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The thin red line between genius and spectacular craziness is one that musicians of every genre stumble across all the time. But almost no one has engaged in as much high-stakes, high-profile lunacy as The Artist Formerly (and Sometimes Currently) Known as Ol' Dirty Bastard.
A founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan -- along with his cousin, the RZA -- Ol' Dirty Bastard helped change music history in 1993 with his first album with the Wu crew, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), one of hip-hop's most sacred artifacts. Like most of his fellow group members, ODB (otherwise known as Russell Jones) went solo in the mid-'90s, but by decade's end, drug abuse and rumored mental illness had made him the genre's loosest cannon.
To fully chronicle ODB's multiple drug, traffic and child-support offenses would nearly require a law degree; following is the best of hip-hop's longest-running reality show, which began in earnest in early 1998 and continues to this very day.
1. The Grammy for Best Nutty Artist
Has there ever been a greater Grammy moment than Ol' Dirty, clad in his new red suit, lurching in front of a flummoxed Shawn Colvin, apologizing for interrupting her acceptance speech, and then protesting Puffy's Best Rap Album award in the name of the Wu? "Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children," he declared, before being escorted from the stage.
2. Jesus Talks
If you want to ascend to the upper echelon of disturbed geniuses, it's mandatory that you reveal yourself to be the Son of God at some point. ODB did it with style in the spring of 1998, debuting his new (and short-lived) identity as Big Baby Jesus and telling MTV nonchalantly, "I always been Jesus. I don't know what the big secret's been all these years."
3. He Thought He Was in the Wiener Republic
Any self-respecting star-wackjob also has some incident involving public nudity on his résumé. One fall evening in 1998, guests at the Four Seasons Hotel in Berlin were stunned when ODB was spotted hanging out on his balcony with everything hanging out. He was subsequently removed from the premises.
4. You Gotta Be Cool, You Gotta Be Calm
Also that autumn, ODB was arrested and charged with making "terroristic threats" after warning staff members at the Hollywood House of Blues that he was ready to shoot up the place. The performer who helped work him into a lather was not, as one might imagine, another MC, but the perky, positive-thinking pop starlet Des'ree, whose relentless hit "You Gotta Be" likely pushed ODB over the edge. That, or a couple of vials of crack.
5. If Only Judge Judy Had Been There
By early 2000, ODB's burgeoning legal career -- 1999 reads like one long arrest -- made it necessary for him to create his own amusement to survive another boring day in court. Why else would he have asked the female prosecutor grilling him on a drug charge, "Do I make you horny?" before falling asleep?
6. He Could Quit (Rehab) Anytime
ODB's boldest decision was to go on the lam while being transported to court from his Pasadena, California, rehab center in October 2000. That meant he faced prison time when he was finally run to justice, but it didn't stop him from secretly recording part of an album with the RZA while the manhunt went on. The RZA was later heard to complain that the release of the project would be complicated by ODB's "very, very peculiar" lyrics. And since when did that ever hold up an album with Ol' Dirty on it?
7. Sherlock Holmes Missed This Show
Being on the run also didn't stop ODB from appearing on stage with his Clanmates at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom in November 2000. Because the throng of police officers inside and outside the venue hadn't figured it out yet, Ol' Dirty helpfully explained things to the ecstatic crowd: "I can't stay on stage too long tonight -- the cops is after me."
8. I'll Have Fries with That Fugitive
ODB also sought to push the envelope of what behavior reasonably can be expected from a fugitive. Using the strategy at the heart of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Purloined Letter," Ol' Dirty craftily appeared in public, signing autographs for a crowd in the parking lot of a Philadelphia McDonald's just days after his impromptu concert performance. The cops, presumably unfamiliar with Poe's story, failed to bite and hauled ODB's AWOL ass to the clink.
9. Underwear That's Fun to Wear
There followed a period of incarceration (at New York's Clinton Correctional Facility, where Tupac once pulled a grim stretch) that made ODB's future prospects appear dim. Yet when he was paroled in 2003, he returned to the world with an entirely fresh outlook. He had a new handle (Dirt McGirt), a new label (Roc-A-Fella) and, perhaps most important, a new side project: a line of kids' underwear called Ol' Dirty Drawers, which, regrettably, have yet to skid into stores.
10. Fuck Nader!
In a heartwarming end to this tale, it took ODB to inject some common sense into this heated political season. He announced in early 2004 that he was running for president; when questioned by a reporter as to why, an incredulous Dirty cut through all the usual rhetoric, responding "To get pussy!" and suggesting that he's still crazy like the proverbial fox.
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