Ol' Dirty Bastard simultaneously brought a measure of humor and a touch of the absurd to the Wu-Tang Clan. Often noted for his unusual microphone technique (critic Steve Huey writes of Jones' "outrageously profane, free-associative rhymes" delivered "in a distinctive half-rapped, half-sung style"), Jones' stage name came from a 1980 kung fu film entitled Ol' Dirty & The Bastard, the relevance of which was articulated by Method Man's assertion that there was "no father" to Jones's style.
After establishing the Wu-Tang Clan, Ol' Dirty Bastard went on to a successful solo career. However, his professional success was hampered by his erratic personal behavior and frequent legal troubles, including incarceration. He died in late 2004 of congestive heart failure as a result of an accidental drug overdose.
The cousins soon added six more friends and associates to the Clan, and released their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. 36 Chambers received enormous critical praise, and is now widely regarded as one of the best and most influential albums of any genre to be released in the 1990s, as well as one of the best hip hop albums of all time.
While most of the group's members received individual praise from critics and fans, Jones became perhaps the best-known member of the group. Armed with a seemingly crazed, slurred, often off-beat, half-sung half-rapped delivery, bizarre lyrics and humorous antics that were unlike anything ever heard before in rap, he seemed to encapsulate and personify the raw, unadulterated and innovative style of the group.
ODB's infamous debut album cover showing a mock welfare card.
ODB's infamous debut album cover showing a mock welfare card.
ODB's solo career began in 1995, making him the third member of the Wu-Tang Clan to release a solo album, following Method Man's 1994 effort, Tical. Released on March 28, 1995, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version spawned the hit singles Brooklyn Zoo and Shimmy Shimmy Ya, which helped power the album to gold status. The album's sound was as raw and gritty as 36 Chambers, producer RZA creating beats even more minimalist and stripped-down than on the group's debut.
That same year, he was featured on the remix of Mariah Carey's "Fantasy". What might have seemed like an unlikely pairing spawned a major hit song. "Fantasy" was among the first popular pop, R&B, and hip hop collaborations.
Around this time, Jones gained notoriety when, as he was being profiled for an MTV biography, he took two of his thirteen children by limousine to a New York State welfare office to pick up his welfare check while his latest album was still in the top ten of the US charts. The entire incident was filmed by an MTV camera crew and was broadcast nationwide.
In 1997, ODB appeared on the Wu-Tang Clan's second and most commercially successful album, Wu-Tang Forever. However, Jones appeared less often on the Clan's second album than on the debut; he contributed a solo track titled "Dog Shit" as well as hooks ("As High As Wu-Tang Get") and spoken introductions ("Triumph"), but other than these appearances and featuring prominently on the songs "Maria" and "Reunited," as well as delivering a very short verse on "Heaterz," he was absent.
In February 1998, Jones witnessed a car accident from the window of his Brooklyn recording studio. He and a friend ran to the accident scene and organized about a dozen onlookers who assisted in lifting the 1996 Ford Mustang—rescuing a 4-year-old girl from the wreckage. She was taken to a hospital with second and third degree burns. Using a false name, Jones visited the girl in the hospital frequently until he was spotted by members of the media.
The evening following the traffic accident, Jones rushed on-stage unexpectedly during Shawn Colvin's acceptance speech for "Song of the Year" at the Grammy Awards, and began complaining that he had recently purchased expensive clothes in anticipation of winning the "Best Rap Album" award that he lost to Puff Daddy. Before being escorted off-stage, he implored the audience, "I don't know how you all see it, but when it comes to the children, Wu-Tang is for the children. We teach the children. Puffy is good, but Wu-Tang is the best. I want you all to know that this is ODB, and I love you all. Peace!." His bizarre on-stage antics were widely reported in the mainstream media.
In April 1998, he announced his new stage name, Big Baby Jesus (the first of many alternate stage names; see the list below), but was never able to give a coherent explanation for the very brief switch.
In 1999, he found time to release Nigga Please between jail sentences, which received much success and was even more bizarrely warped than his debut. This release included the single "Got Your Money" which became extremely successful in the US and elsewhere; it was produced by The Neptunes, and its success would serve as one of the production group's main stepping stones to the super-stardom they would later achieve. As well as the Neptunes, the single also put singer Kelis, who sang the chorus, on the map; she went on to have a successful solo career.
In 2001, with Jones again in jail for crack cocaine possession, his record company Elektra Records made the decision to release a greatest hits album (despite there being only two albums in ODB's back catalog) in order to both end their contract with the unreliable, troubled artist as well as make some money off the publicity generated by his legal troubles. After the contract with Elektra was terminated, the label D-3 records released the album "The Trials and Tribulations of Russell Jones" in 2002, comprised of tracks put together without Jones's input, using the vocals he had recorded prior to his capture by authorities. The label recruited many guests including several Wu-Tang Clan affiliates, No Limit Records artist C-Murder, and the Insane Clown Posse. However, the album was critically panned and sales were poor.
The year 2003 brought a change in the life of Ol' Dirty Bastard however. The day he was released from prison, with Mariah Carey and Damon Dash by his side, Jones signed a contract with Roc-A-Fella Records, and began a new chapter in his life. Living at his mother's home under house arrest and with a court-ordered probation hanging over his head, he managed to star in a VH1 special :"INSIDE OUT: ODB LIFE ON PAROLE. He also managed to record a new album, scheduled to be released in 2004 through Dame Dash Music Group.