The rap artist ODB, whose demented 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.

ODB had complained of chest pains before collapsing at the Manhattan studio, said Gabe Tesoriero, a spokesman for Roc-A-Fella records. He was dead by the time paramedics reached him, Tesoriero said.

The cause of death was not immediately clear, but ODB had recently finished a prison sentence for drug possession and escaping a rehab clinic. He would have turned 36 on Monday.

ODB -- 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 utterly unique delivery -- alternately slurred, hyper and nonsensical -- ODB stood out even in the nine-man Clan, which featured such future stars as Method Man, RZA and Ghostface Killa.

The Wu-Tang blueprint was for each member to pursue solo projects, and ODB's were among the best. His hit singles included "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" and "Got Your Money," and appeared on remixes with artists such as Mariah Carey.

But as his fame increased, so did his erratic behavior, and fans came to expect the unexpected from ODB.

In February 1998, he crashed the stage at the Grammy Awards and hijacked a microphone from singer Shawn Colvin as she accepted an award, apparently upset over losing the best rap album Grammy to Sean "P. Diddy" Combs (then known as Puff Daddy). He complained that he spent a lot of money for new clothes because he thought he was going to win. The rapper later apologized.

Over the years, he was wounded in shootings and arrested on a veritable laundry list of charges, including menacing security officers, illegally possessing body armor, driving with a suspended license, shoplifting and threatening a former girlfriend.

In 2001 he was sentenced to two to four years in prison for drug possession, plus two concurrent years for escaping from a rehab clinic. He was released in 2003 and immediately signed with Roc-A-Fella.

Tesoriero said ODB had been working on his comeback album for more than a year and was almost finished.

"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."

ODB performs at the 2000 Grammy Awards. The founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, who had been working on a comeback album, died last night.