For The Babies: Children Of Wu-Tang Founder Remember Their Ol’ Dirty Dad
After waltzing off the Brooklyn-bound C train on a bright Friday afternoon, I squint down Putnam Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, aiming to scope out the whereabouts of today’s interviewees.
Three individuals—two women and a man—emerge out of two separate cars. After greeting me, one woman, clad in an army jacket, helps the other with her makeup. The man, dressed in all black from head-to-toe, moves cardboard boxes and other debris off of the area we’ll be photographing them, as his doe-eyed infant son coos and giggles from his stroller nearby.
A mural on the brick wall behind Organic’s Deli at the corner of Putnam and Franklin Ave serves as today’s photo shoot backdrop. The airbrush paint work of art is of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and the interviewees are his three eldest children, who are now grown up with children of their own. Standing, posing, laughing and smiling in front of the camera are 29-year-old Taniqua, 28-year-old Bar-Sun (also a musician who performs under the apt stage name “Young Dirty Bastard”) and 26-year-old Shaquita. The younger two of the trio, Bar-Sun and Shaquita, are much more soft-spoken than their older sister, however, once our conversation gets started. It’s clear that all three siblings share a common vivacious personality, which (along with their stubbornness) are traits they say they share with their famous father. Taniqua has her father’s broad nose and full lips, while Shaquita has his expressive eyes. Bar-Sun’s facial structure as a whole is so eerily similar to ODB’s that he wouldn’t be able to deny that he’s his son if he tried.
As one of the nine members of the 90s supergroup, Wu-Tang Clan, ODB’s erratic rap delivery was one of his claims to fame. His solo success with his debut LP, 1995’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, brought him to the forefront of hip-hop, and the album was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 1996 Grammy Awards. ODB was known far and wide for “Brooklyn Zoo” and “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” and was featured on Mariah Carey’s remix of “Fantasy” and “Ghetto Supastar (That Is What You Are)” by Pras and Mya. As for his children’s favorite songs by their ol’ dirty dad, Shaquita is a fan of “Cold Blooded,” while Bar-Sun cites “I Can’t Wait” as his favorite, for the repetition of his father’s self-proclaimed moniker “Big Baby Jesus.” Taniqua decided upon “The Stomp” and “Raw Hide,” shortly after reciting the lyrics to “Pop Shots” to herself.
While his successes are storied, it’s his behavior that often made headlines. He was convicted of assault in 1993, and pleaded guilty to attempted assault in 1998. He was arrested for shoplifting a pair of shoes in July 1998, just days after being shot during a robbery in Brooklyn. He was cuffed many times for possession of marijuana and crack-cocaine and was given a two to four-year sentence for cocaine possession in 2001.
There were also multiple claims and charges against him regarding unpaid child support, as ODB fathered several children from other women. His eyebrow-raising antics didn’t stop there. Many remember Dirt McGirt, as he was affectionately nicknamed, for his stage-crashing episode at the 1998 Grammy Awards, where he declared that Wu-Tang should have won the coveted award for Best Rap Album over the winner, Puff Daddy.
“Life value: don’t do drugs!” Taniqua says with a laugh when asked about some of the important lessons they learned from their father. However, that wasn’t all they soaked up from the rapper as they were growing up. There was a lot more to Russell Tyrone Jones than the media wanted to publicize. Based on the testimonies from his children, he was a kind-hearted, yet no-nonsense parent, who made sure his Mini-Me’s were educated about life and themselves as they matured.
After the group relocates from the mural to a nearby stoop, Taniqua explains that Mr. Jones was “just a regular dad,” despite having massive amounts of success. All three Jones children noted that, at times, it was difficult to do family outings such as trips to the mall, due to fans swarming them for pictures of their father. However, the attention never excited him, and he was not into the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and celebrity life. Instead, he was an average man who knew how to balance being a father and a friend. He was just as interesting in real life as he was on-screen, and no amount of fame changed his personality. “How y’all seen him on TV? That’s how he was at home,” Taniqua says. “It was no act, it was no show, that’s who he was. So if he was diggin’ up his nose… he’s probably listening to me right now, diggin’ up his nose, doing whatever.”
He loved to joke around and eat hard candy, which his children acknowledged he didn’t like to share with anyone. His favorite song was “Me & Mrs. Jones” by Billy Paul, he enjoyed watching Kung-Fu movies, and he had a huge, loving heart. Taniqua’s favorite memory of her dad was when he bought her five hamsters that she named after The Spice Girls when she was a little girl. Shaquita remembers how much fun it was to play her GameBoy with her dad (we later discovered it wasn’t her GameBoy after all, but Bar-Sun’s). Bar-Sun credits his father for his love of clams, which they shared at Coney Island during a father-son trip.
ODB’s caring nature was evident not only in his household but in public as well. In 1998, Jones, with the help of members of the Wu-Tang Clan and several nearby pedestrians, helped a little girl named Maati Lovell, who was trapped under a car in Brooklyn. In a submitted e-mail, Lovell explained that Jones’ help was truly appreciated. While he didn’t stay in contact with the Lovell family too much, he did visit the then-four-year-old at the hospital while she recovered from injuries she sustained during the accident. “I wrote a handwritten letter to him in the second grade, telling him he was my hero and how thankful I was for him,” she wrote. She also said that she befriended a cousin of Jones’ while in high school, and she keeps in touch with members of his family. They introduce her as “the young lady that Dirty saved.”
“If I could speak to Dirty [today], I would give him a big hug and thank him from the bottom of my heart,” she said. “I could [have] died that day, or been hurt for life. I’m currently a hairstylist at ARCO Luxury Boutique in Brooklyn, New York. Every now and then, I think about how different my life could [have] been because of that accident. I could [have] lost a limb, where I wouldn’t be able to do simple things like hold a blow dryer or stand on my feet for hours a day. Life could have been so different, and I’m so grateful and forever in debt to the Wu-Tang Clan.”
Since he was often busy doing shows and touring, ODB wasn’t readily available to teach his children fundamental life skills, which they revealed were things their mother, Icelene, took over. However, when he wasn’t touring, Jones instilled his cultural beliefs in his children. According to Bar-Sun, his father and the Wu-Tang Clan were involved heavily in the Five Percent Nation, commonly referred to as the Nation of Gods and Earth. It’s a cultural movement started in the 1960s by Clarence 13X (Allah The Father or “Father X”) that has influenced hip-hop for several years. A core belief of the movement is that young people have the potential to be molded into powerful leaders, and will ultimately develop a complete sense of self through constant teachings of the practice.
“The Five Percent Nation is 100 percent altogether,” Bar-Sun says. “You got the five percent who teach and who know [the way of God]. Then you got the 10 percent who know but never teach. Then you got the 85 percent who don’t know shh… [are blind to themselves and God’s knowledge].”
“He taught my mother everything [about the Five Percent Nation] and instilled that into her so she could instill that into us,” Taniqua says of their father’s teachings. “He was out on tour, doing concerts or whatever, and she was able to give us those teachings and bring us up as Earths.”
One of the ways that Wu-Tang connected to the artistry of hip-hop and music was through the Five Percent Nation, which Mr. Jones’ children claim meant more to him than the industry itself.
I didn’t know Wu-Tang was like that. I didn’t know he was like that ’til I saw it for myself. After going to different shows I was like, yo, my father is poppin’! —Taniqua Jones-White
“He didn’t want us to be in the [music] industry,” Taniqua testifies. “He’d say when he came home from jail, ‘I don’t wanna be there, I don’t want to be a part of the industry anymore. I just want to live regular, I want to take my family and move away.’”Jones had a dream to build an ark like Noah, where he would bring his many children and their mothers with him to sail away for a carefree life. Due to this disdain for the industry, Bar-Sun’s father did not tell him about the people he’d meet along the way as a burgeoning musician in his own right.
“He didn’t teach us about all snakes in the grass,” he points out. “I ain’t gonna name no names, but [there’s] a lot of snakes in the industry. As a young rising musician, it’s kind of confusing, because you train so hard for something you’re not ready for. You think it’s just people that look at you eye-to-eye, but they’ll run behind you, cut your spinal cord, and your cerebellum will get loose and you’re off balance. There’s a lot of truth that they’re keeping from people.” As for becoming a musician in the first place, Bar-Sun says his father’s lack of confidence in his rhyming skills was the reason behind pursuing a career in the music industry.
“‘You can’t rap!’” he exclaims, mimicking his father’s initial reaction, gravelly voice and all, to his son wanting to be a musician. “I was small, I was like ‘damn!’ It was like ‘I can’t live up to your expectation?’ So you already know I attempted, and there’s still higher levels to reach.”
Taniqua, who acts as Bar-Sun’s manager, says that since music is ingrained in her, she always finds herself coming back to the world her father warned her about. “It’s a lot of crookedness and things you gotta go through in this music industry, and you’ll wanna give up and be like, ‘eff this, I want to just live a regular life,’” she says. “I don’t mind living a regular life, but for some reason, it’s like a pull. No matter how much I stray away, I come back. [Music] always comes back to me.”
Other than spiritual, cultural and professional values, Jones’ children hold on to some of the other personal gems taught by their father. Shaquita says that she learned how to tell the truth because of him.
“I lost [my virginity] at 13,” she shares. Her father asked her that awkward “are you or aren’t you” question during a family outing in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “That was before he passed, literally, right before he passed. We all had a get-together and he asked me right after the fact. I was like, might as well tell the truth, because he’s gonna know I’m lying anyway. I tell the truth all the time now.”
“We’d all get in trouble [as kids] because of her telling the truth,” Taniqua interjects. “I’ll set the whole story up, and she’d go and blow it up. Go and mess everything up.”
Taniqua also learned how to keep calm and carry on thanks to her father’s carefree mentality. “If something happened, something’s your fault. It’s your fault and you own up to it, keep it going,” she says. “I’m a person that cares too much about things. I overthink things, so I’m like, ‘What would my father do?’ He wouldn’t care. He’d be like, ‘You know what? It is what it is. You can’t do nothin’ about it. That’s it.’ So, I have the mentality to just let things go, don’t keep things on your shoulders, don’t let it weigh you down. Don’t let it tire you, just relax and meditate and just let it go.”
Despite passing on wise advice and values to his next of kin, Russell Tyrone Jones’ dismal behavior made the news from time to time. His troubles with the law are something that Taniqua and her siblings were aware of as children, however, some of the memories are repressed.
“When he did get locked up, in the beginning, it was [for] child support, stuff like that,” she says. “Then, drugs…We understood basically everything.” While their father did not do more than drink alcohol in front of them, Bar-Sun noted that shortly before his death, Jones did get high in front of him by smoking “whatever could take [him] out of it.” “He was looking at me in the eye when he was doing what he was doing, gettin’ as high as he could get,” he remembers.
Unfortunately, his drug abuse contributed to his demise, and his passing on Nov. 13, 2004—his 36th birthday would have been just two days later—is a memory forever etched in his children’s minds. “I remember that day clear as day,” Taniqua recalls. “When Daddy passed, I was like…16?”
“Yeah, ’cause I was 13,” Shaquita confirms. Bar-Sun was 15 years old. The trio notes that their aunt Dionne, Jones’ sister, passed away on the exact same day that their father died several years later. They were very close, so they saw it as their father coming to get her to be with him.
“When my father died, I was in [Brooklyn’s] Brevoort Projects, not too far from here, visiting my boyfriend,” Taniqua continues. “[We’re] at the store and my cousin gets a call. My cousin turns around and she’s like, ‘something’s wrong with your father, something happened.’ We’re walking back to the house, out of nowhere, I don’t know why I started running, but I ran. When I hit the corner, I turned and I seen him [Bar-Sun]. He’s walking from the projects and he’s crying hysterically. He don’t cry like that. I’m like ‘Bar-Sun, what’s wrong?’ And he’s like, ‘Daddy…’ He can’t get it out. He said, ‘Daddy, Daddy…something.’ I left him and I ran upstairs.”
Taniqua went inside the house to discover several members of her family crying. “‘They found Daddy, he’s in a coma, he’s at the studio,’” she recalls them saying. Wu-Tang had a studio by the Jacob Javits Center at the time. Their mother, Icelene, drove Bar-Sun and Taniqua out to the studio so that they could be with their father. Shaquita was at their home in Long Island.
“We get to the studio, there’s a whole bunch of police, ambulance outside, and it’s nighttime now,” she continues. “We took an elevator straight up, and everybody is lining the hallway. Everybody’s looking because they know who we are, and I just ran. I ran inside, and it was a crowd, so I’m trying to jump over them, under them, around them, and the cops and the FBI’s trying to hold me. They’re like, ‘let her go, that’s his daughter.’ They finally let me go. It was like all I had was tunnel vision, and I didn’t care who you [were], you’ll get knocked out anything. I didn’t care who it was, I was gonna get to my father.”
“When I finally saw him, I saw him laying on the floor,” she describes of that fateful moment. “I remember the only thing he had on was boxers and socks. Everything else he had was off of him. I went down, and I knew he was gone after that. I laid beside him and just brushed his hair back and kissed him, I laid with him the whole time. Then my brother came in and my mother came, we just all laid on the floor with him. Everybody was crying, and I was just observing everybody who was around. Seeing some people who were looking, seeing who wasn’t crying. My whole thought process was just messed up. Me and [Bar-Sun] were just holding each other, and he was just crying.”
The family says that Jones passed away in his sleep. He was complaining of chest pains and took prescription drugs to alleviate some of it. However, the combination of an illicit drug he took at the studio coupled with the medication for his chest was lethal. He fell asleep and never woke up, and an accidental drug overdose was the official cause of death.
“Any smart person, even me at that age, I’m not gonna give you any type of medication after you just did probably cocaine or crack, whatever the hell you just did,” Taniqua says.
Many attended Jones’ funeral, including fans, his cousins and fellow Wu-Tang members GZA and RZA, collaborator Mariah Carey and Damon Dash. Shaquita recited a poem she wrote for her father, while the often-quiet Bar-Sun stepped up to the plate and said a few words.
“Bar-Sun was really quiet. We thought he was gonna be mute, he never really talked,” Taniqua says. “My father died, and it’s like he [Jones] jumped into him. When Bar-Sun was on the podium at the funeral, that was the first time he got up in front of everybody and spoke. He was like, ‘I’m here. Daddy didn’t go nowhere. I’m Daddy, I’m here.’ We were like… [looks around]. That day, I feel like Daddy jumped into Bar-Sun, and ever since, he was outspoken, loud, he didn’t care what anybody had to say. He started rhyming even harder, and the next thing you know, ‘okay, he got somewhere! He’s got some talent!’”
Although they miss their father terribly, the children learned some more essential values after his untimely death that they continue to carry with them nearly 13 years later.
“Don’t take anybody for granted,” Taniqua says. “Life is short, and it taught me a lot about family. Who’s really there, who’s not, who has your back, who has their own interests, it just taught me about people really.” With his father in a better place, Bar-Sun says his father’s “freedom” makes it easier to discuss him today.
“When did you realize that your dad was your dad, and how prolific his legacy was for the game?” I ask. All of the siblings point out that even today, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s fan base continues to grow in size and support. Taniqua went to the now-defunct Rock The Bells Concert years ago and saw the admiration for her father firsthand during a tribute performance.
“…Thousands of people, they’re cheering for my father, they’re going crazy for my father,” she says with a wide grin. “Method Man brought me up on stage, and when I saw how in love they were…how in love they were…with my father, and how much love they had for him, that’s when I broke down. I didn’t know Wu-Tang was like that, I didn’t know he was like that ’til I saw it for myself. After going to different shows, I was like ‘yo, my father is poppin’!’ [Laughs]” She also recalls a meeting with a man named Jesse, a disabled fan of her father’s with whom she spent an entire weekend with.
“I got close with his family and him. He even ended up getting a big tattoo of my father on his arm. We still talk to this day.” She beams just thinking about it. “He was just so happy. He was like ‘I got to chill with the daughter of Ol’ Dirty Bastard!’ and I’m like ‘I’m just Taniqua! I don’t know what you’re talking about!’ But, a lot of people, if they’re real fans, they’re like oh my God, and I’m like, it’s just me!”
I wrote a handwritten letter to him in the second grade, telling him he was my hero and how thankful I was for him. —Maati Lovell
Shaquita explains that her father’s fans interact with her via Facebook, which is how I was able to get in touch with her and her family in the first place. “Somebody on Facebook messaged me, and she was like ‘I’d like to send you and your daughter a gift if you have an address,’” she says. “‘I was a big fan of your father, and I respect him to the fullest!’ Good thing they have the thing in the inbox now where you can confirm people to message you, because I’ll miss things, like, three years later. [Laughs]”
The sun is beginning to set, as is our conversation. Before we take pictures and say our goodbyes, Bar-Sun returns from his walk with his son, who was quietly sitting in his stroller the entire time. He shows up with a bottle of champagne, which was originally bought to celebrate LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ first night in the Playoffs. However, he decided to pop it open for the “better occasion” of discussing his father’s legacy. When asked what the Joneses would say to their father if he was alive today, the answers vary. “Everything’s under control, for me,” Bar-Sun says swiftly.
“Daddy, I’m still your first girl, well, favorite girl, your baby girl,” Taniqua beams, as her sister side-eyes her before breaking out into her own smile. “I love you, and I just wanna hold you. He’s still relevant, so it’s like he’s here. I’m not gonna forget him because he’s always here.”
“We got this!” Shaquita says, referencing her and her siblings’ growth since losing their dad. “We got this. Even though you’re not here, we did learn a lot from the experience. We’re now really, really strong. Things happen for a reason, we can’t do anything about that.”
They also joke and laugh about how they remained sane in some highly stressful situations growing up. “[Dad] should have got his sh*t together!” Taniqua laughs. “Should’a went, took all the paternity tests, had everything in place, stuff could be a little easier!”
“That showed us how to deal with what we dealing with right now,” Bar-Sun adds. “If it was all just there, we would’a been crazy! Think of how we could have been!”
“Like Paris Hilton! Crashin’ up cars!” Shaquita giggles. “My best friend would have been Miley Cyrus right now.”
The Wu-Tang spitter’s Putnam Avenue mural is the album cover for Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, and it features a short blurb about ODB’s legacy beside it:
“Dirty Came!!, conquered and in the process, motivated millions. His legacy will never die. He is missed by his family, friends and fans. Peace. WU-TANG is for the babies.”
Judging by the admiration they have for their father, that last line in the blurb appears to be outstandingly true. The feeling was mutual, per the Jones family patriarch himself. “They’re crazy about their dad, there’s no doubt about it, and their dad is crazy about them, too,” Jones gushed in an interview with MTV News’ Josh Tyrangiel in 1997. “They’re my children, they know me as Dad. Ol’ Dirty Bastard, that’s like a job. I just want the best for them, just like any parent wants for their children.”
Video by Jason Chandler