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- Posted on Nov 13th 2009 5:00PM by James Sullivan
Known to his mother as Rusty, Jones started rapping with two of his cousins, Robert Diggs and Gary Grice, as a trio called Force of the Imperial Master. After Diggs and Grice each had false starts with solo careers, the three became founding members of the groundbreaking Staten Island hip-hop posse Wu-Tang Clan, which turned hip-hop on its ear with the stark, kung-fu-inspired 1993 debut, 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).' Diggs, known as the Scientist during the Wu's underground days, became the RZA; Grice, who was the Genius, became the GZA, and Jones -- then the Specialist -- became ODB.
From the beginning, Dirty's specialties were his eccentric, marble-mouthed rapping style and his penchant for attracting trouble. Though he earned a Grammy nomination for rap album of the year for his 1995 solo debut, he made more news for his personal problems, starting with the gunshot he took to the stomach shortly after Wu-Tang debuted.
His contributions to the group's double-disc second album, 1997's 'Wu-Tang Forever' (notably the profane, exceptionally weird 'Dog S---') were fewer than on the debut. Meanwhile, his cameos in court were turning into starring roles. ODB was arrested for failure to pay child support for three of his 13 children. His wife took out a restraining order against him. He got shot again; he got arrested for shoplifting sneakers. He had a steady stream of traffic and drug offenses. More creatively, he was arrested for wearing a bulletproof vest in California, a newly illegal activity for a convicted felon, and for lounging naked on a hotel balcony in Berlin, which presumably had been illegal there for some time. Sentenced to rehab, he escaped, managing to attend the record-release party for the Wu-Tang's third album undetected, despite a heavy police presence. A few days later, he was arrested in a McDonald's parking lot in Philadelphia after attracting a large crowd of autograph seekers.
ODB's legal troubles were so complicated, he hired O.J. Simpson lawyer Robert Shapiro to represent him. Chris Rock joked in his novelty song 'No Sex (in the Champagne Room)' that ODB "couldn't've possibly committed all those crimes," suggesting that "Coolio did some of that s---." But the rapper's biggest moment in the spotlight came during the 1998 Grammy Awards ceremony, when he prefigured Kanye West's bizarre Grammy-disrupting antics by a decade. A day after he helped rescue a four-year-old girl who'd been in an accident, rushing out of a recording studio to help lift a car off her, ODB jumped onstage at the Grammys while Shawn Colvin was accepting an award for song of the year. Wu-Tang, not Puff Daddy, should have won the award for Best Rap Album, he said in a rambling diatribe, because "Wu-Tang is for the children."
ODB spent much of the next several years in prison on various offenses. When he got out in 2003, he signed to Roc-A-Fella Records and began working on a new solo album. Five years ago, on Nov. 13, 2004, two days before his 36th birthday, he collapsed at the Wu-Tang studio in Manhattan, dying an hour later of a lethal mix of cocaine and the prescription painkiller Tramadol. He was, said his mother, "the kindest, most generous soul on Earth."