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Ol’ Dirty Comes Clean

By: Caryn GanzHe has a new name, a new label, and a new life. But can a sober,paroled Ol’ Dirty Bastard still be the life of the party?

Prison homecomings are awkward but touching affairs–there are hugs from friends and family, home-cooked meals, and, if you happen to be a notorious rap star, supportive words from Mariah Carey and a new recording contract. On May 1, Russell Jones, a.k.a. Ol’ Dirty Bastard (now “Dirt McGirt”), was driven directly from custody to a press conference at New York City’s Rihga Royal hotel after serving two years on a probation violation and drug charges. Standing beside his mother, Cherry Jones, Roc-a-Fella CEO Damon Dash, and his “friend” Carey, a bewildered ODB peered out from under a drab brown hoodie and summed up the “hell” of his incarceration: “Shit was wild and shit, you know what I’m sayin’?”

That’s putting it mildly. While Dirty was behind bars, a tiny label, D3 Entertainment, released an ODB solo record without his involvement. He suffered a broken leg in a fight, attended rehab, and was reportedly kept on suicide watch and relocated to a mental hospital for part of his term.

Today, 12 days after the press conference, a slow-moving ODB shuffles into a midtown Manhattan recording studio followed by his post-prison surveillance team–a camera crew for a potential VH1 reality show. After a brief photo shoot (during which Dirty does his best to look intimidating), everyone relocates to an upstairs lounge.

I’m supposedly here to check out the new, sober, productive ODB at work. Before he settles his prison-super-size bulky frame into a couch, Dirty is instructed by his manager to phone in a spot for Chicago’s powerhouse hip-hop radio station WGCI, which is already playing his new track, “Welcome Home” (recorded four days after his release, in a little more than an hour). The assembled crew cracks up as he blows the first take: “What up in Chicago? This is Dirt McGirt. When I’m in Chicago I hang out with–oh, shit. I hang out with who?”

Everyone awaits the Neptunes’ arrival, so Dirty can finish a track before curfew. “We’re going to have seven songs in, like, two weeks,” says Roc-a-Fella VP Kenny Burns. “We got into business with Dirt McGirt to make money for him and us. Now we have to figure out how to keep him the same ODB without the stuff that made him ODB.” Dirty seems aware of this paradox. “Dirty used to be wild, I was starting trouble every-fucking-where,” he says. “I’m trying to stay away from that booze, that liquor, that smoke. I’m all about money–period.” He rattles off a list of future collaborators–Ludacris, 50 Cent, Mariah Carey–then invites the young lady to his left to sit on his lap.

“It’s frustrating,” Burns says later, when Dirty ambles by, finally camera-free. “You’re in jail; you don’t have a life. But then you get out of jail, and you really don’t have a life. We have him four to five hours a day.”

Between his obligations to the law, his 13 children, and his record company, ODB really isn’t making many of his own decisions these days–and now that he’s trying to forge a career as a cleaner version of himself, there isn’t much room for error. He looks directly at me only once, when I ask if he’s scared of anything. “Yeah,” he says, sort of laughing. “I’m scared of scared.”