Music Video Breakdown: ‘The Baddest Man Alive,’ by The Black Keys And RZA

Back when the track list for the soundtrack to RZA’s directorial debut, The Man With the Iron Fists, was released, I declared that the album’s first track, “The Baddest Man Alive,” featuring the Wu-Tang Clan mastermind and the Black Keys, was my new favorite song. The fact that I had yet to actually hear it did nothing to dissuade me, for a few reasons:

  • It features both RZA and the Black Keys, which is like taking a delicious pizza and adding a fundamentally different, but still delicious, second pizza to the equation. It is like having two pizzas. That is my point.
  • It is called “The Baddest Man Alive.” There are not enough songs these days about people proclaiming themselves to be bad. I like that they’re coming back. I also like that they said “the baddest man alive,” leaving open the possibility that there is a dead, undead, or as yet unborn man who is badder. You never know, you know?
  • It is from the soundtrack to a feature-length kung-fu film that RZA wrote and directed. RZA wrote and directed a feature-length kung-fu movie. We are not making a big enough deal out of that. Like, as a society.

With all that going for it, the song could have just been 10 uninterrupted minutes of cicadas screeching directly into a microphone and I still would have written an angry email to any music critic who considered it to be something less than a masterpiece. Luckily, upon listening, it did not disappoint. It sounds almost exactly like you’d expect a song by the Black Keys and RZA to sound, and I mean that in the best possible way. A+ and a big gold star.

Then, as if all that weren’t good enough, they went ahead and made a video for the song, too. And it was AMAZING. (Provided of course you enjoy things like massive food fights, people getting their arms ripped off, and legendary rappers brandishing seafood as a weapon.) But now I am getting head of myself. Please take a few minutes to watch the video, then join me on the following pages as I break it all down. This one’s a doozy. Buckle in.

The video opens with RZA and the Black Keys finishing up what appears to have been a pleasant meal at a Chinese restaurant. This brings up an important question: How much would you pay to eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant with RZA and the Black Keys? More importantly, how much do you think someone would pay? You know how every now and then you’ll see a story about people with too much money paying ungodly sums for weird pieces of music memorabilia (“California Man Pays $75,000 for Uneaten Half of Robert Plant’s Burrito”)? Those guys. How much do you think one of them would pay?

Or, to put it another way, how much money would my Kickstarter need to raise to win the auction? This is important. Serious replies only.

The waitress brings the check, but only one fortune cookie. For three people. Ruh roh.

I am sure the Black Keys are very nice men, and you are free to take this opportunity to Google them to find out every little thing your heart desires about their music, history, and personal lives, but this is the part of the breakdown where I am going to talk about RZA.

RZA is one of the most fascinating human beings alive. First of all, he is the founder and architect of the Wu-Tang Clan, which by itself would give him a lifetime pass in my book. Wu-Tang is one of the most influential rap groups in history, and he is almost entirely responsible for their vision and direction, as he explained in this recent New York Times interview:

A lot of people don’t know this about Wu-Tang, it started from a focused mind. I was given total autonomy to do whatever I want with them. If you listen to “Protect Ya Neck,” and U-God has four lines, not because he only wrote four lines – because I was able to take out everything else and just keep those four lines without him saying, “Yo, why I only got four lines?” They agreed, to me, to be a dictator for five years.

Good God, can you imagine trying to explain to the types of strong personalities that make up Wu-Tang that you were cutting their verse, and that they had no say in the matter? The fact that the group was able to finish a single track should be more than enough to get RZA appointed to the United Nations. If you can handle ODB, you can handle Iran.

And then, after his icon status was cemented in music, he branched out into acting, philosophy, screenwriting, and, now, feature film directing. The dude is so deep he’s picked up on radios in tunnels. Also, he has a million nicknames and wants to take on Jay-Z in a chess match promoted by Don King. RZA is the best.

Everyone at the table reaches for the fortune cookie, which leads to a three-way arm pretzel with RZA grabbing one of each of the Keys’ arms to prevent them from acquiring the cookie. The fact that both of them still have a free arm and could have probably just picked up the cookie and tossed it into their mouth before RZA had time to do anything about it is what one would call “a plot hole” if one wanted to be a huge wiener and ruin a perfectly fun music video.

This is a picture of Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys preparing to headbutt RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan over a fortune cookie.

I challenge any of you to find a better sentence than that on the Internet today.

RZA responds to the headbutt by standing up and flipping the table, sending leftover food and plates flying everywhere. As someone who has worked in a restaurant, I can assure you that this is NOT a cool thing to do. Number one, food gets everywhere, and trying to clean it all up in the middle of the dinner rush is no fun at all. But more importantly, it freaks out the other customers, who you are trying to upsell on desserts and drinks and such so their bill will be higher, and therefore so will your tip. Don’t make a scene in a restaurant, people. Take it outside.

But given everything that’s about to happen following the flipped table, I suppose that’s not priority one in all this. What I’m saying is that sh-t is about to: Go. Down.

This guy knows what I’m talking about.

Dan and RZA take their fight to the kitchen, where Dan begins throwing entire heads of lettuce in the direction of Bobby Digital. Now, I do not think I would particularly enjoy having a rock & rollster throw produce at me in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant (in fact, I think I would dislike it quite a bit), but apparently RZA really hates it, because from this point of the video on he takes one of the more dramatic heel turns you will ever see.

This is a picture of RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan brandishing a live fish as a weapon moments before he slugs Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys in the face with it during a fight that began because their waitress did not bring them enough fortune cookies. Remember earlier when I said you wouldn’t find a better sentence than the one about the headbutt? I lied.

Also, this:

Well said, RZA. And speaking of things RZA has said well, please note this excerpt from his verse in the song:

I drink honey straight from the beehive
Bungee jumping off the Empire State, BUTT NAKED
Rollerblade across the Golden Gate, BUTT NAKED
I’m the baddest man alive, and I don’t ṗlan to die.

I repeat, RZA is the best.

After knocking Dan out cold with the fish, RZA heads back out to the dining room and goes absolutely BONKERS. First, for literally no reason at all, he picks up this poor guy and throws him through a table…

… then he throws this guy’s noodles all over his head…

… then he picks up what’s left of the noodles and shoves them in his mouth with his hand, even though he just got done with his own meal like two minutes ago (I GUESS WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT CHINESE FOOD IS TRUE RIGHT HARF HARF JOKES)…

… then he rips the waitress’s shirt off and wipes his mouth with it. THAT’S ASSAULT, RZA! AND PROBABLY THEFT!

Holy hell, this got dark all of a sudden, right? I mean, say what you will about hitting people in the face with fish and throwing dudes through tables and dumping noodles on people’s head, but you can’t just run around ripping ladies’ shirts off to wipe your mouth. I feel like there should be a sequel to this video where Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T investigate all the stuff that happened.

MARISKA HARGITAY: … and then what happened?

WAITRESS: He ripped my shirt off and wiped his mouth with it!

MARISKA HARGITAY: What? Why? Did you do anything that might have upset him?

WAITRESS: I accidentally brought his table only one fortune cookie.

ICE-T: This guy sounds like a real Grade-A creep if you ask me.

WAITRESS: [begins crying] It was horrible! And then he smiled! HE ACTUALLY SMILED AFTER SEXUALLY ASSAULTING ME!

ICE-T: [makes Ice-T face]

MARISKA HARGITAY: [makes Mariska Hargitay face]

CHRISTOPHER MELONI: [kicks down door for no reason and starts yelling at everyone]

As RZA’s rampage continues (NOTE: RZA’s Rampage is the title of a movie I would see on opening day in IMAX 3D), Patrick from the Black Keys leaps up and throws a handful of chopsticks at him…

… which RZA counters by pulling a guy in front of him and using him as a shield. And THEN, as if yanking a dude into the line of chopstick fire and letting him get stabbed in the forehead and throat weren’t enough…


I imagine when the waitress complains later about the horror of having her shirt ripped off by a madman, this guy will just look down at the place where his right arm used to be and SEETHE in silence.

Also, that face he’s making is pretty much the perfect “HOLY SH-T RZA FROM THE WU-TANG CLAN JUST RIPPED MY DAMN ARM OFF” face. I don’t know if there are acting awards for music video performances but if there are I nominate him.

The warring factions then spot the troublesome fortune cookie on the ground and simultaneously dive for it, climbing over each other as though it contains the winning Powerball numbers or the scientific formula to turn tap water into Pappy Van Winkle 20yr. Unfortunately their efforts are thwarted by the restaurant’s owner, who reaches down to pick up the cookie while they are fighting.

After picking it up, he promptly and unceremoniously throws them out of his establishment. Given all that has just transpired — assaults, sexually-based offenses, destruction of property, detachment of limbs, etc. — this is a completely reasonable reaction on his part.

The restaurant owner opens up the cookie and unravels the message, which reads, logically, “You are the baddest man alive,” and to which he replies “Damn straight.” Seeing as he just threw out three men who straight-up MENACED everyone and everything in sight for the last four minutes, and they didn’t even put up a fight, I suppose he has a point.

In conclusion, for any of you thinking something like “Well, this was a fun video, I guess. I mean, it’s not realistic at all, because I seriously doubt RZA and his friends would cause such a scene over something silly like this, but still, pretty fun,” allow me to direct you to this passage from an interview RZA did with Vanity Fair:

I heard that you’ve been coming to Comic-Con for years as a fan.

Yes, and this year I get to be here doing something productive instead of destructive.

What have you done in past years that was destructive?

Well, I usually come for fun. I got my Bobby Digital mask that I wear sometimes. [Note: Bobby Digital is RZA’s alter ego.] I love watching the parties at night. Actually, I remember the first time I saw Slick Rick perform, it was at Comic-Con. That was the greatest thing. Like, “Oh sh-t, I’m hanging out here at a party and f-cking Slick Rick is rocking.” Last year I was hanging out at Snoop’s party—he had a birthday thing. I got into trouble in that I had a mixed martial artist with me named Cung Lee, who is also in my film, and in five minutes a fight broke out. I don’t know, over some girl’s booty or something. We got separated. It was crazy.

So, yeah. Plausible.