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Wutang Clan's RZA On The Racist History Of A Popular Ice Cream Jingle

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Good Humor trucks got a new jingle this week from a distinguished source. Imagine this tune lifting your spirits on a warm summer's night.

(SOUNDBITE OF RZA'S GOOD HUMOR JINGLE)

SIMON: Oh, that's good. The composer of this new Good Humor jingle is RZA, the founder of Wu-Tang Clan, who joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

RZA: My pleasure. My pleasure. My pleasure, Scott. Thank you for inviting me.

SIMON: Well, how did a music maker of your eminence get drawn into the world of frozen desserts?

RZA: Well, the Good Humor team reached out to me. They wanted to do something about the negative energy that "Turkey In The Straw" had out in the world. And they felt like, let's do something about it. And I was like, wow, why not? It's better to do positive than negative, baby.

SIMON: "Turkey In The Straw," we should explain, was on Good Humor trucks for years and had been used in minstrel shows. Did you know that history before you started taking on this new tune?

RZA: Oh, yeah. I mean, I didn't know the history, like, when I was - you know, last year, I didn't know the history. Now, a lot of things that, you know, is coming to the light, people are digging and bringing out a lot of things that have bad history or negative connotations towards, you know, racism or things of that nature. So when they reached out to me, they said the same. Like, let's offer up something new.

SIMON: How do you write a good ice cream truck jingle? I mean, what's the creative process?

RZA: The first creative process, I would say, is think about joy. You know, look; I'm a kid that chased ice cream trucks (laughter). I'm a kid that used to pack bags to make a dollar and wait for the ice cream truck to spend a dollar. So for inspiration, I just thought of joy. I actually kept repeating these three phrases in my head. It's good for me. It's good for you. It's good for us.

SIMON: Aw.

RZA: And if it's good, it's good, baby. Took about eight different tries to finally end up on the melody that was, I think, simple enough as well, 'cause I can be complicated. But I think simple enough, good major scale notes with a minor 7 jazz chord in there to, you know, to twist it a little bit, you know, and have some fun.

SIMON: How did you write this tune - electronically, piano?

RZA: Yeah. Well, I started on the guitar first to get the progression, and then I moved over to the piano. And then there's this piece of equipment called a Mellotron that has a lot of analog samples. And so they have a new version of it that came out about five years ago - have all these great, great old sounds.

(SOUNDBITE OF RZA'S GOOD HUMOR JINGLE)

RZA: And I used sounds from that to, you know, emulate this ice cream truck sound and those high bells you hear. Of course, the drums is hip-hop, too. I had to turn to my old MPC (laughter).

SIMON: May I ask, do you have a favorite Good Humor flavor?

RZA: Yeah. I'm going to be honest with you on that, strawberry shortcake. I'm the guy that eats the outside first, then eats the ice cream, then eats the strawberry center.

SIMON: Oh. So you eat, like, the crispy outside first and the strawberry...

RZA: Yeah. I go through the - it's good. Eat the cake outside first. Then you have fun eating the ice cream, then you eat the last thing. And also, you know, it's good to savor things, right? So I remember being a kid. I would have my ice cream for at least seven minutes longer than the rest of the kids. Because of the process of eating it, mine lasted longer.

SIMON: You were a deliberate man even then.

RZA: (Laughter).

SIMON: I have to ask you an ugly business question.

RZA: OK. Why not?

SIMON: Do you get residuals every time a driver plays the jingle?

RZA: No. This is given to Good Humor and the whole ice cream community, all the trucks in perpetuity, no royalty. It's a gift.

SIMON: That is very generous of you.

RZA: Well, bong, bong.

SIMON: And little kids all over this country are going to grow up humming your melody.

RZA: I don't know if you know the Wu-Tang, Scott. We have one member who passed away, but he always was - we called him the ODB. He always said Wu-Tang is for the kids. Well, here it is.

SIMON: Producer, composer, director RZA, who has created the new tune for Good Humor trucks, have a wonderful summer. I think you're going to make summer more tuneful for a lot of youngsters. Thanks very much, Mr. RZA.

RZA: Thank you, Scott. Peace.

(SOUNDBITE OF RZA'S GOOD HUMOR JINGLE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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