Hulu’s original series Wu-Tang: An American Saga is back with season 2. The series follows a young Bobby Diggs, better known as RZA, works to unify a dozen young Black men who are torn between a life of crime and their undying love for music. This season spotlights a few more members like Wu-Tang DJ and prolific producer, Mathematics, who we had the privilege of speaking with in an exclusive phone interview.
Mathematics is the creative artist behind the iconic Wu-Tang logo. Season 2 explores the elements leading up to Mathematics creation and the backstory behind one of the most iconic images in music. Ahead of the 30th anniversary, we speak with the legendary artist on how he first discovered the arts, how his artistic and musical worlds collide, and what role he plays in the current season streaming now on Hulu.
Read more from our conversation with Mathematics below:
1. People of course know you for being a DJ and a prolific producer, but a lot of people didn’t know you created the iconic Wu-Tang logo. How did you begin your artistic journey outside of the music?
Hip hop is art. They go hand and hand. When they said hip hop wasn’t real music, they said graffiti wasn’t real art. It’s both an expression of yourself. Even with a Picasso, when you see a Picasso, I don’t think that resonated with people off top either. Sometimes you have to stand back and look at things, and even listen. Let it grow and develop.
For me, it started with my older brothers. They used to draw. My mother used to draw. I was trying to follow in their footsteps. I started drawing, and I liked to draw. During the early days of hip hop, I did all fashions of hip hop like mc’ing, dj’ing, graffiti, production but graffiti came early before dj’ing because I was actually drawing and breaking.
2. What was your favorite thing to draw early on when you were learning?
Oh wow. I used to create my own characters and my own little stories. I remember I did a little book when I was real young and my mother was like ‘Oh you could be a writer one day.’ I used to love to draw graffiti. Just letters, pictures, cartoon characters. Things that I saw, whether it was Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck.. whatever it was. I just liked to draw.
I came up in an era where graffiti was big. I got down with the crew. I’m pretty sure if people don’t know who Shirt Kings are… You know I’m from Southside Queens and in Coliseum Mall 165th Street that’s where we shot the video “Ice Cream” at. Inside there, there was a booth that was run by Fade and Nike and they were the Shirt Kings.
They used to do graffiti on people’s outfits, so when you look at old videos like Salt n Peppa, Just Ice and Biz Mar – where they had all these drawings and graffiti on it. Shirt Kings were doing it. So, I used to look at their stuff and I started slanging out my characters more, gold chains and making it more hip hop.
By the time I got to high school, I went to Thomas Edison, which is a technical vocational high school and I majored in art there. Originally, I had a choice between architectural or commercial art. I went towards commercial art becuase it was more freedom. I could freely express myself because that’s what I was into. Even though, I didn’t go that route. I happened to get into more dj’ing.
RZA and them knew I drew. That’s how I got the shot at doing the logo.
3. How does it feel to have created such a simple yet impactful logo? When I think the art of a really nice logo, when you look at the Wu-Tang logo or Nike, they’re both simple but effective.
It’s still a little surreal after all these years. At the same time, it feels great to be acknowledged. I would have never thought that when I drew that symbol that it would become what it is today, and let alone, that somebody would actually play me as a character where people can sit and watch the story – where I could sit and watch the story. It’s still surreal.
4. How do you like Curtiss Cook, Jr. playing your role?
Oh he’s doing an amazing job. I worked on the show as far as consulting and the musical technical side. The first day he came on he wasn’t there. I was there the next day. The directors and AD’s asked ‘did you meet Curtiss yet? The guy that’s playing you’ I was like nah not yet. They said he’s doing a great job and he has a lot of my mannerisms down.
So when I did meet him, he’s a good young brother. We got a chance to really talk. He got to know me a little bit better and I got to know him a little bit better. When I seen him, looking and watching him play me. I’m looking at him from certain angles and I’m like wow he do kind of… that is me right there.
Yeah, he’s doing a great job.
5. You mentioned your involvement in the Wu-Tang: An American Saga series on the music and technical side. How has it been to explore this part of your journey through a television show? Some things people can assume are a bit exaggerated but for the most part, you guys have kept it pretty raw and authentic.
Yeah, little slight things for tv. Some things have been dialed down. Somethings have been dialed up. You’re dealing with a lot of individuals. It’s a blessing for me to even come on in the second season. It’s crazy you couldn’t introduce everyone in the first season, because you’d be lost. So I think the writers, RZA, Alex, Gabe, Zach, they’ve all done a great job putting it together to tell a great story. The directors… we had Mario Van Peebles direct an episode. He’s incredible. I’ve been on a set but this is a new world for me. I’m absorbing it all. It’s different from being in the studio and doing what I do. It’s different from being up on the stage. This is a lot more moving parts, and Wu-Tang of course is a lot of moving parts anyway. The story is telling about a lot of moving parts coming together to form one.
It’s been great. I’ve been absorbing it all and applying it.
Even during the pandemic, first time in decades that I was home. I was really enjoying being home. I was home, working, and writing. I just finished a new project that I should be dropping shortly. I shot some videos, and I also shot a short film which I wrote. I hired a production crew to shoot it. It’s based off of me now understanding what’s going on and how to shoot things. Of course, it’s not on the scale of The Saga.
You have to learn and adapt especially if you’re hungry for something. It’s something that you love.
6. How are you going to celebrate 30 years of the Wu-Tang logo? That’s a big deal. How will all of these things come together between your new projects, the Saga, the logo, etc?
That’s a good question because it’s a lot to celebrate. Celebrating the W, celebrating us… I’ve been on the road for basically three decades. It was either ’90 or ’91 and that was with the The Cold Chillin Blizzard Tour. Since then, I’ve been active on the road up until the pandemic. That’s a celebration in itself.
Now a days, I’m real simple. I can have a glass of champagne and a nice fat blunt and I’m content. Just smiling with good friends, good family, company.
7. How did you come up with the logo itself?
The show will get into it a little bit. We talked about a few different things. I did different sketches over the time period, but in all reality, the actual logo itself was really [created] in one night.
When RZA was on Tommy Boy, that’s the first time he mentioned anything to me about Wu-Tang. He needed some stickers to promote himself, so I was thinking what you want me to do ‘Prince Rakeem.’ He said, ‘no I want you to do Wu-Tang.’ I was familiar because we were all into the karate flicks, watching them on Channel 5. We were outside fighting each other.
So I did his first stickers. It’s a variation of the W in there with the sword and using the yin and yang symbol as the dash. When it was time to do the Wu-tang logo, RZA hit me that he was getting the joints pressed up tomorrow and he needed the logo tomorrow. At that time, the first tour didn’t work out so I ended up working as a carpenter. My father was a carpenter and he brought me in. I was working on a construction site. I was actually going to quit that job in the first two weeks.
When dj’ing wasn’t enough, making mixtapes and do parties, I needed a bit more so when my dad would have jobs I would do carpentry jobs. My heart was calling me to do music.
As soon as I came into the lab, getting myself together, the phone was ringing and it was RZA saying he needed the logo the next day. I was living at 40 projects at the time, so I went to the store got me a 40 ounce, got me a fat blunt, and I came back and drew it on the floor. The rest was history.
8. You have a lot to do with keeping the art as real as possible within the series. How has that process been with being an advisor on the show?
For the artwork, I did all the artwork on the show. I sat down and it was the first time I drew in years and it actually felt good.
I still wanted to draw some more, so I ended up buying some more black markers. I’m really going to start drawing again, especially with this NFT world. It’s an artist game right now.
9. Are you exploring making your art 3D?
Yes, I am. 2D, 3D, original sketches.
10. I look forward to seeing where all of this coming together with getting back into the art world and maybe tapping back into some of those comic book stories now that you have a plug into television and film.
Yeah, the only thing is if timing will permit. We started going back on the road again… touring again. But I’m going to find the time.
11. Would you consider being onscreen yourself?
I actually played in the short I just did. I’m a movie head. I love movies. When I watch Quentin Tarantino or Spike Lee, they always find a little part to play in the movie.
When you write something and you see it so clear, you want to express it [yourself]. ‘I can do this.’
I think that’s a key element in anything you do… you have to have fun.
I’ve been through that when music wasn’t fun because it’s a business at the end of the day. Sometimes you got to take a step back from the business and just have fun.
Catch more from Mathematics and the entire Wu-Tang clan on Hulu’s original series Wu-Tang Clan: An American Saga season 2 streaming now. Be sure to follow Mathematics below.