in time, one that had to be captured for the world to absorb and then have forever. I knew it would be a crucial part of his legacy — and, selfishly, my legacy. I was right on both accounts. Despite Sylvia Rhone’s perpetually disparaging words about his behavior, I forged on. I felt like there was a potential self-destruct button on Dirty and the record, and that at any time, it could go off the rails, and something tragic could happen. RZA, for reasons only he can explain, was largely absent during the mixing process, and it was often Dirty, his cousin Buddha Monk, the engineer Jack Hersca, and me, trying to get this record to the goal line, inch by inch.

I took it upon myself — along with Jack Hersca and my assistant, Rick Posada — to start to mix the record. RZA’s sporadic appearances made it difficult to get the mixes right since at the end of the day they would all need his approval. He was busy crafting albums for Method Man, GZA, and Raekwon, as well as dealing with the success of Enter the Wu-Tang. (I would find out many years later that his studio in Staten Island had been flooded, causing him to lose two vital works in progress — GZA’s Liquid Swords and Raekwon’s epic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx — hence his focus was on literally recreating these records.)

RZA had his own complex science to making records, and I did not possess his manual, which left me in a lurch several times. There were a few songs I had to mix multiple times. I just couldn’t get them to sound right, specifically “Brooklyn Zoo.” I was having a miserable time trying to get the kick and snare to pop. After mixing it and failing three times, me and Rick decided to chop up a break to back up the kick and the snare already in the track. This fourth mix worked and became the version you know. The funniest thing is RZA and True Master, who I only encountered once or twice, never seemed to notice or care.

One thing people don’t know is that Dirty did not write a lot of rhymes. In fact, 12 O’clock, GZA, and others all had a hand in helping him craft his lyrics — not that it really matters. Dirty delivered them in a style that has never been replicated. His unbridled, no-holds-barred delivery remains unique. It’s the reason that, despite all the antics, he remains an icon. If he didn’t make great records, the antics wouldn’t have had an audience — something that is overlooked way too often for my liking.

I remember pleading with Dirty to give me a second verse on “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and showing up to the studio and him playing me his backward verse and laughing his ass off. I was tight, and he nonchalantly told me, “Your man Q-Tip used the same verse on ‘Sucker N****s’ and that was ill, right?”

I had very little argument for him that day.

And you know what? Nobody ever seemed to care except me!

Making this record took more than a little babysitting, and it was a ton of work. Honestly, there were times I wasn’t sure if I was going to finish before he self-destructed. When it was finally finished, I emphatically knew we had the goods. RZA did, too.

And to be clear, the genius of this record was all RZA and Dirty. They thought this record out for a long time.


I loved Dirty, but unfortunately, I only got to make that one record with him. By the time he was ready to make N**** Please, I was already writing the next chapter of my own musical career. I will say this: Dirty is absolutely the biggest character I ever had the pleasure to work with, and for all of the memories, one of my proudest achievements as an A&R person. As hectic as the making of this record was, and how taxing ’94 and ’95 had been mentally and professionally, I delivered it to the finish line. I had caught lightning in a bottle, so to speak. I thank RZA for believing in me enough to put Dirty on Elektra. That experience changed my life immeasurably. I owe this all to the strength of this record, to the RZA, and to something bigger than me that allowed this testament to the man’s life to see the light of day.

Copyright © 2023 by Dante Ross

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