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Hip-Hop Fridays: Remembering Ason Unique and O.D.B.

All week I have been trying to find words to publicly express regarding the passing away of one of the most unusual human beings I have ever had the privilege and honor of knowing. The difficulty comes not from having a lack of personal memories or direct experiences with this person; neither from a lack of familiarity with his accomplishments and impact; nor does it come from not knowing those who knew him best.

The difficulty and even hesitance comes from understanding that death places a period where there once were only commas; and it is the death of a person that provides the ultimate testament of their life.

As it is written in Hebrews 9:16-17

16 For where a testament is, there must also of necessity be the death of the testator.

17 For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.

But how do we get that ultimate testament, which contains the perfect expression of the purpose, meaning and value of a life?

It is only through an honest and accurate Witness (from that individual who has died and from others who knew and/or understood them) of that life - comprised of the proper account, measurement and interpretation of the words, actions and work of the one remembered, that we can receive their true spirit.

I have watched and listened for a week now to many people - especially those in the media, who state that their function is to investigate and publicly bear witness to the truth - portray, describe, interpret and depict the man born Russell Tyrone Jones on November 15, 1968, but whom they only saw an image of, as a unique artist and personality, Ol' Dirty Bastard.

I wish all of them could have been present at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn last night to hear and see the witness given of the man they have been so freely discussing and writing about this past week. It would improve the quality of their reporting and as a result, their public service. In particular I hope and pray that one day, however appropriate, the public, with the media's help, will read the transcript or hear the expressions regarding the man, made at his funeral by Shaquita and Bar-son Jones, Papa Wu (Freedom Allah), Rza and Minister Kevin Muhammad. Not only do their remarks show an intimate understanding of the human being that passed away, they also make it clear that he can not be interpreted or judged outside of the experience of Black people in America or outside of the principle of family.

It was RZA's remarks that touched me the most because he bore witness to a powerful truth about his blood cousin and spiritual Brother and Clan mate while explaining the principle that undergirds it. RZA went into the meaning of the name that Russell Jones began to wear while the two of them were children studying the lessons of the Five Percent Nation Of Islam. That divine attribute or name was Ason Unique which means, "He is a Son that is Unique". RZA then beautifully described the young Ason Unique that he knew as part of his immediate family - his character, ways and actions.

But with tremendous courage and wisdom, RZA explained the difference between Ason Unique and the man and image that we all came to know as "Ol' Dirty Bastard". He accepted some of the responsibility for the negative impact that the name he gave his friend as a recording artist had on him as a human being. RZA, an unusually brilliant man, articulated a principle that I have never heard any person responsible for developing and guiding Hip-Hop artists, bear witness to, while admitting his own shortcomings juxtaposed to it. He articulated what I had privately shared with a friend in a conversation I had the morning after it was announced that one-ninth of the Wu-Tang Clan had died.

What RZA said also helped me to put in perspective my own experience as General manager for the group.

As I have said in public and private before, I never had any problems with the man I called "Dirty". There were certainly times when I received urgent calls to come and diffuse a negative situation that he was at the center of; and I witnessed tense situations between him and others, but I never once received anything but the utmost respect from him. He was never O.D.B. around me, although I referred to him as Dirty. With me he always acted like the younger Ason Unique that RZA described.

I shared with a friend of mine that I did not really understand why Ason treated me in the manner that he did. He literally went out of his way, every time we spoke on the phone, every time I saw him - including situations where I had to help resolve a conflict over him - to let me know how much he respected me.

And so now I know why I have been so uncomfortable, until now, in speaking about my Brother. It is not just the numbness and pain that I feel over his death. It is not just how my heart breaks over seeing his family and the Clan members view his motionless body, saying peace one last time. It is not just because of the many fond personal memories I have of him: a hilarious performance of him with Raekwon and Ghostface at the Philadelphia Armory in 1996; the telephone conversations where I felt like a hostage negotiator trying to get him from his home in Brooklyn to the Newark airport so that he could be present on a tour; being with him in the Wu Mansion with RZA recording tracks; seeing him interact with fans and groupies after a show in Hampton Virginia; and the classic incident in Chicago that a few of my friends know about where I had to serve as a mediator and interpretor between him and the manager of a hotel. If you know him you know that his talent and genius were rarely divorced from disarming humor and wit. Perhaps more than any other Clan member it was O.D.B. who personified Wu Tang - Witty Unpredictable Talent And Natural Game.

I have not had the spirit to speak and barely have it to write, in response, because the O.D.B. that we all knew and which people have asked me to talk about, did not touch my heart as deeply as did Ason Unique, the man I worked with; the father of such beautiful and gifted children; the person who helped lift a car from off of a helpless little child. That stays with me even more than the music.

I had my experience with him; it is not the total experience, but rather only a small witness from someone who knew a person better than countless millions but not as well as his mother Cherry; his father William; his grandmother, Mrs. Gertrude Cuffie; his wife, Icelene; his children Taniqua, Bar-son and Shaquita, Prince Osiris, God-Ason, Allah and Ashana; his two godmothers, Mrs. Lillian Jones and Mrs. Willie Dean Thompson; his loving sisters and brothers, Neicie, Monique, Dione, La MarRenee, Ayisha, stepsister, Mariah, William, Jr., Mark and Christian; his Wu-Tang Clan Brothers, RZA, GZA, Method Man, Ghost Face Killah, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killah, Cappadonna, Street, D.J. Mathematics, Power, Divine, and Mook; his long list of aunts and uncles, nieces and nephews, cousins and treasured friends.

I will always remember, honor and love you, Ason Unique...

Cedric Muhammad

Friday, November 19, 2004

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