DJ Mathematics got his start looping samples for GZA back in the Genius’ pre-Wu-Tang, Cold Chillin’ Records days. So when GZA brought him around his cousin RZA during the earliest days of the Wu-Tang Clan, Mathematics became a key affiliate and supporter for the chosen nine MCs, sitting in on recording sessions and even designing the iconic W logo that has adorned everything from their very first albums to the group’s globe-reaching clothing line to the tattoos on countless fans’ bodies.
With the Clan celebrating the 20th anniversary of Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Math hopped on the phone to talk about some of those earliest days, designing the W, and what exactly made Wu-Tang so special. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
You came up with GZA. Were you around while the Clan made the first album?
I was around for some of the stuff; I did the Wu-Tang logo so I’ve been there from the beginning. I was there for “Chessboxin’” and some of the songs when they were first recorded… I remember a track like “C.R.E.A.M.,” I remember when it had four verses on it. I wasn’t there when it was originally done, but I remember going to RZA’s lab and RZA being like, ‘Yo, I want you to hear this.’ Songs like “M-E-T-H-O-D Man,” I remember he did “Ice Cream Man,” at the same time. Certain joints—”Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nothin’ To Fuck With”—Ghost actually attacked that joint first, and it was a song called “Who The Fuck Are You?” So I was there for certain things.
What was the vibe like back then?
Back in the early days I would go over to RZA’s place to check stuff; a lot of the times I would travel with GZA or Ol’ Dirty, and we might make a move to go check RZA. He was always working, so he always had something to play. And then as far as going to the studio, we were brothers in the studio, so you’d just slide through and be there for the cause.
RZA always had—I’m just speaking how I see it—he always had an idea of who should be on certain tracks, but he’ll let somebody try to get on a track now. Back then it was a little different as far as everybody couldn’t be on the track, you’d have to make the track, so you’d have MCs trying to step up to get on the track. But if somebody came through—’cause you never knew, somebody could come through and just kill it—then they on it. I remember “4th Chamber” [from GZA's Liquid Swords], when Killah Priest just came through and murdered it, it was like, “Oh, that’s a wrap right there.” [Laughs]
Do you remember those recording sessions?
I was there for a lot of the different recording sessions. ["Da Mystery of Chessboxin'"] stands out because I remember Ol’ Dirty, he went into the booth—he was sittin’ there writing or whatever—and he was just like, “You know what? Watch this.” He went in the booth and just did what he did, and you know what was crazy? The same thing he went in there and did was the same thing we hear to this day. He was just that confident in himself and what he was doing when he went into that booth. That kind of just stuck out in my head. He came out with his chest out, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
How did you design the Wu-Tang logo?
I used to do graffiti, so certain things were just my lettering—the W is just my lettering, actually. I had different variations of it, even when we first talked about it—if you look in RZA’s book, it’s the first version of it. But we were trying to simplify it. It was really a one-day thing; RZA was like, “Yo, I’m about to print these records up, and I need a logo.” And I was like, okay, when do you need it by, and he said tomorrow. At the time I was working carpentry in the city, at 200 Varick Street. That night I went in, smoked me a bone, drank me a 40 Oz., and I came up with the first design, the W with the sword. They came down to the job the next day—it was RZA, Divine, Ghost and Power—they came to the job and it was just crazy, ’cause I’m the youngest dude on the job doin’ carpentry, and four dudes comin’ in lookin’ how they looked… [Laughs] So I was like, cool, I went straight to my black book and I showed it to them, and they were like, “Yeah, that’s it right there.” So that was just history, right there. I took the page out and gave it to them, and that was the start of it.
How was RZA in the studio?
At that time, there was only a few producers that had the ear to do what [RZA] was doing. Marley Marl was putting together so many breakbeats but doing it so ill, chopping certain things up and throwing certain things in and out. The Bomb Squad, they was ill with it, too. Of course, Dre was killin’ it too. Large Professor was ill with it, too. Pete Rock. But RZA was just so unorthodox with it—it was like madness, but there was a method to his madness.
At one point did you listen to this and say, “Okay, we’ve got something here.”
From the beginning, right from the very beginning. First of all, the aura of brothers was nothing like nobody… Me, I was a DJ out in Queens. I was one of the youngest doing it at the time—I was like 15 years old doing park jams in the park, so I had the type of attitude like I was the best. These cats had the same attitude as far as MCing. Whoever was in the room. I remember one time there was a rehearsal on a Cold Chillin’ tour joint. RZA came, Rae came, the whole rehearsal everyone was just in there talkin’ bullshit. You had cats like G Rap in there. I got on the turntable choppin’ up beats, and Raekwon just got on the microphone and just murdered it, he shut it down. Nobody knew who Raekwon was at that time. I remember that day vividly. It was a rehearsal, but we let niggas know, this is what we do.
When I heard “Protect Ya Neck” and how different it was, the whole aura of the brothers, I was like, yeah, this is something special. I didn’t know how special—just like when I did the logo, I had no idea. To look at it 20 years later, I’m like, “Wow, I created that.” It bugs me out sometimes—it’s crazy. It was a whole movement: the music, the production, the MCs, even to the mystique of the W itself.
Previously: Wu-Tang Clan Members Revisit Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Method Man Is Filming New Movies With Adam Sandler And The SNL Crew
Method Man On Wu-Tang’s New Album, Chris Brown And Why He’s Not A Rapper
40 Of The Best Lines On Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers
Killah Priest Doesn’t Regret Missing Out On Final Wu-Tang Clan Spot