Question in the Form of an Answer: An Interview with Chef Raekwon
No introduction necessary.
Q: So what brings you out to LA?
A: Just business brought me out here. I have an office set up out here and we’re just out here networking and keeping our minds at peace and just working on the album, staying in the studio. I’m doing a lot of things—dealing with other projects on the side. I’m working on a big documentary about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but basically, we just lovin’ the air.
Q: Do you find LA more conducive than NY in terms of handling industry business, networking and all that stuff?
A: Absolutely, there’s just more stuff popping out here. When you think of
Q: You guys had a Wu mansion out here for a while, right?
A: Yup, but even outside of the Wu mansion, I lived out here for a year. LA’s always been good to me.
Q: Where do you spend most of your time these days?
A: We spread out right now, I got a couple places in different parts of the country. As far as Staten, no I don’t have a place there anymore.
Q: So let’s talk about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2, it’s been in the works for a long, long time now, what made you decide to come out with it now?
A: I’ve never been the type of person to jump up and throw out the album without it being what it’s supposed to be. I was doing my thing on other projects that were successful in my eyes, but we decided now to release the album because it’s finally done. I wanted to make a sequel because it’s so highly requested from the fans—and it’s a classic. I’ve assembled the best producers in the game and I felt that now was a good way to come out shining. Rza did his thing on the project, the formula’s still where it’s supposed to be. A lot of people around me are excited and I feel like I know it’s a classic.
Q: It was long slated to be released on Aftermath. What happened there?
A: Well, me and the Label, we couldn’t come to the right terms. Dre had a lot of projects he was working on and you know me, knowing how important OB4CL2 was, I needed him next to me the way I wanted. And at the end of the day, I’m still a big fan of Dre, that’s my dude. We couldn’t come to terms within the company, but we kept a mutual respect and friendship. We both big fans of each and it wasn’t a big thing. I decided to go another way with it because I figured why go somewhere if you know that you’re not going to be the key player in the situation. I can’t afford to do that with this type of record and hey, at end of the day, Dre is on the record.
Q: Did you do any recording for Detox when you were on Aftermath?
A: No, no recording for Detox, not at the moment. Dre is somebody who’s very busy and who works hard like me.
Q: Who contributed beats?
A: I’m just going to give you a brief summary: the Rza, the legendary J Dilla Dr Dre. and just those three elements there, that’s really dangerous, the heat is crazy. But there’s other cats that’s powerful: Pete Rock, Marley Marl came in to do a a crazy track that I love.
Q: When’s the release date?
A: The release date is going to be in March—definitely. We feel good about that time because it’ll give us enough time to spread the word out there globally, not just in the States.
Q: What label are you going to release it on?
A: I’m going to put it out on my Ice Water Inc. label. I’m my own biggest marketing tool. I know the history of the business and I might as well capitalize on it. We built the brand and now we become the new industry. I wanted to have full control of the project and have it be what I wanted it to be. It’s hard to deal with labels who don’t understand you—these guys is looking for ringtone artists and I’m more than a ringtone artists. I’m an icon.
Q: What made you decide to do a sequel to the original OB4CL in the first place?
A: Just based on the fans, people have so much love for that album and the fans said they know I’m one of the top guys in the game. People wanted me to go back to that formula of the drug game, rapping about the dreams that we was having before we made it. And I’m a fan of the original too, it made me who I am today.
Q: So are the themes between the two records similar? Is it a continuation of the original’s loose story line?
A: All I’m going to say is that it’s an underground record. I kept each producer in the zone. We’re going back to what we did before the commercial success, to the early years. I’m still Raekwon on the album, the tracks is so authentic, we went back to the eerie, the stuff that made you look at Wu Tang in the first place. You’d never know that the record had all these different producers if I didn’t tell you, because they came with gritty beats to make a gritty album. We came with a couple energy boosters to get the stadiums jumping but for the most part, it’s the same type of storytelling.
Q: What about guest spots? Is there a lot of Cappa and Ghost like the original?
A: When you think about the old Wu albums, you think about lyrics, strong flows, and production. I wanted to make this a well-rounded album, but not a commercial album. It’s what the people wanted, me back in the kitchen and going back in the pot, that’s what y’all, that’s what y’all gonna’ get. We don’t have no crazy features. I had a good friend come through and do his part, the Game is on the record, he’s a good friend of mine.
Q: By a good friend, did you mean Ghost?
A: Well you know, I’m not trying to copy the first one. I didn’t want to try to be identical, it’s not about me trying to replicate the same album. But yeah, Ghost is on the record, Cappa is on the record, the whole Clan is on the record. That was the first formula we came with when we marketed it the first time and we have same level of respect, they’re all doing their thing. This is the second one, you have to allow new space for new ideas. I made sure that I had my brothers there. You might hear an highlight from someone new and unexpected, someone else who might go off. At the end of the day, that’s what people gotta’ do, open their minds up to creative music. When I look at my favorites, I can’t expect them to make the same shit all the time. You gotta’ see where their head is at, see if they’re still being the same intriguing artist. It’s about staying on top of your game and I think that’s what this album shows. Being game for 15 years, it’s tough to stay coming with a breath of fresh air, but I think I did it.
Some people only may think Cuban Linx is only a classic. I think all my albums is a classic, a lot of those albums got overlooked because of marketing. I might not the be the best commercial artist or the one that’s gonna’ be on the hot remix, but when it comes to albums, I’m in a lane of my own. The crew sounds flawless on the album. I take this lyrical stuff seriously, we’ve always been high conscious, high conscious, a bunch of 007 niggas. Overall, Wu-Tang is always going to be in their own box, that’s what we created. Today’s hip hop, that’s cool but Wu-Tang is Wu-Tang.
Q: Have you gone back and listened to 8 Diagrams since it was released. Are you still disappointed with it?
8 Diagrams wasn’t one of my favorite Wu albums. It was cool, it could’ve been a little more hip-hop, more energetic in certain places. It wasn’t trash. Wu-Tang will never make anything trash. There’s just certain expectations that we all and at the time, we felt that Rza had to recognize it ain’t just you, it’s a team thing. If we weren’t recognizing it as being done, that it wasn’t fair. It did what it did and we still wound up supporting it but our hearts wasn’t in it. It’s like you wanna’ pass the test with a 100, not with a 75. If you get a 75 you pass, but if you ain’t getting a 98 or 99, what’s the point.
Q: Do the think the media blew your comments a bit out of proportion?
A: The media looks at certain things, they look for what they want to look at. They may want you to go somewhere else and wonder why you didn’t stay where you were. Or then, if you don’t chance, they’ll say you didn’t grow. But at the end of the day, it’s all constructive criticism. I know my record is very very important important to anyone who knows what Cuban Linx is.
Q: I’d say that this record and Detox are probably the two most anticipated records among hard-core hip-hop fans.
A: I agree with you on that. There’s something about those two albums—you got two powerful icons and they’re not just settling on just putting shit out. We know what it means to the fans, you can’t go off what someone else may tell you, sometimes you have to listen to yourself and dissect the situation. People sometimes look for what they want they, they might say there’s not enough Ghost or Cappadonna or Rza didn’t do all the tracks, but what does that have to do with it being a classic or not?
Q: I agree, 8 Diagrams might not have been a classic, but it was definitely a good album. I think people just had to adjust their perception of what they expected from the Wu-Tang, it was rap for the symphony hall, not grimey type shit.
A: For sure, that opera shit was cool, it wasn’t all it could be, but all I can be is the best that I can be. When you think of Rae, Rae is the chef. He’ always gonna’ serve all sorts of different dishes. All I can do when I get on the mic is be me. I don’t try to be crzay lyrical one, I’m not Rakim, I don’t try to be Rakim, Rakim’s always going to be Rakim to us. All I can do is be me on these tracks and give that to the world. And I think people is is going to definitely appreciate it.
It’s not about the sales—that’s another thing about fans nowadays. It ain’t about the music, it’s about the RBI’s with everything. That ain’t got nothing to do with hip hop. There were lots of artists back the days who made classic albums who never had a gold record. My thing is that yo man, we hard core forever, whether we on TV or not on TV, we make hardcore music. We make well-rounded music too. If we want to make you cry, we can. We might be a bit dysfunctional, but when it comes to making emotional music, no one can touch the Clan.
Q: So are you not ruling out another Clan album down the road?
A: I’m a fair dude. I’m always going to make it my business to be fair. The Clan made all of us and I’ve never been the one to say that I wouldn’t participate. We’ll see what the future holds.
Q: So are you going to make Purple Tapes of this?
A: I can’t speak on that, but I can tell people that we’re definitely making a Cuban Link bonus DVD for everyone to check out that’s worth a look. At the same time, we’re doing a book called the Purple Book, which is the memoirs of everything that I’ve been through in this game and what the significance of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is. We definitely looking at this project as the launch of a new era. It’s important for people to go back and say, I remember that album and now he going to give us the new one. The younger generation, some may know about it and some may not. I’m doing this for the ones that believed in me from the door, this is for you and I knew I had to give 5,000 percent on this project.
Q: What do you think of the younger generation of hip-hop?
A; I like the fact that kids can make a couple of dollars to make their dreams come true, more than the actual creativity. A lot of it sounds the same, but I don’t want to hate on them. To be honest, I think the younger hip-hoppers are more hip-hop than the commercial artists we got out now. The commercial shit is about branding your name and your swagger. Everything now is about swagger, there’s not art to swagger. Swag ain’t one of my words. Swag vs. art? Stick to the art.
Q: Do you ever feel the need to keep up with the contemporary morays?
A: I don’t to prove it. I’ve always been a fly dude; I’ve influenced a lot people to be who they are. I see the resemblance, I’m one of the creators of that style. Nevertheless, I’m concentrating on giving the people a banging album so strong. I’ve got some of the hardest critics around me and everyone is really feeling it.
Q: So are you done recording?
A: When it comes to the chef, I ain’t never done cooking right until the food is served. I may make a few different changes here and there because I consider myself never. But as far as it not being done, it’s done. Who knows though. I might wake up tomorrow and write a hit Cuban linx. My mind fluctuates when it comes to making this shit. It’s a hard and colorful album.
Q: Is it hard for you to put a fresh spin on stuff that happened to show 20 years ago?
A: Not hard at all. It’s never hard when you experience something. It’s only hard when you haven’t experienced it. To me, it’s a trip down memory lane. It’s more about making sure my production can stand next to me like that.
It’s my thing that you don’t have to act hard to make a hard album and I think that my philosophy was never to make a hard album, I wanted to be Raekwon and make a good album, a tape that channels how I’m feeling, who I am and where I came from. So when it came back time to step into the zone, it took a little bit of time to get the right production. This ain’t no overnight album. I didn’t want to take nobody’s money. I wanted to give everyone a raw prestigious album. It was two and a half years of work and I looked at everything through a fine tooth comb.
Q: You’ve been rapping for 15 years now. Have you given any thought what you’d want people to remember you for?
A: I want people to know that I was a real hip hop fan…I was a real hip hop cat…he want the way he’s supposed to go, he stayed being himself, he didn’t sell his soul to be someone who he isn’t. I want my kids to know their dad was mean with it. I want the fans to remember that I wear many medals, I’m a veteran in the game and that I made good music.
Q: Are your kids thinking about following their father’s path like GZA and Ghost’s sons?
A: My daughter and son are young my to decide where they want to be. If they want to get involved, I’ll support them to the fullest.
Q: Are there any goals you feel you have left to accomplish?
A; The first is to satisfy the world with a classic album. My thing is to uplift this hip hop thing again, maybe I’ll be able to set off another trend of sound. My thing is to really just keep the dignity where it needs to be at, my goal is to make 15 more albums. I feel I’m still at the beginning stage. I’ve only made four albums and I feel I still have a whole lot to prove. I still have the energy and I want people to check out the new project and look for the new mixtape we have coming out.
Q: What’s it called and when’s it dropping?
A: Burning bags; it’s dropping shortly…to be announced. It may come out on the internet
A: Oh definitely, it’s where the masses are it. At the end of the day, I want to reach people from all shades and colors and let them know what’s going on. I’m deeply appreciative of the people. My thing is to keep it rounded, I stay hitting up the steeets, I’m always running around, pollying and bouncing.