On this day, Feb. 25, in hip-hop history…

1998: Poor Shawn Colvin didn’t know what was coming. Stepping on the stage to receive her award for Song of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards ceremony, Colvin was upstaged by Russell Tyrone Jones, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who had a message for America.

ODB and the rest of the Wu Tang Clan had lost Rap Album of the Year honors to Puffy, and this didn’t sit well with ODB or his wardrobe. ODB announced that he’d purchased some new gear in anticipation of his group’s victory in their category. With an assertion of Wu’s dominance, ODB’s most infamous public moment was over nearly as quickly as it began.

ODB would ask 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, OK? I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace!"

ODB was a talented, eccentric, erratic, and sadly troubled artist who left us too soon. At times, it seemed like his persona: his looks, his antics, and his malapropisms seemed to overshadow the fun, messy, sprawling work he did as both a solo artist and a member of the Wu. Nothing makes this disconnect more evident. ODB released music unlike anything else being pumped to the mainstream audience in his time as an artist.

As a member of his group, he marched to the beat of his own drum. An audience that likely knew little of his music, his group, and even his genre, took the story and ran with it. It did generate some attention for the Killa Bees, but more than anything, what it did was introduce America to a character hip-hop had already come to love, cheer for and scratch our heads over.

From ODB to Big Baby Jesus to Dirt McGirt and all the stops in between, Jones’ antics in ‘1998 had made a character of a man whose life and art were struggling to decide which did the imitating and which did the inspiring.—Jordan Lebeau

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