Wu-Tang Clan Rapper Takes on Space in 'Dark Matter' Album

GZA performing at the Paid Dues hip hop festival at the Nokia Theatre in New York City in 2008.
GZA performing at the Paid Dues hip hop festival at the Nokia Theatre in New York City in 2008. (Image credit: Creative Commons | Flowizm)

If you like the ambience of rap music, but prefer contemplating space-time and stars over money and cars, a record tailored to your tastes is in the making. The hip-hop artist GZA, a founding member of the renowned Wu-Tang Clan rap group, will wax lyrical about the magnificence of the cosmos in a forthcoming album called "Dark Matter," slated for release this fall.

The 45-year-old high school dropout is doing his science homework right. According to The Wall Street Journal, GZA, born Gary Grice and nicknamed "the Genius" by his fellow artists, has been sitting down with top physicists and cosmologists at MIT, Cornell University and elsewhere over the past few months for primers on the universe. Now, he's turning the lessons into lyrics.

A recent meeting with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, spawned a line about Saturn's alluring rings: "God put the needle on the disc of Saturn / The record he played revealed blueprints and patterns." [Greatest Mysteries of the Planets]

GZA is teaming up with Marco Vitali, a composer, producer and Juilliard-trained violinist, on the score. They're aiming for a cosmic atmosphere. "We talked about frenetic energy, outer space, molecules crashing into each other, organized chaos," Vitali said. "The grandeur of the fact that the universe was born in a millionth of a second, in this explosion that created billions of stars, these overpowering ideas that are bigger than we can conceive."

Although GZA said he foresees fans of the rap genre being wary of his academic subject matter at first, he thinks "Dark Matter" will tap into the innate curiosity of listeners — even those who are unaware of their own interest in science.

"I don't think people have ever really been in touch with science," he told the Wall Street Journal. "They're drawn to it, but they don't know why they're drawn to it. For example, you may be blown away by the structure of something, like a soccer ball or a geodesic dome, with its hexagonal shapes. Or how you can take a strand of hair and can get someone's whole drug history.They're different forms of science, but it's still science."

After "Dark Matter," the rap musician plans to delve into other fields with a whole series of science-centric albums. Next up will be marine biology, and the lessons have already begun.

"He'd been doing his homework on the oceans," said Penny Chisholm, an expert on ocean phytoplankton at MIT, who met with GZA last December. "I was struck by his appreciation of the complexity of ecology and physics, and his views on life. I think he's now on a new mission, and he could play an important role in getting various messages out through his art form — about the earth, and science. That's why I've become a fan."

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Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.