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New Reakwon Interview
Raekwon: Chef's Special By Jessica Dufresne
When Only Built 4 Cuban Linx came out in 1994, it ushered in a new era of “cocaine rap.” Armed with a concept, dope beats and a charismatic partner-in-crime, Raekwon the Chef carved out a spot in Hip-Hop history for himself. Not only was the music hot, but so was the product itself: a purple cassette.
Ever since then, Rae has gone through ups and downs in his solo efforts, but fans know he’s never lost the rhyme. So when word came out last year that he was going full circle with a return to the essence, the rap world has been waiting… and waiting.
It’s been months since the buzz peaked over the upcoming Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. Heads wanted to know if the Chef could do it again, and better yet, if he should do it.
Rae silenced all the whispers in past interviews with a firm “wait and see” attitude and held thirsty fans at bay with the release of his “Vatican” mixtapes. With the Cuban Linx 2 release date still up in the air, AllHipHop.com’s Wu Week revisits rap’s favorite cook as he dishes about having a classic, Hip-Hop’s state of affairs, and how no one in the game has come close to the level of the Wu.
AllHipHop.com: How does it feel to know that you have one of the most classic albums ever in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx?
Raekwon: Well number one, it feels good. It feels good to know that I achieved a mark that I always felt I could. But for the most part, I tend to stay humble and respect that and not be overwhelmed with the love. It just makes me stronger as an artist because I know that people watch what I put out. So it’s kind of a double-edged sword where it’s a good thing and a bad thing only because…the bad thing about it is that you have to stay on that level as being one of the best, because if you don’t, then why’d you make that? It keeps me on my toes.
It’s like how we love gangster flicks and we feel like DeNiro need to make one more. Just give us one more, Al Pacino—and they f**k around and give us one more, in their own little way. I guess when it comes down to some of your favorites, you want that. You want them to take you there.
AllHipHop.com: Does it make you sad, for lack of a better word—‘cause there’s no message in music anymore…
Raekwon: It’s f**ked up. It’s there, but it’s being dealt with on a very wack level because people are so much into now seeing people kill each other off and dramatizing. Who don’t like a fight? That’s just the where the face of Hip-Hop went and don’t get me wrong—you got generations upon generations coming into the business every year. It seems like the kids are getting younger and younger and learning it now. Now you got young kids knowing how to rhyme and put words together because they’re being guided by what we’re talking about. So overall, it’s just about balance. Everything in life has to have a balance. When you giving somebody something like this, you gotta be able to be versatile and give them that. But if the people ain’t corresponding or the disc jockeys just don’t feel like playing that, that don’t necessarily mean to shoot it in the head or shoot it down or look down on somebody like their album ain’t the truth. You can’t say that because it’s just about sprinkling all type of good s**t. And me being the Chef, that’s my mission. I want to go down in history as a rapper that knew how to make the dance rap and the n***a that knew how to do the grimy s**t. I’m a real MC and it’s like to me, that’s what makes an MC. Because when he could go somewhere that you least expected him he could go. But now you got rap just being cosmetic now; like who talking the toughest, who got the most metaphors, who got the nice cute hook.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, it’s like you can’t win in that kind of a situation.
Raekwon: All you can do is just be you. That’s all I try to do. I don’t try to talk about something I haven’t witnessed or I haven’t experienced. When you get [to an] age like myself, it ain’t guaranteed you gonna make it out the hood at 25, so when you do, you start growing up as a man, your pants start coming up more, you start wearing a belt—and that’s all a part of growing. So I just feel like that needs to be more exercised and it’s so important for us to know the right people we putting in these positions to talk about certain dudes. Certain dudes, you gotta really break it down for people. Like sometimes, I might have read an article and it says, “His lyrics were sharp, he still got it…but RZA could have been on the track.” It’s like, ‘Yo, hold up; you dealing with your own personal feelings, you not dealing with the fact that it sounds good. If it’s good is good.” It’s so sad ‘cause a lot people really listen to certain motherf**kas that they think is really the ref like that.
AllHipHop.com: Do you think fans don’t allow artists to grow?
Raekwon: Yeah, because fans are fickle. They’ll be with you one minute then turn on you—that’s part of the business. But I think sometimes as far myself, people weren’t ready for me to grow up yet and still stay with that certain hunger and that’s all they wanted. When we came in, Hip-Hop was fun too. So to not be able to get that same thing they had then and then it not being fun no more, now it’s time to start basing your judgment on something that really, you being stubborn with it.
By my name being chef—Meth told n***as on the first album—“Rae is the n***a that’s gonna cook up that marvelous s**t, period.” He ain’t never say Rae is the dude that’s gonna stay here; he gonna cook up all type of s**t ‘cause that’s what a chef does. A chef gotta have a kitchen with all kinds of ingredients and I know that I’m one of the dudes in the Wu that stand out like that. And that’s only because I’m around all types of individuals. Y’all gotta remember the personalities of Wu-Tang. They blemish off each other. RZA’s gonna come how RZA’s gonna come. Rae can’t never come how RZA come, but Rae could use a little bit of RZA’s slang or RZA could use a little bit of Rae’s slang, or use GZA’s and GZA uses Deck’s and Deck uses Ghost’s. We told y’all ahead of time all this s**t, but now it’s a new time, people don’t understand why we all doing solo s**t. We said that!
So I think just the challenge alone of having a classic gives me the opportunity to go make one more. To me, all my albums are classic—but like you said, to step on what you already stepped on, it is a challenge and it’s a…whatever. It’s like both sides, but I’m equipped for it. I feel like me in the game anyway, I haven’t given what I felt I was ready to give y’all all yet. Because I been so much of a team player and that’s why there’s gaps in my career where you haven’t heard me because I had to give the other brother the opportunity to be heard. We wasn’t thinking back then [‘92] to have nine albums all out bumpin’. We didn’t want to hurt each other’s feelings with sales; ‘cause all that s**t just bring about egos. But in a way that was good and bad. It’s two shots because it’s like, it’s your time and then people could be wanting you and then next thing you know, by you being so far away, now they ain’t ready to grow with you.
AllHipHop.com: You can see this in the writing…
Raekwon: God bless the dead, [Old] Dirty [Bastard] used to have a dictionary. And he didn’t have no problems at any time pulling it out if he felt like it, but this is way after his career of him being who he is, but act like if after a while a n***a don’t come at him with a dictionary, that he not holding on to it. And we used to laugh about it and be like, “Yo, you crazy n***a, you cheatin’,” and he’d be like [on point impersonation of ODB] ‘”F**k you, n***a, n***a I’m still ill, n***a—I just need a word—I ran out of words!’” To me, even back like 15 years ago, RZA been had rhymes. He been a lyricist, but he had the passion to make music. So it’s like when y’all hear him come—and even on this album right here, RZA didn’t really go all the way in ‘cause he felt like he didn’t want to take away from the Cuban Linx s**t. But at the same time, he did go in on it. You may hear a rhyme and you’ll be like, “Yo, that’s the RZA.” Somebody may be like, “Where Bobby Digital at?”—but that’s the RZA right there though.
That’s another thing—we have personalities. Like I may be Raekwon right now, but I might flash over to Lex Diamond and you won’t even know. That’s how we move. We are swift and changeable. When you break the initials of Wu-Tang, it’s plain and simple who we are: the “Witty, Unpredictable, Talented, And Natural Game.” And we got natural game. It’s so natural, it ain’t even game anymore, it’s just us. We could start a fire with a f**king thought, if we want to.
I’m gonna be honest with you: I ain’t seen nobody come in the game yet on the level that we came in. That’s why it’s so much of a highly anticipated thing about us coming back—‘cause you can’t get that. Now you got motherf**kers assembling crews like that to try to be that [Wu-Tang], but nobody could ever be that. And I’m not saying that’s anybody’s plan; you don’t know, it might be or it might not. But I’m just saying to have that solar system of dudes doing that…we didn’t even know that we were doing that when we did it. We didn’t know we were going to be a nine-man clique until we realized, “Damn, it is a lot of us on that s**t”. And it was what it was, so it was like f**k that—that’s how we comin’. The names: “Yo, my name Lex Diamond,” “Yeah? My name Tony Starks aka IronMan,” “I’m the Rza—the resurrector,” “I’m the Genius—I’m the GZA,” Masta Killa— his name was Noodles—you know certain names is for certain respects. Maximilon—GZA. Maximilion was one of the top gangstas in one of these movies we was looking at, and he was the brains. And we always look at GZA and RZA as being our forefathers in our crew because they got the most experience.
AllHipHop.com: Right, ‘cause they had their solo albums…
Raekwon: Yeah, they did it before us. So if you can’t pay the respect to those who did it before you, then you ain’t really giving it up right. Them dudes put a lot of influence on dudes too.
AllHipHop.com: On Enter the 36 Chambers, one of the interludes, when Method Man was breaking down every member, he said, “We form like Voltron, and GZA’s the head.”
Raekwon: Exactly. And he didn’t know he was gonna say that; he don’t glorify that. But to us, that’s how we look at it. It’s so crazy when I think about how Meth described everybody that day—he described all of us to the fullest.