You might not known the name Gary Grice, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard of his stage name, GZA, and a better chance you know the seminal hip-hop group he helped to found, the Wu-Tang Clan. But while GZA, also nicknamed “The Genius,” is renowned for his lyrical styling, massive rapping vocabulary, and pop culture references, you might not know that his lifelong interest in all things science has heavily influenced his past, present, and future musical productions.
In addition to the TEDx talk seen above, GZA has also lectured at Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and New York University. Most of these talks center on his experiences with the Wu-Tang Clan, the globalization of hip-hop, and how he approaches his lyrics, but GZA has never been one to shy away from his interest in how things work or his curiosity about the world, solar system, and universe at large. In fact, GZA has been developing these interests as the subject material for his upcoming album, Dark Matter. As he told Rolling Stone:
So this is about astronomy and physics?
Yes. And not necessarily so in that sense. It’s just a beautiful story – planets, black holes, comets.
How did you get interested in this subject?
I’ve been interested in it for years. I mean, if you think about it, if you go back to Legend of the Liquid Sword – I put that out in 2002. I had a song on there, a verse where I say:
Why U-N-I-verse run like clock works forever?
Words pulled together, sudden change in the weather
The nature and the scale of events don’t make sense
A story with no warnin’ you’re drawn in, environments…
So I’ve been rhyming about this stuff – it’s not anything new to me.
GZA has already collaborated a couple of times with contemporary science advocate Neil deGrasse Tyson, rapping and rhyming on the astrophysicist’s radio show Star Talk, and consulting with him for Dark Matter. He’s also met up with MIT marine biologist Penny Chisholm, and Harvard quantum physicist David Kaiser. Everything he learns from experts in the field then gets filtered through his unique method of interpretation before it’s expressed musically in the way that only GZA can do it.
The intersection of music and science has clicked so well for GZA that he wants to bring that level of enlightenment to others. The lectures certainly helped to bridge divides between scientific and hip-hop cultures, but GZA’s collaboration with Dr. Chris Emdin seeks to go much farther. An Associate Professor in Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology–among many other accolades–Emdin is the perfect teammate for GZA and Rap Genius for Science Genius B.A.T.T.L.E.S. This outreach program, which GZA talks about in the video above, “is focused on utilizing the power of hip-hop music and culture to introduce youth to the wonder and beauty of science … [aiming to] display the interests of science enthusiasts who have a passion for hip-hop, and introduce both hip-hop and science to a wider audience.”
For GZA, who left school in the 10th grade, his lifelong interest in science has come back around and combined with his successful musical career to bring the benefits of both pursuits to a whole new generation of musically minded science enthusiasts.
Is there a Secret Science Nerd you’d like us to cover? Let us know in the comments!