As a producer, Robert Diggs has secured his place in the hip-hop pantheon–the melodramatic strings and dense beats he engineered for the Wu-Tang Clan spawned legions of imitators (including, on occasion, Diggs himself). As a rapper, he’s added a husky voice of paranoia to the Wu-Tang lineup. But his solo work has made Puffy sound as quick-witted as Biggie. On both RZA as Bobby Digital in Stereo and Digital Bullet he assumed the alter ego Bobby Digital, the sort of slobbery, foulmouthed lothario that gives misogyny a bad name. But the RZA’s first endurable solo joint, Birth of a Prince (Wu Records/ Sanctuary), released this month, is full of surprises. A cool female soul vocal introduces “Bob N’ I,” then the track dives beneath a layer of LP surface noise, and the RZA begins rhyming with manic wit, name-checking Michael Landon, Lando Calrissian, and Spacely Sprockets in under three minutes while still managing to squeeze in quotes from “Mockingbird” and “Help!” There’s plenty of ominous B-movie sound track material here, and some obligatory slumming (“Drink, Smoke + Fcuk”), but the RZA also rolls out the kind of soulful grooves he generally reserves for Ghostface Killah records and writes personal lyrics to match. On “Grits” he and Masta Killah come together to tell a grim story of ghetto childhood, and “See the Joy,” the melodramatic journey of a spermatozoan RZA struggling to achieve fertilization (“‘Cause inside the womb I was a foreign object / I’m like a new nigga walkin’ through the projects”), is as engaging as it is absurd. The RZA also wrote some music for Kill Bill–Vol. 1; it’s fitting that he and Tarantino, the mid-90s’ masters of kitsch pastiche, should make simultaneous comebacks. With Das EFX and Northstar. Sunday, November 2, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ivo Kljuce.