When Ol’ Dirty Bastard (born Russell Tyrone Jones), a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, died in 2004 at the age of 35, he left behind more than grieving fans and family.
He left behind a legacy, including a rapper and close friend named Buddha Monk, who has vowed to keep ODB’s dignity and love of the music industry alive. How is Buddha Monk doing this? By continuing to make creative music and cultivate the best undiscovered talent.
Buddha (born Ellery Chambers), 44, was once that undiscovered talent. In fact, it was ODB that brought Buddha Monk to the Wu Tang Clan and it was ODB that gave Buddha his name.
Buddha Monk became a key rapper, producer, DJ and eventual member of the Brooklyn Zu, a Wu-Tang affiliate. He has worked prolifically with other Wu affiliates, including Da Manchuz and Zu Ninjaz. Buddha Monk has released The Prophecy (1998), Unreleased Chambers (2008), The Dark Knight (2013) as well as various mixtapes.
Most recently, he has released a book entitled, “The Dirty Version,” a behind-the-scenes look at the music industry and Buddha Monk’s relationship with Ol’ Dirty Bastard, during their tumultuous ascension and until ODB’s untimely death.
On Thursday, November 6, at 6:30pm, at Restoration Plaza and in conjunction with Greenlight Bookstore, Buddha Monk will be in conversation with Mickey Hess, co-author of “The Dirty Version,” an event entitled, “Remembering ODB in Bed-Stuy.”The Brooklyn Reader sat down with Buddha Monk recently to get the 411 on where he has been all these years, what led him to writing a book, and his connection to Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.
The Brooklyn Reader: Are you still part of the Wu Fam? If so, what is your connection?
Buddha Monk: Of course, I’ma always be a part of Wu-Tang! Once you’ve been there, the world knows it now. I’m still doing shows with them, me, Method Man, Ghost Face, Raekwon, if they’re doing shows, I get on stage and I’m performing, and if they’re in town and I’m performing, they get on stage. We support each other still. Always.
BR: What are you doing right now, artistically?
BM: I have a couple of groups. Me and Brooklyn Zoo just got back together. I’ve been a part of Dirty’s whole entourage. The loyalty was there, he knew I would never leave him. But we went through a slump for a minute. They had their reasons; I had my reason. Basically I write songs for people all around the world. I’m living good off the stuff that I do all around the world. There’s people that want my production, my voice on their album. “Heissman Blackbush the Movement” is a new group I’m working on now. My other group is Zu-Bulliez. I’m also working on an R&B album called Hash Browns, and a solo R&B album called I Am Ellery Chambers. I work with about 280 different artists. They’re all signed to my production company, Duck Lo Productions. We wanted to sign at majors at first, but we wanted it so that the artists get more money out of it than the label, so we built up our own platforms.
BR: What is your opinion of how hip hop has evolved today?
BM: I really couldn’t tell you that, because I really don’t listen to the radio. [The only time] I get a whiff of what’s going on with top-40 is when I’m in the club. I keep this slogan in my head, “What does it all mean?” I ask myself that question when it comes to music all the time, and there’s a lot of songs out there now where I can’t tell you the answer. There are a lot of unsigned artists that are 10 times better than what we’re listening to on the radio. All this relying on getting a million hits on YouTube, that’s corny. We need to get these A&R’s back who have a music ear, and can promote the music.
BR: What is your connection to Bed-Stuy and Brooklyn?
BM: My mother was from Birmingham, AL, she left when she was 16; my father was from Kingston, Jamaica. I was born and raised on New York Ave between Prospect and St. Mark’s. I went to P.S 138 and I.S. 210. I used to run through Restoration as a little kid. Restoration has always been a foundation for me. I used to pack bags at Pathmark when it was at Restoration. The neighborhood is where I grew up. Even later, when I got older this guy on our team was one of the members of Sonny Carson’s group when Sonny had his office in the basement of Restoration. I was with Brooklyn Zu at the time. I was DJing when me and Dirty started getting together. I would DJ for him and he would rhyme, then one day he asked me to play his records in the clubs. This was before they even got the deal with RCA/Loud Records. There were times when I was recording 2-3 days straight for Dirty; Rza would put stuff together. Papa Wu had got this studio down in the basement. Restoration was getting mad because they felt it was getting wild down there. So he called me to help bring some organization to it. I stayed down there for almost two years doing music. We were like one big family. I know everybody, but I’ve been running through Brooklyn practically all my life.
BR: What is your book about?
BM: The name of the book is “The Dirty Version” by Buddha Monk and Mickey Hess. Hess was a professor at Rider College in New Jersey. He runs a class on hip hop. My friend came to me and said he knew this professor that wanted to speak to me about coming out and talking to his students. So I went out there, I talked to the kids. Then after he invited us out to eat. In the midst of us eating, he asked if he could do a book about me and Dirty. So we agreed to it. We did the first draft, and then Harper-Collins wanted the book, so we got a deal. The book is about laughter, life after music, family connections and how we got together and made things happen. It’s the story of how me and Dirty met, the trials and tribulations of putting the album together, trying to get nominated for Grammy’s.
BR: So who inspires you artistically?
BM: Keith Murray, James Blake, Sean Price, Cappadonna, I still listen to these artist… or some good old-fashion reggae. I’m crazy about it… I still love everything that Wu-Tang Clan does. I’m very picky… Usher, Uncle Murder, and I love 50 Cent. They help me to wake up in the morning and say, “Hey, today feels like a good day to make another song.”