Where should we start with ODB? His work with the Clan? Solo work? His infamous MTV appearance with his food stamps? There’s quite a bit to cover despite his short life so bear with me while we go through it. I really couldn’t cut much out without feeling a bit guilty.
One of the Wu Tang Clan’s videos was really the first video I remember seeing and loving, despite my dad’s immediate changing of the channel (he wasn’t a music video fan, just actual music). Going solo, ODB made some of the catchiest songs of the day and I’d sing along to them and hell, even still do. If you’re a hip hop fan fortunate to have grown up in the 1990s, you know how important Wu and all of its members were.
Who in my generation doesn’t remember the infamous food stamps incident either? Those days in rap seem so much grittier and real. Don’t get me wrong, I still love hip hop and rap today and a lot of the same social issues still exist but I sometimes feel there will never be the same poetry to rap as there was then.
We can also never forget that ODB was the original Kanye, rushing stages over music awards!
Russell Tyrone Jones (November 15, 1968 – November 13, 2004), better known under his stage name Ol’ Dirty Bastard (or ODB) was often noted for his trademark microphone techniques and his “outrageously profane, free-associative rhymes delivered in a distinctive half-rapped, half-sung style”. His stage name was derived from the 1980 martial arts film Ol’ Dirty and the Bastard; Method Man articulated its relevance on track 5 of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), stating there was “no father to his style“.
ODB was one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, a rap group primarily from Staten Island, New York which first rose to mainstream prominence with their 1993 debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). The same year, Ol’ Dirty Bastard was convicted of second degree assault for an attempted robbery and the next year, he was shot in the abdomen following an argument with another rapper.
After establishing the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol’ Dirty Bastard went on to pursue a successful solo career and contributed as a rapper/producer for the Fugees. Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s first solo album, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, spawned the hit singles “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”, which helped propel the album to platinum status. In this same year, Ol’ Dirty Bastard collaborated with Mariah Carey for the “Fantasy Remix”.
Around this time, Jones gained notoriety when, as he was being profiled for an MTV biography, he took two of his thirteen children by limousine to a New York State welfare office to pick up his welfare check; his latest album was still in the top ten of the US charts. The entire incident was filmed by an MTV camera crew and was broadcast nationwide. ODB explained on the Howard Stern show that he was not actually receiving welfare at the time of the MTV segment, but he went to the welfare office to show MTV how he lived before becoming a successful rapper and when he presented his old welfare card there was a still a past balance credited to the account that he had never used and he was given the money and food stamps, much to his surprise.
In 1997, Ol’ Dirty Bastard appeared on the Wu-Tang Clan’s second and most commercially successful work, the double album Wu-Tang Forever. He had fewer appearances on this album than the group’s debut, contributing to one solo track (“Dog Shit”), three verses (“Maria”, “Reunited”, “Heaterz”), one hook (“As High as Wu-Tang Get”), and a spoken introduction/refrain (“Triumph”).
In February 1998, Jones witnessed a car accident from the window of his Brooklyn recording studio. He and a friend ran to the accident scene and organized about a dozen onlookers, who assisted in lifting the 1996 Ford Mustang—rescuing a 4-year-old girl from the wreckage. She was taken to a hospital with first and second degree burns. Using a false name, Jones visited the girl in the hospital frequently until he was spotted by members of the media.
The evening following the traffic accident, Jones rushed on-stage unexpectedly as Shawn Colvin took the stage to give her acceptance speech for Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards, and he announced he had recently purchased expensive clothes in anticipation of winning the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album that he lost to Puff Daddy. As Jones took the stage to a round of applause, he asked the audience;
“Please calm down, the music and everything. It’s nice that I went and bought me an outfit today that costed a lot of money today, you know what I mean? ‘Cause I figured that Wu-Tang was gonna win. I don’t know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. You know what I mean? Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best, Okay? I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace!”
In July of that year, only days after being shot in a push-in robbery at his girlfriend’s house in Brooklyn, he was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $50 shoes from a Sneaker Stadium store in Virginia, although he was carrying close to $500 in cash at the time. He was issued bench warrants to stand trial after he failed to appear in court numerous times. He was arrested for criminal threatening after a series of confrontations in Los Angeles a few weeks later, and was then re-arrested for similar charges not long after that.
On January 14, 1999, two officers from the Street Crimes Unit fired eight shots at ODB (Russell Jones) and accused him of firing at them after they stopped his car in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Mr. Jones was cleared by a grand jury and insists that the officers had been scared by his cellular phone. No weapons or shell casings (besides those of the officers) were found in the vehicle or near the scene. The next month, he was arrested for driving without a license and for being a convicted felon wearing a bulletproof vest. At the time, it was illegal for felons to own body armor. Back in New York weeks later, he was arrested for drug possession of crack cocaine and for traffic offenses.
That same year, Ol’ Dirty Bastard wrote and recorded his second studio album, Nigga Please, between jail sentences. The album received notable commercial success, although it failed to parallel the critical praise of his debut. This release included the single “Got Your Money”, which garnered worldwide chart success. The song was produced by The Neptunes and featured chorus vocals by R&B singer Kelis.
Late in 2000, he escaped from his court-mandated drug treatment facility and spent a month as a fugitive. During his time on the run, he met with RZA and spent some time in their recording studio. In late November 2000, while still a fugitive, he was arrested outside a South Philadelphia McDonald’s (at 29th and Gray’s Ferry Ave.), after he drew a crowd while signing autographs. He spent several days in a Philadelphia jail and was later extradited to New York City. In 2001, with Jones again in jail, his record label Elektra Records made the decision to release a greatest hits album in order to both end their contract with the artist. After the contract with Elektra was terminated, the label D-3 records released the album The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones in 2002, composed of tracks compiled without Jones’ input.
In 2003, the day he was released from prison, with Mariah Carey and Damon Dash by his side, Jones signed a contract with Roc-A-Fella Records. Living at his mother’s home under house arrest and with a court-ordered probation, he managed to star in a VH1 special, Inside Out: Ol’ Dirty Bastard On Parole. He also managed to record a new album, originally scheduled to be released through Dame Dash Music Group in 2004; it has since been shelved indefinitely.
Jones collapsed at approximately 4:35 pm (EST) on November 13, 2004 (two days before his 36th birthday) at RZA’s recording studio (36 Chambers Records LLC on West 34th Street in New York City). He was pronounced dead at 5:04 pm (EST). His funeral was held at Brooklyn’s Christian Cultural Center and drew a crowd of thousands. The official cause of death was a drug overdose; an autopsy found a lethal mixture of cocaine and the prescription drug tramadol. The overdose was ruled accidental and witnesses say Ol’ Dirty complained of chest pain on the day he died.
In 2012, his FBI file was released to the public after a Freedom of Information Act request. It contains details of numerous crimes, such as alleged connections to three murders, a shoot out with the New York City Police Department, and a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act investigation against the Wu-Tang Clan.
Got Your Money
Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Got Your Money (Amended Version)
Got Your Money (Original Version)
Got Your Money (Instrumental)
Rollin’ wit You (Amended Version)
Rollin’ wit You (Original Version)
Rollin’ wit You (Instrumental)