By Danielle Gittleman
Interviewing hip-hop icons, and writing books about their extraordinary careers and escapades, is a job that’s out of this world. But for Dr. Mickey Hess, it’s all in a day’s work.
Most recently, Hess has released The Dirty Version: On Stage, in the Studio, and in the Streets with Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Hess, along with Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s (ODB) good childhood friend and collaborator, Buddha Monk, worked to write ODB’s biography.
“Buddha Monk knew him when they were growing up; they met when they were around 12 years old,” explained Hess. “He toured with Dirty, worked in the studio with him, produced a few of his songs and does vocals on a few of them too, so he knew the stories. He was there for all the stuff on tour, he was there for the teenage years, he’s still really close with Dirty’s family and keeps in touch with them.”
ODB is a founding member of famed hip-hop group, Wu-Tang Clan. The biography coincides with the 10th anniversary of the rapper’s death. ODB passed away at the age of 35 in 2004 because of an overdose.
Since it has been 10 years since the rapper’s death, Hess teamed up with Buddha Monk to write the book that would ultimately share all of ODB’s untold stories before his sudden demise.
Along with Buddha Monk, Hess also worked with ODB’s widow and his daughter to get all sides, and make sure that the real ODB is portrayed.
“After 10 years of being passed away, people aren’t quite in that mode where you want to just think the best of someone,” explained Hess. “After 10 years people have a little more distance.”
ODB wasn’t always the perfect husband and father. His widow really opened up to Hess and explained the good and the bad times that she went through while married to ODB, part of which makes Hess’ book so different from other ODB biographies.
“I’ve written some other books about hip-hop and interviewed rappers, but I’ve never really sat down and written with a rapper,” said Hess. “I’ve always tried to bring the two worlds together.”
Hess’ love for hip-hop started at an early age. The genre is the main music he has listened to since he was 7 years old.
“I have lyrics running through my head all the time,” said Hess. “Any time I learn something, there’s almost always a hip-hop reference for a second.”
Since Hess’ father was a bluegrass guitarist, he grew up constantly surrounded by music. He discovered hip-hop when he heard Run-D.M.C. on the radio, and from then on it was love at first listen.
Hess’ love for hip-hop extends past writing. He teaches Hip-Hop and American culture on campus.
“You can really see how much he loves hip-hop when he lectures,” said senior American Studies major Allie Triglianos. “He’s excited, spits out facts, and analyzes it all right in front of us.”
Writing the book on ODB wasn’t the easiest process. It took about three years to write the biography in its entirety, including breaks in between.
“There were long stretches that I couldn’t find Buddha,” Hess laughed. “I would have something set up with him and he wouldn’t be there, and then I would call him and he wouldn’t answer. Then two weeks down the road he would call and be like, ‘Hey, I’m in Switzerland.’”
Eventually, Hess was able to track down Buddha Monk and the rest of ODB’s family members. The writing process took a lot longer than anticipated since every time Hess wrote something, it had to be double checked and approved by Buddha Monk and the family of ODB.
The book release was held in Brooklyn last month.
“The coolest part was when Dirty’s daughter came with her son, ODB’s grandson, whom he didn’t even get to meet,” said Hess. “Dirty’s sister was there too, which was really cool just to see that people were happy with it. They seem to feel that the story was told the right way.”
As for another book, Hess would love to do it again if given the opportunity. He met the woman who once managed the Wu-Tang Clan’s international tours. The pair talked about possibly writing a book similar to the way Hess and Buddha Monk wrote about ODB on the hip-hop group as a whole, but this time from her perspective. Nothing is set in stone just yet, but it’s a possibility Hess would love to take advantage of.
printed in the 12/3/14 edition.