The rap artist O.D.B., whose utterly unique rhymes, wild lifestyle and incessant legal troubles made him one of the most vivid characters in hip-hop, collapsed and died inside a recording studio Saturday. He was 35.
O.D.B. had complained of chest pains before collapsing at the Manhattan studio and was dead by the time paramedics arrived, said Gabe Tesoriero, a spokesman for O.D.B.’s record label, Roc-a-Fella. He would have turned 36 on Monday.
O.D.B., also known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Dirt McGirt, Big Baby Jesus or his legal name of Russell Jones, was a founding member of the seminal rap group the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s. With his unorthodox delivery – alternately slurred, hyper and nonsensical – O.D.B. stood out, even in the nine-man Clan, which featured such stars as Method Man, RZA and Ghostface Killah.
"There’s nobody like him in the game," RZA told The Associated Press in an April interview, when asked if O.D.B. could resume his career after prison. "He’s got a lot of problems he’s got to iron out, of course, but as far as a one-of-a-kind person, a one-of-a-kind artist, he’s one of a generation, one of a lifetime. He’s a very rare commodity."
But as his fame increased, so did his erratic behavior, and fans came to expect the unexpected from O.D.B.
When MTV News followed him around at the height of his popularity, he took the camera crew and several of his kids (he was said to have more than a dozen, by numerous mothers) to the welfare office in a limousine to get an allotment of food stamps.
And he received them.
In 2000, after escaping a court-ordered stint in a California rehabilitation center, authorities searched for him for a month. He was finally arrested in Philadelphia – three days after performing in a New York City concert with his Wu-Tang clique.
He was sentenced in 2001 to two to four years in prison for drug possession, plus two concurrent years for escaping from the clinic. He was released in 2003 and immediately signed with Roc-a-Fella.
"Russell inspired all of us with his spirit, wit and tremendous heart," Roc-a-Fella founder Damon Dash said in a statement. "The world has lost a great talent, but we mourn the loss of our friend."
His mother, Cherry Jones, said she received the news of her son’s death in a phone call, which she called "every mother’s worst dream."
"To the public he was known as Old Dirty Bastard, but to me he was known as Rusty. The kindest most generous soul on earth," her statement said. "Russell was more than a rapper, he was a loving father, brother, uncle and most of all, son."