|© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2003-12-17
Even with the deep bass, high organs and west coast gangsta bravado of the early ‘90’s captivating a nation of heads looking to ride with Tha Row, a group of grimy MCs from Staten Island - or "Shaolin" as it was dubbed by the seminal crew - embarked on a mission to prove that rap music didn’t begin and end with hittin’ switches and making the rear view rattle. Asian influences, razor tight and versatile production coupled with a gritty and rugged raw style had listeners immersed in a living, breathing comic book with a twist of reality. The Wu-Tang Clan quickly resurrected the east coast and became the creative crew to keep an eye on.
Arguably the group’s most versatile and descriptive rhyme spitting story-teller was Raekwon The Chef. Ten years and five mics later, The Chef is back with a recipe that blends a little of the old with a little of the new. The sums of the effort is The Lex Diamond Story. Read on to find out what the blunt and blunted Rae has to say about the state of Hip-Hop, Ol’ Dirty, the reality of another Wu album, and ... Randy Spelling? Yep!
AllHipHop.com: In ’94 you asked a rhetorical question about "Heaven and Hell." More than 10 years into the game, are you still livin’ in the same Hell you described on Cuban Linx?
Raekwon: Hell yeah, shit. Strugglin’ is Hell. It’s what you make it that’s Heaven. You gonna always go through that. It’s the good and the bad.
AllHipHop: You’ve always balanced describing your big swingin’ dick lifestyle with the grimiest tales of your struggle, described in rugged raw and vivid detail. What’s your gameplan when it comes to crafting an album with such broad themes?
Rae: I stay vivid and I stay talkin’ about reality. You have to deal with the real world, and I’m gonna be that dude that’s always gonna be conscious of what I’m talkin’ about and basically give you me. This is what everybody chose when they chose me. At the end of the day, anything I do is gonna fall on that level. I make movies. I call these albums volumes because it ain’t just one or two songs I slap up there. I try to give you a vibe, a movement and that puts me in another category because I represent strong rap. I’m not mainstream. I’m from the gutter with it.
AllHipHop: Not every head can ride to your lyrics and music - in today’s environment of overtly flossin’ lyrics with little substance, do you feel your words are going to fall on deaf ears or at least those with a short attention span?
Rae: Shit, if real niggas know real music then they know Rae keepin’ it where it’s supposed to be. Right now Hip-Hop is sad because it’s so categorized to be so glamorous all the time and real Hip-Hop is real shit. I wanted to go back to that form of rhymin’ because I never left that form of rhymin’. Basically anything I do is to be more conscious of what I’m talkin’ about and give mutha fuckers some knowledge. See, people don’t wanna hear the truth, they wanna party all the time and I understand that - but at the same time for every Heaven there’s a Hell and the Hell is dealin’ with all the fake shit. The Heaven is where we tryin’ to get to and give it the purity that it needs to be given. And me being an artist I’m tryin’ to deliver all worlds. I’m that type of MC. I can get grimy and talk about the ways of the world, but at the same time I can party too. And I don’t feel everything is balanced. People wanted this right here and I feel this is a great album. I don’t care what any magazine writes, they can eat a dick if they don’t believe it’s a good record. For me it’s a beautiful record and it’s me basically not movin’ from where I came from. It’s real raps. This is Raekwon. Food for thought, the kid, the Chef. The words symbolize me and I think I’m doin’ a pretty good job of that. I tend not to worry or see if they don’t accept it or reject it because there’s a lot of people that think like me, too.
AHH: What’s your favorite record on the album?
Rae: The Hood is one of my favorites. It’s basically me droppin’ jewels and talkin’ real grown. If people don’t respect the positivity in the music then how much does that person know music? I’ve been getting a lot of bad write-ups about "The Hood" and it’s just so sad to me that people won’t take time to listen to it and say "he’s comin’ with a message". What? That makes me soft because I’m tryin’ to be smarter? Some people are feelin’ it, but some aren’t. I’m talkin’ about the place where I’m from and I describe the place as a person. Anybody that came from my struggle and dealin’ with the poverty and sellin’ crack and being in that atmosphere should know that it’s Raekwon the man and he’s just tryin’ to big it up. I’m just bein’ myself and people don’t get it that easy.
AllHipHop: Describe how your style has evolved over the years, and not just since when we last heard you, but from the early days of the Wu as well.
Rae: I definitely changed as an artist because I got better and I know how to put words in better perspective and I wrote over 100 rhymes. I never lost it and I don’t plan on losin’ it. It’s always gonna be on my brain and overall I’m skilled out. I am literally one of the best alive right now. Nobody can take me out lyrically and givin’ lyrics is like givin’ bread to orphans and I got loaves of bread. When you run across real rappers we are the ones that make generations become what they are.
AllHipHop: What other cats in the game do you ride to and respect?
Rae: I like more of the conscious cats. I like Mobb Deep, CNN, Fat Joe - people that talk about stuff and go through phases. Dudes that can really rhyme, I really look up to the guys who make it different every time for you.
AllHipHop: Tell me about The Lex Diamond Story. RZA produced Cuban Linx in its entirety, but The Lex Diamond Story uses a range of producers. How do you decide who twists the knobs on your records? What do you look for?
Rae: I look for whoever’s got the music, whether it’s RZA or someone else. I give everybody a fair shot. The real talent is on the street as well as the dudes that helped me be who I am. You can miss the target or you can hit the target. RZA’s not on the album because he had sample clearance problems. I couldn’t use what he gave me and they (the publisher) was asking for too much. It’s more about Rae makin’ a good album and makin’ sure the music works for me and I think that’s what people gotta know. It’s about the rhymes and personal feelings. If the shit makes sense and the shit is talented, then let it play out. Sometimes you may pass up the gold because you lookin’ for the diamonds. There’s fake diamonds on the market, too! I’m a true Hip-Hop lyricist and it’s easy for me. I try to be conscious and I try to deal with everybody fairly. RZA helped me with my success and I helped him with his success, but he just didn’t make it on the album.
AHH: You’ve been talkin’ about Ice Water for a minute. But what is Ice Water, Inc?
Rae: Ice Water, Inc. is my company with Randy Spelling. We formed a venture which we call "The Fly Agent". It’s like having an agency where one dude is 007 and he can get you so many different opportunities if you willing to deal. It allows me to get into the types of things that can market my record, as far as television, writing scripts - this company is a multimedia company that allows me to get different shit in rather than just writin’ music. I wanna be an actor, I wanna write a book, I wanna bring sitcoms to the table - we doin’ this to help Raekwon be a better individual.
AllHipHop: How did you manage to hook up with Mr. 90210’s son, Randy Spelling?
Rae: When you in Hollywood chillin’ a lot of people know you in the spot and people approach my family. We set up a meeting and we both talked about things we thought we could both bring to the table. We gonna give it a try. It’s something to say, "I’ve got a bridge".
AllHipHop: I always thought you and the Wu had the most relevant skits on your albums, whether to provide a segue between tracks or just pure comedy, why do you continue to use skits and pepper an album with sound-bytes from films?
Rae: Those skits are made to entertain and give the music a break and go into something you can relate to. Even the interview skit [where he chastises an interviewer for redundant questions], that’s not how I feel about every interviewer - but there are some characters out there. It’s funny because it’s the shit we wanna say sometimes... it’s like lookin’ at somebody play you and you see yourself smack the shit out of them, but then you open your eyes and you didn’t smack them yet. They don’t realize they doin’ you wrong. Skits even the moment. I’m lettin’ you know the level of individual you dealin’ with and help you get a better picture of where I’m going. This is my way of giving the color of the picture.
AllHipHop: How does it feel to be one of only a handful of MCs to get 5 mics in The Source?
Rae: Overall, being a legend I feel I’ve put my work in. I feel that’s what people need to start paying attention to and I want people to keep the legends close and show the younger generation what we talkin’ about. The younger generation can forget easily and the next thing you do you have mutha fuckers tryin’ to diss the legends - and we can’t have that. There’s a new set of kids that don’t know Raekwon. I was reigning supreme about six years ago, but I gotta rhyme for the old and new audience. I gotta adapt to a new audience and they gotta adapt to me. Nobody can dictate my music, but a good listener’s a good learner. We gotta break it down and let people see into my world. I gotta shove these vitamins down they throat because this is good food.
AllHipHop: Can you dispel the rumors and doubters and the rest of the speculators, and say for certain what the future holds for the Wu? Are we gonna see a new album next year?
Rae: We definitely gonna do an album because we know how much the fans look at that to come true, but we gotta make it when we’re comfortable and when we know everyone gonna give it the effort it needs. We sincere dudes and we gotta put it together right. The chemistry gotta be there. We took time out of our lives because we had time to do it - now we got label situations, but it’s definitely gonna happen in the new year.
AllHipHop: Have you talked to Dirty since he was released from prison?
Rae: I talked with him once on the phone, but he’s been movin’ around a lot, so it’s cool.
AllHipHop: What did you think about the ROC signing him?
Rae: I hope he does good. I wish him the best.
AllHipHop: Ghost has been your partner in rhyme for quite some time. What holds you two together that doesn’t do the same for the rest of the Wu?
Rae: I’m cool with all my brothers, but me and Ghost were more compatible. We just work good together. That’s why me and Ghost’s energy is good because we saw eye to eye.
AllHipHop: Any plans to tour?
Rae: I’m definitely going on tour in the new year. We gonna go across seas to a lot of places and we gonna give them the energy they want.
AllHipHop: Any thing else you’d like to add?
Rae: I wanna give a shout to all my fans, and everyone reppin’ real Hip-Hop and recognizing the divisions inside of Hip-Hop. You gotta respect these icons like myself because we bring real shit to the table. I made it grittier for all the gritty heads, so all the gritty heads that been lookin’ for the shit, now leave me alone! Enjoy the album.
Written by Jason Newport for AllHipHop.com