Book Reviews

The Dirty Version: On Stage, In The Studio, and In The Streets With Ol’ Dirty Bastard (Dey Street Books)

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Ten years ago, Russell Jones–better known to the world as Ol’ Dirty Bastard–was working in the studio, when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack related to an accidental combination of cocaine and tramadol. At 36, his death was way too soon, considering his talent and abilities.
Then again, some might convincingly argue that his death was absolutely unsurprising, considering the indulgences and substance abuse problems that had plagued him for the last decade and a half.

One person who knew him well was Buddha Monk, a collaborator, a partner-in-crime, and one of Jones’ best friends–and he’s decided to tell the story of his unique, eccentric, talented best friend.
It’s a story of love, as Jones, in spite of his image as an insane, out-of-control figure, was a loving, caring individual. For instance, when ODB bum-rushed the stage at the Grammy awards and famously declared, “Wu-Tang is for the children,” Monk believes that this was an innocent, sincere act on Jones’ part, intended to offend no one, simply wanting to tell the world about he and his group’s work.

Jones wasn’t a perfect man; he had addictions, most especially to cocaine and sex, and Monk doesn’t gloss over these faults, nor does he make any excuses for his behavior. He simply presents these things as part of the complex man that was Russell Jones. Arrests, incarcerations in prisons and mental institutions, heavy drug use, declining musical ability and bizarre criminal activity are well-documented here, often painstakingly emotional, which conjurs up a mixture of “what might have been” and “well, he pushed his luck, and had to face the consequences.” After all,you can’t run from the law and then expect to not face consequences when you are caught.

As one would expect, though, most of the recollections are loving, endearing–such as the excitement Jones had with sharing his new group Wu-Tang Clan‘s first single, the tales of the hip-hop battles of the early days, and the enjoyment of life that Jones felt in the heady salad days of the Wu-Tang Clan.It’s clear that Monk’s love for his comrade is deep, even as he’s not afraid to face the harsh realities that came along with him. Monk doesn’t judge, he simply says it like it was, occasionally naming names of those who didn’t work in Jones’ best interest.

The one main issue that Monk directly addresses, though, is the issue of mental illness. Was the man who called himself everything from Big Baby Jesus, Dirt McGirt, Ason Unique, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, really a mentally ill man? Was Jones crazy, or was it part of a persona? Interestingly, Monk dismisses most of the obvious answers, and frames it with the reality of Jones’ drug use.Perhaps, then, it was a scenario similar to a Brian Wilson, wherein his drug use exacerbated the antics and brought about a mental illness that might not have appeared so dramatically.It didn’t help that Jones initially didn’t discourage such rumors, eventually growing into the persona he created.

The Dirty Version is an excellent read–often hilarious, sometimes frustrating, and painfully, painfully real–and does much to shed a human light to one of hip-hop’s truly original and outrageous personalities. Monk’s love for his friend is obvious, making this tale even more poignant, as he allows the world to see the man behind the myth.

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