|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2004-07-02
Having formed a special bond in the eyes and ears of rap fans the world over since ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’, Raekwon and Ghostface are holding torch for hip-hop’s endangered species…
Shallah Raekwon The Chef and Ghostface Killah might be the last two of the true New York rap rhymers. Certainly, their rap sheet has affected as a blueprint for so much of the last decade. A cornucopia of east coast cast still be trying to rhyme like BIG, but Bad Boy’s Brooklyn talisman was as much attempting to grapple with the melon-twisting intricacies of Shaolin slang as a legacy for the next generation of rhyme book scholars. Even Nas, the default king of New York resultant from Jigga man’s retirement, has confessed to more than a passing appreciation in the flows and nuances of the duo’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’stylings. Ghost and Rae are the casts who cause aspiring Apollo kids to say ‘Damn! He emphasised that syllable in that line?’ before retreating back to their labs, emcee aspirations tucked firmly between their legs. If Raekwon works from an intricate, precision pallet with cleverly crafted flows, then Ghost has now graduated to playing with an increasingly emotional crying style (replete with off-key singing). They’re both very much rapper’s rappers – as if to underline the point Raekwon’s last album comes complete lyrics printed inside – and in the Chef’s case its easy to see where his flow originates from: the are pathos of his speaking voice has infectious rhythm, even when he’s conversating from the standard rap lexicon that defines ‘shit’ as the ultimate purpose word.
“LIFE IS BUSY AND SHIT”, RAEKWON BEGINS in that unmistakable brogue known to the world since the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Protect Ya Neck’ jump off. “I’m working on Ice Water right now. That’s a group that Universal is putting out that’s the next generation and shit. They’re dudes I grew up with in Staten Island. I always said that if I was ever in a position to go back then I’d reach for them and that’s what happened. I still go home and see the same people.” Back in 1995 the slang doctor extraordinaire also reached out and grabbed a fellow Clansman, giving Ghostface second billing on the third solo Wu set. Ever since then the two have formed a mythical bond in the eyes of fans, mustering up a picture of their own almost self-sufficient Lex Diamonds and Tony Starks colony nestled within the ambit of the Wu empire. Indeed, at time their mode of collaboration dispenses an ‘us against the world’ aroma, as when Ghost lets Rae chide him over a lack of radio play on ‘The Watch’ or even Meth laughs in interview that he duo hate everyone. The interference is that they share a tight bond, impenetrable to many outsiders. So Ghost inevitably becomes entwined in today’s conversation in the form of a throwaway, ‘Are you still cool with Ghost?’ aside.
“Why did you ask me that? Why would you feel that? “ retorts Rae, quite heatedly.
Because you’re not on his album.
“So that means there’s some problem?”
No, but people might think along those lines, as you’ve been so closely linked in your careers.
“So people think that, because I’m not a part of it” he questions, rhetorically, “But people are fucked up now! There’s no problem and if there’s was we’d deal with it amongst each other. Why would we deal with it in public like that? People assume that there’s some animosity there. I’m just doing my job, nigga. He’s doing his job, but niggas went to look for shit that isn’t there. I don’t have writers ask me that shit and my personal business is none of your shit unless I say it’s an issue” he continues, rolling on a writer. “People can’t just assume. We grew up together. At school we had many laughs and, I mean, we didn’t know that we’d be together in a hip-hop group.
HIPHOP HAS LARGELY DEFINED A MATURE chunk of the lives of Raekwon and Ghostface. They’re both ten year in the game rap veterans and still their careers are paralleled, even if their much-mooted ‘RAGU’ (Rae And Ghost reUnited) set may never see fruition. For Raekwon’s Universal power moves read Ghost’s Def Jam relaunch (both are owned by the same parent company); for Ice Water read Ghost’s Theodore Unit starring the ridiculously on point Trife (for the record, Ghost points out that Theodore stands for “The Open Door, because it had to have that science behind it”) and both are acutely aware that they’re swimming out in a rap world where advertising money, video budgets and industry sharks hold more influence than any concept of pure talent or having learned lessons from Rakim. And in 2004 everyone knows this. Not everyone holds the weight and stature to be taken seriously speaking on it though, but with the acknowledged pedigree of ‘Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers’, ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’ and ‘Supreme Clientele’ between them, Rae and Ghost hold crazy weight. “I’m an ’86 kid and I miss those late ‘80’s, “ opines Mr. Starks. “That was good years for me, when hip-hop was in its purest form. Now its trash and the industry is on top and not creative and its all pay off shit.” “I see rap now and its so funny” concurs Mr. Diamond. “It’s so corny. In fact, now I see it almost like a job now because there’s so much empty rhetoric and bullshit fake people involved. I enjoy it when I get to be in front of my people and entertain and give them the visual performance, but there’s all that other shit.“ “As a kid of the ‘80’s I grew up looking up to Rakim and Run-DMC. I’m the last of a dying breed like that and even the early ‘90’s was so different to now. Now its all like Hollywood and it’s all about publicity and marketing plans and relationships. Now you’ve got a guy from a TV show blowing up!”
RAEKWON: ”You know how niggas be biting and shit. Niggas be biting mad shit and shit from niggas, man. That’s what I be hating, man. I can’t stand a fucking biting ass nigga wanna use your lines all ahead of time before you even get a chance to shine on your own shit.”
GHOSTFACE: ”Niggas be killing me though, son. They be coming with your words and shit… They hear you say one word and here they come with the word trying to flip and bounce it and shit on some bullshit. Not sounding right, first of all…"
FROM THE GET TO, THE WU-TANG SAGA entrenched itself along decidedly anti-industry lines. They went independent on their blow up joint when cats where still chasing major label advances. They took a lower group advance in consideration of creative freedom of personal contract. They openly mocked now renowned electric guitar strumming A&R’s. They pushed home the concept of extended recording family now utilised across the board from Roc-A-Fella to Shady Records. On each issue they’ve subsequently seen other cats roll with their strategy. And if you’re Rae or Ghost? It goes more personal as you’ve had your rhyme style bitten, often wholesale at times and even worse, impended sloppily. “It’s all good if cats want to bite you though ‘cos they recognise where they got that shit from, the one they got their ideas from, like Rakim says” reasons Ghost in diplomatic tones, “It’s a blessing to me ‘cos they’re acknowledging some real shit.”
“Yeah a lot of motherfuckers did that,” confirms Rae of those shark nigga biters. “But its like wearing black shoes to me, if you seen them then I’m already split and changed them up. I know a lot of them listened to my rhymes and read my manual and learnt from it and applied it, but then that’s just being influential. My flow changes so much that I’m confident I can always switch its up. It’s a real complicated to change at times”
Of course, the real issue at work is one of proficiency. If being inspired by Rakim results in the creation of Ghostface then the cause and effect process of artistic influence is seen beautifully. It’s the creation of the minions of by-product journeymen rappers lacking any strain of originality while jocking their own personal Rakim or Raekwon that’s the problem. And in Rae and Ghost’s case, their slang sets them apart from much of the mire.
“It’s like with the whole slang element we brought through.” Continues the man who’s coined such phrases as flowerpot heads and for his second LP title, Immobilarity. “That word comes from immobilising but we couldn’t call the album that. To me though, it’s easy to come up with words because we’re the kings of slang. It’s natural, like a kind having red hair, it’s what I breathe. Street niggas always come up with ill shit to say and its not even meant to be understood by everyone. Not everyone is meant to know about it.”
Likewise, sometimes that most gifted are also blissfully unaware and humble about their talent. As on another note one of those delicious non-LP Ghost tracks, ‘The Drummer’, where the Wally Champ scats: “Toney Starks… the most important emcee in the world is you and you hardly even know it”. Asked about his stock in the game today, he’s almost acutely shy about it. “Huh, I don’t now…”he mumbles of his talent. “I’d never put myself in that position. I just want to put in work and be able to make good music for the people and that’s it. I mean everybody’s got hot lines everybody can come with something hot. I just hope that whatever I do people do respect it.”
“Just be real with yourself and they’ll try to destroy you but eventually your dreams will come true,” concludes Rae, quietly summing up their rap legacy in so may simple words.
RAP LIKE ZITY
Ghostface’s favourite baked zity spots
“Probably on Staten Island or Brooklyn or maybe upscale restaurant in Manhattan. Palm Restaurant has good zity. I like all types of good food though, anything, whatever my taste buds feel like. Macaroni and cheese, turkey wings, nice fried fish, rice and beans. I like Indian food, egg foo young from a nice Chinese restaurant – not the ones in the hood – vegetable rolls, I love the Chinese food. I can cook you know, but I got women that cook for me.”
JUST LIKE HOLLOW BONES
Raekwon on rhyme writing…
“Sometimes I have to dwell on a rhyme for a couple of days, like when I concentrate too hard on it. Other times its like 25 or 30 minutes and I’ve got one. That song ‘Hollow Bones’ took a while. That was a different style that I used ‘cos you know that was one of RZA’s illest beats and it wasn’t easy to rhyme on. You know how the song is called ‘Hollow Bones’? Well, that’s how I felt after a while. Its got frustrating so I took like a week and shit, a few days away then I finished it.”
Written by Phillip Mlynar for Hip-Hop Connection