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Wu Tang Clan's 'Of Mics And Men': How Ol' Dirty Bastard's Constant Run-Ins With The Law Affected Him

The Wu-Tang Clan rapper, real name Russell Jones, found that fame and fortune only added to his legal woes.

By Ethan Harfenist
Ol' Dirty Bastard

Though Russell Jones, better known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard, already had a pretty sizable rap sheet by the time he and the rest of the Wu-Tang Clan achieved rap stardom, a string of gun-related incidents in the late 1990s threatened to take away his freedom — and, in his eyes, his life.

Like most of his fellow group members, ODB was well acquainted with the New York City Police Department prior to his rap career taking off. Just months before the Clan’s hit debut album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” was released at the end of 1993, ODB was convicted of second-degree assault, according to CNN.

But as his and the rest of the Clan’s star rose following the 1997 release of the group’s second album, “Wu-Tang Forever,” ODB seemed to be targeted by both criminals and police alike — which took an obvious toll on his psyche and well-being.

For instance, in July 1998, ODB was shot in the back during a robbery at his apartment in Brownsville, Brooklyn, in which two men made off with money and jewelry from the residence, Rolling Stone reported at the time.

Ol' Dirty Bastard

“Everything sort of changed. It slowed him down a little bit,” Icelene Jones, the mother of several of ODB’s children, says in the the latest episode of the new Showtime docu-series, “Wu Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men.” “He was shot, and then he was real paranoid.”

The following year, on January 15, 1999, ODB and his cousin were pulled over by two plainclothes NYPD officers in Brooklyn. They fired eight shots at ODB after accusing him of rolling down his tinted windows and shooting at them, according to the New York Times.

“I gave him a cellphone for Christmas, and they thought it was a gun,” ODB’s mother, Cherry Jones, says in the docu-series.

Footage featured in the episode shows ODB denying that he had any firearm at the time. “I don’t use guns,” he said.

ODB was charged with attempted murder of a police officer even though no gun was ever found. He was ultimately exonerated of all wrongdoing.

Still, the incident left ODB spooked. During a press conference he held after the charges were dropped, he admitted to wearing a bulletproof vest whenever he left his home.

When asked if he felt if he was being followed and “scared on the streets,” ODB didn’t mince any words.

“[I’m] scared like a motherf---er,” he said.

Less than a month later, in February 1999, ODB was jailed in California on charges that he broke a state law that bans convicted felons from wearing body armor, the Associated Press reported at the time. ODB pleaded innocent.

“Due to how famous he is, he’s at risk for his life,” Deputy Public Defender Mearl Lottman told the AP. “He has been in gun battles, and that’s why he was wearing body armor. He was wearing it for his own protection.”

As a result of being locked up, ODB missed several recording sessions and concerts with the rest of the Clan.

“It felt like it was me against the world in prison,” he said on old interview footage aired in the docu-series. “I don’t think nobody would have got through what I got through.”

Although he eventually got out of jail on the body armor charge, ODB’s troubles with the law would continue to mount: He was soon arrested again in July 1999, this time in New York on drug charges, after he was caught with marijuana and 20 vials of crack cocaine.

Later, in October 2000, ODB escaped a court-mandated drug treatment facility; according to the docu-series, he made a surprise appearance at a Wu-Tang Clan show at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York while he was a fugitive. However, he was eventually arrested again in Philadelphia in November of that year.

He died of a drug overdose in November 2004, just days shy of his 36th birthday.