The Dirty Version, by Buddha Monk & Mickey Hess

I recently read the “The Dirty Version” by Buddha Monk and Mickey Hess. This is ostensibly a biography of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but as you go along you start realizing the subtitle “On Stage, In the Studio and On the Streets with Ol’ Dirty Bastard” isn’t some kind of pandering promise to you as a reader, it’s referring to the very difficult, emotionally gritty lived experience of ODB’s best friend. This isn’t a book about Ol’ Dirty Bastard, it’s about Buddha Monk.

Mickey Hess is a music professor at New Jersey’s Rider University who wrote his dissertation on ODB (“”Ol’ Dirty Bastard: I Liked Your Motherfuckin Style”, you can find it in the stacks at U of Louisville.”). Buddha Monk is the lifelong friend of Ol’ Dirty and a rapper/producer himself who kind of became Dirty’s da facto babysitter. He was the guy you hear about who makes sure the Axl Roses of the world show up to concerts, don’t do too much cocaine, don’t skip town, etc. I forget the particulars of the book’s origin, but it’s from Buddha Monk’s POV “as told to” Mickey Hess. There’s a whole tradition of these biographies — the recent Jerry Lee Lewis book “In His Own Words” as told to Rick Bragg comes to mind. But this book is unique because it’s not Ol’ Dirty Bastard “in his own words”, it’s Ol’ Dirty Bastard “in his best friend who didn’t quite make it and instead saw his friend blow up and throw it all away and then die young’s words.”

This book is really good. I highly recommend it, mostly because Buddha Monk is a really honest, interesting guy who just never got his shine. Here he’s kind of telling these stories objectively in the biography sense, but you more and more get the sense that they’re subjective in the way a memoir is necessarily subjective. A story where he and ODB are entering a recording studio and a security guard blocks him after Ol’ Dirty walks in, then Ol’ Dirty says “he’s with me” is conveyed with particular pride. This kind of loyalty causes Monk to devote his life full-time to being Dirty’s main handler, the kind of music industry character you never hear about, but who does the real, unglamorous labor that keeps things running smoothly. Most of the Secret Service agents assigned to guard John and Jackie Kennedy got divorces because their wives felt they cared for the Kennedys more than their own families and Buddha Monk is no different. He devoted himself to the Wu Tang Clan so fully that it tore his own personal life apart. And if you’re holding out for a happy ending, there isn’t one — the final bookend is ODB promising to take Monk to the 1998 Grammys at Radio City Music Hall only to stand him up, leaving Monk to watch his friend’s most enduring moment (“Wu Tang is for the children”) from his couch in Brooklyn wearing his brand new bright red suit.

Of course, as with any good memoir, there’s enough of a kernel of truth at the heart of all these accounts to make it compelling. Buddha Monk is, after all, a rapper/producer himself. He was the main guy in some ancillary Wu Tang projects like Zu Ninjas and Da Manchuz, was a key creative producer on “36 Chambers”, and even claims he did a lot of producing that RZA ended up taking credit for. As much as I don’t want to believe RZA would fuck over someone’s royalties like that, the music publishing industry isn’t exactly known for being fair. And the shitty thing is, after Dirty died in 2004, Monk ended up selling bootleg DVDs in banks and barber shops, so the higher Monk is riding during that 90s Wu Tang heyday, the more tragic that low point is. So in a way it’s also kind of a tangential comment on how fucked up the business of music licensing/publishing etc. is. But at the end of the day — and at the end of the book — that’s small potatoes compared to the emotional toll exacted by the showbiz machine.

But don’t feel sorry for Monk. He’s still making music, as a rapper and producer (his production company works with over 280 artists, get his 2013 solo album The Dark Knight and check out his other projects here). In the mid-00s he moved to Switzerland to spread the Wu Tang message to their rabid European audience, and at some point he was even living the happy suburban lifestyle in Worcester, Mass.

And let’s not forget, he got plenty of drugs & groupies himself. Sure, he had to get a divorce and start his life all over again. But hey, sometimes that’s the price you pay for being a rap superstar.