Adam Mansbach 2008

Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing 


Mourning Ol’ Dirty Bastard -- a.k.a. Unique Ason, Osirus, Dirt Dog, Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt and Russell Tyrone Jones -- who died on Saturday, two days short of his thirty-sixth birthday, feels strangely familiar, like we’ve done it before. It’s not just because Gabriel Garcia Marquez has nothing on Dirty when it comes to chronicling a death foretold; it’s because every hood and high school has an ODB: a kid whose exploits are so outrageous and so many, conform to such a busted logic, that they take on the sheen of legend. A dude whose life blurs the line between genius and madness, who says and does the truest shit you’ve ever seen and heard, and doesn’t even remember the next morning. A guy for whom that memorializing forty bottle has been poised just short of a pour-some-out angle since he was twelve.

Only when that kid actually passes are all the stories about him finally lined up end-to-end. And folks are like, damn, I forgot half the shit homeboy got into. Remember when Dirty bumrushed the Grammies after the Clan lost to Puffy in ‘98, and made that speech about how Wu-Tang was for the children? Yo, didn’t he lift a car off of some little kid that same week, save his life? What about that time he got bagged for shoplifting a fifty dollar pair of kicks in Virginia Beach? Didn’t he spend a month running from the law, and then get bagged at a MacDonald’s because he stopped to poli with his fans? Hey, what about the ‘Fantasy’ video, where he’s dancing shirtless in the pink wig, talkin’ about “me and Mariiiah/go back like babies and pacifiiiers”? Naw, my shit was when he took MTV News with him in the limo to go pick up food stamps. Whatever, man – forget all that. Dude could rhyme his ass off. Nobody ever sounded like him.

It seems infantilizing and wrong to label a man so plagued and caged by personal and chemical and legal struggles a free spirit, even if his mic steez did veer spontaneously from manic-rugged broken couplets to soulful caterwauls to conspiracy ramblings within the course of a single verse. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Dirty was hip hop’s last honest man: where other rappers have personas, he had nothing but a big, beating heart. In every rhyme and interview, the ‘one man army Ason’ told the truth of that moment -- with the kind of rawness, pain and pathos that pop culture loves to exploit in its icons, but will bend over backwards to avoid actually dealing with.

In some ways, the seminal Osirus moment on wax is not his disjointed drunken-master flow on “Brooklyn Zoo,” or his triumphant, amped-n-filthy style on the Neptunes-produced hit “Got Your Money,” but a chilling little intro on the minor Wu-Tang track ‘Diesel,” from the 1997 Soul in the Hole soundtrack. I need help, Dirty drawls as it begins, sounding ‘luded and yet lucid, building quickly to a desperate growl, Somebody help me, please. The government is after me. They already did in Tupac, Biggie Smalls... Somebody help me please! He gets it together in time to kick half a verse, then gets cut off by Raekwon, who comes in with, you know, your basic razor-sharp, brand-name laced Raekwon verse.

And just like that, the song becomes... a normal song, with darts from Method Man, RZA and U-God. I remember hearing it and thinking Damn, ODB is begging for help, and they’re straight ignoring him. I remember thinking this cat is gonna self-destruct, and we’re all going to say we saw it coming and we didn’t do enough. This was before the two crack-possession charges, the mandatory rehab he walked out of, the gunshot he took in a robbery at his house in Brownsville, the bulletproof vest charge he caught just after it became illegal for convicted felons to wear them. Before his brilliant Nigga Please album too, for that matter -- a fearless, experimental, incoherent masterpiece.

You can’t help somebody who doesn’t want to be helped, right? But whether Ol’ Dirty didn’t want help or just didn’t get all he needed is unclear. At the time of his death, he was allegedly drug-free (so says his manager; a toxicology report is forthcoming), out of prison and signed to Roc-A-Fella, hip hop’s hottest label. It’s easy to imagine how hard sobriety must have been, especially with an artistic rep based on substance-assisted studio antics and plenty of pressure to regain the throne from which he’d been thrown. There was reason to believe he’d stepped back from the edge, except that Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s whole life seemed to be an edge. So splash some liquor on the pavement for the realest of the real -- a buck-wild, fiercely original, big-hearted emcee who, as he once bragged, never been tooken out. Except maybe by himself.

Adam Mansbach’s new novel, Angry Black White Boy, or The Miscegenation of Macon Detornay, will be published on March 5th.


Adam Mansbach  books  events  bio  music  interviews  other writing