GZA
By: Tom Nealon | Categories: HiLo Heroes, Popular

GZA, aka The Genius (Gary Grice, born 1966) served as the spiritual leg of the RZA/ODB/GZA triumvirate when they formed All in Together Now and then the Wu-Tang Clan. Accelerating out of 36 Chambers, his 1995 Liquid Swords may not have the brilliant bombast of Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx, or the ODBness of Return to the 36 Chambers, but it is the most perfectly realized and crystallized. Sublime in the true sense of the word, like a Turner painting of a picturesque but horrible death by drowning, Liquid Swords is a surpassingly lovely soundtrack to a protracted execution by katana. “Unprecedented, opium-scented, dark-tinted” — a measured exercise in restraint that is always reaching for something well within reach but not quite getting there. “Don’t rap about your car, rap about what a car is,” GZA once said. It’s this transubstantiation of the intellectual to the visceral, this purity of purpose that would have earned him the title Genius if his rhymes hadn’t already. Perhaps because he’d released a pre-Clan album in 1991, or because he was a little older, for all the violence and entropy, this is an album with precious few extraneous parts. And, like Kafka or Poe, the few that do exist only serve to call attention to their absence. People said his brain was infected by Devils, but we know better.

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HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: George Herriman, Dorothy Parker

READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist Generation (1964–73).

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Tom Nealon runs the online rare bookshop Pazzo Books specializing in early printed books, cookery and literature. In his spare time he works on barbecue techniques in the test pit in his backyard. He can be found at pazzobooks.com and @pazzobooks on twitter.