Born Russell Tyrone Jones on November 15, 1968, in Fort Green, Brooklyn, NY; also known as ODB, Osirus, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt Dog, Dirt McGirt, Joe Bananas. Addresses: Record company--D3 Entertainment, 800 S. Pacific Coast Hwy. Ste. 8-425, Redondo Beach CA 90277; Elektra, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York NY 10019. Website--Ol' Dirty Bastard Official Website: http://www.oldirtybastard.com.
A founding member of seminal hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard is arguably better known for his extensive legal troubles than for his musical skills. Within the context of Wu-Tang Clan's larger-than-life personalities, ODB (as he is commonly called) is the most outrageous, unstable character. While lacking the verbal facility of celebrated Wu-Tang emcees Method Man, the Genius/GZA, Ghostface Killah, and Raekwon, ODB possesses an instantly recognizable rapping style that is exaggeratedly raunchy and absurd.
ODB cofounded the Wu-Tang Clan in 1991 in Staten Island, New York, with his cousins Robert Diggs (RZA) and Gary Grice (the Genius/GZA). All three shared a love of rap and kung-fu movies, as evidenced from their group name, which they took from a powerful sword used by mythical warriors. Critics credit Wu-Tang Clan for setting a rugged yet intellectual new tone in hip-hop, and cite their debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (The 36 Chambers), as one of the most influential works of the 1990s. With as many as 10 members producing and emceeing, Wu-Tang Clan boasts an unprecedented array of rapping styles. With RZA laying down hypnotic, portentous soundscapes, the large crew of emcees delivers complex tales from life's rough side, pregnant with paranoia and grisly existentialism. More than just a group, Wu-Tang Clan became a corporation, creating clothing and footwear lines, a video game, and a comic book. Many of the group's members also have maintained critically and commercially successful solo careers, further spreading the group's influence throughout the hip-hop world.
ODB established himself as a unique voice with his gold-selling 1995 debut album, Return to the 36 Chambers. On one of the album's standout tracks, "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," he bellows, "Oh baby, I like it raw!" (a phrase that serves as his aesthetic credo) with a primal lustiness unrivaled in hip hop. Songs such as "Brooklyn Zoo" and "Raw Hide" display his unconventionally profane and occasionally nonsensical delivery, while other cuts feature startling eruptions into off-key singing. Throughout the disc, producer RZA's brisk piano motifs and stripped-down funk beats and the Neptunes' tight, bouncy funk foundations contrast with ODB's undisciplined lyrical flow. Steve Huey observed for the All Music Guide: "[Even] though Return to the 36 Chambers might not be the most earth-shattering piece of the Wu-Tang puzzle, it's an infectious party record which proves that, despite his limitations, Ol' Dirty Bastard has the charisma to carry an album on his own."
Following the triumph of his debut album, ODB became entangled in a lengthy legal nightmare. His problems began in November of 1997 when he neglected to pay child support for three of his 13 children. He pleaded guilty to an attempted assault on his wife, Icelene Jones, in April. In June of 1998, a robber shot him in the back in his Brooklyn home; he suffered only superficial injuries and was hospitalized, but walked out of the hospital before treatment was completed against doctor's orders. That same month he was caught stealing a pair of $50 Nikes in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He ignored his court dates to spend time in the studio with a group called D.R.U.G. (Dirty Rotten Underground Grimies), leading to a warrant for his arrest. In September, ODB drunkenly made terrorist threats in a West Hollywood House of Blues club; he posted bail to avoid a possible three-year prison sentence. Two weeks later, he was booted from a Berlin, Germany, hotel for public nudity.
On returning to California he again fell afoul of the law by threatening to kill an ex-girlfriend, the mother of one of his children. He pleaded not guilty to both terrorist charges and returned to New York. There he was pulled over by police for a traffic infraction in a series of events ensued that still remain disputed. The officers claimed ODB tried to shoot them, but no weapon or ammunition matches surfaced. The case ultimately was dismissed. Amid all of these events, ODB also grabbed media attention when he rushed the podium at the Grammy award ceremonies to protest Wu-Tang Clan's loss to Puff Daddy and Faith Evans for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group, interrupting Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech in the process. On the plus side, he helped save a young girl from a burning car four days later.
Fighting the Law and Making a Little Music
Further troubles plagued ODB in 1999. Back in California he was caught double-parking his car in Hollywood; a police search found he didn't have a license and was wearing a bulletproof vest, which is illegal in that state for convicted violent felons (ODB was convicted in 1993 of second-degree assault). Later, New York police pulled ODB over for driving without plates and found marijuana and 20 vials of crack cocaine in his SUV. He posted bail and checked into a drug-rehabilitation center in upstate New York and then transferred to one in California. Despite all of these complications, ODB not only managed to record a smash hit with Pras called "Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)," he completed his sophomore album, N***a Please, with producers RZA, Irv Gotti, and the Neptunes again at the controls and with guests Chris Rock, Kelis, Lil' Mo, and 12 O'Clock helping out.
Ill-advised covers of Rick James's "Cold Blooded" and Billie Holiday's "Good Morning Heartache" do little but highlight ODB's vocal shortcomings, as he tries to sing with laughable results. But tracks such as "Recognize," with its Timbaland-like exotic syncopation, and "I Can't Wait," with its sped-up sample of the TJ Hooker theme and exhilaratingly staccato rhythm, compensate for those miscues. In Rolling Stone, Greg Tate opined: "Leave it to those other vague and nervous-type MCs to indulge in studio gangster fantasy or to duck and hide behind the literary niceties of irony, metaphor and symbolism; ODB is walking his talk, bringing hip-hop that gospel truth it's been missing, as only a stone-cold pimp trickster truth teller can."
More Trials and Tribulations
In October of 2000 with only two months remaining in his sentence, ODB escaped from the California drug-rehab facility in which he had been enrolled. While on the lam, he recorded some material with RZA and made a dramatic appearance at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom where Wu-Tang Clan was holding its album release party for The W. His luck ran out a few days later in a Philadelphia McDonald's parking lot, where he was signing autographs for a huge crowd of fans. Sent back to New York, ODB, after many trial postponements, was ultimately sentenced in July of 2001 to two to four years in state prison for criminal possession of a controlled substance. Reportedly tormented by other prisoners and viewed by many observers as mentally unstable even before he was incarcerated, ODB was put on suicide watch. In what many view as a crass cash-in move, Elektra Records rushed out The Dirty Story: The Best of ODB, even though it only had two albums from which to draw material. In addition, an upstart label called D3 Entertainment cobbled together an ethically dubious ODB album in 2002 with help from a host of producers and rappers titled The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones. The disc--featuring contributions from Mack 10, Too Short, C-Murder, and Insane Clown Posse--has been unanimously panned by critics. However, the Onion's Nathan Rabin found a sliver of optimism in this dismal, slapdash work. "Even in the worst of circumstances, however, the rapper's madness leaves its mark, and for all its flaws, Russell Jones still maintains a strange sort of train-wreck appeal."
ODB's life has gone from comedy to tragedy within a short span of time. A&R representative Dante Ross, who signed ODB to Elektra, reflected on the artist's fate to William Shaw in the Guardian: "To a lot of people who deem themselves politically correct, I think Dirty became their minstrel show. He was as close as they could get to the ghetto and watch someone totally dissolve as a human, while sitting far enough back to laugh." Ross added: "His dysfunction was the attraction, to an extent. You don't come across a character like that too often. He was a calamity waiting to happen. That's kind of the beauty of it." The Neptunes' Pharrell Williams, who worked with ODB on his first two albums, paid tribute in the same article: "[ODB] goes against the grain. But those are the people who are remembered in history. Jesus was a rebel."
In early April of 2003, ODB was released from prison and transferred to a New York state mental facility to ease the transition between prison and parole. On May 1, 2003, ODB was released from the mental facility. He participated in a news conference a few hours after his release to announce both a change in name and record label. The rapper changed his name to Dirt McGirt, which he also planned to name a line of clothing, and signed a deal with Roc-A-Fella Records, owned by rap superstar Jay-Z. ODB went to work immediately on his Roc-A-Fella debut, laying down tracks with the Neptunes, among others.
by David Segal
Ol' Dirty Bastard's Career
Founded rap group Wu-Tang Clan, 1991; released debut solo album Return to the 36 Chambers,1995; released sophomore effort N***a Please, 1999; released from prison, signed to Roc-A-Fella Records, 2003.
- Selected discography
- Return to the 36 Chambers Elektra, 1995.
- N***a Please , Elektra, 1999.
- Dirty Story: The Best of Ol' Dirty Bastard , Elektra, 2001.
- Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones , D3 Entertainment, 2002.
- With Wu-Tang Clan
- Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) , Loud/RCA, 1993.
- Wu-Tang Forever , Loud/RCA, 1997.
- The W , Loud/Columbia, 2000.
November 13, 2004: Ol' Dirty Bastard died on November 13, 2004, after collapsing during a recording session, in New York City. He was 35. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2004/SHOWBIZ/Music/11/14/odb.death.ap/index.html, November 15, 2004; E! Online, www.eonline.com, November 15, 2004; New York Times, November 18, 2004, p. B1.
December 15, 2004: An autopsy confirmed that Ol' Dirty Bastard's death was accidental, caused by the combined effects of cocaine and a prescription painkiller. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com, December 15, 2004.
- Guardian (London, England), March 22, 2002.
- Los Angeles Times, September 14, 1999.
- Onion, April 3, 2002.
- Rolling Stone, October 14, 1999.
- "ODB's Name is Dirt," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,11721,00.html?eol.tkr (May 5, 2003).
- "Ol' Dirty Bastard," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2003).
- "Ol' Dirty Bastard Now Dirt McGirt, Signs to Roc-A-Fella," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1471665/20030501/story.jhtml (May 13, 2003).
- Ol' Dirty Bastard Official Website, http://www.oldirtybastard.com (April 3, 2003).
- "Ol' Dirty Lays Down Tracks with Pharrell Before Turning into a Pumpkin," MTV.com, http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1471817/20030509.jhtml (May 13, 2003).
- "Wu-Tang Clan," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (February 4, 2003).