Raekwon might be the busiest man in Hip Hop as the ‘00s come to a close. Performing nearly nonstop since his comeback classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, was released to critical acclaim in September, The Chef graciously interrupted some much needed rest in between shows in mid-December to speak to HipHopDX from his tour bus while en route to a performance in Boston.
Rae’s quick discussion with DX was largely a celebratory affair, as the site has decided to end ’09 off right by popping some bottles with our selection for “Album Of The Year,” “Emcee Of The Year” and toast his rightful resurgence in the Rap game as we head into this new decade.
In celebrating the success of CLII we decided to have Rae forego participating in another dissection of his album to add on to the endless analysis that has already been conducted by critics and fans alike of the stellar LP, and instead had The Chef take a quick look back at his transformative 2009 while turning his attention to 2010 and the forthcoming highly-anticipated collaborative projects with his Clan brethren on Wu-Massacre and Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. And along the way Rae revealed why he’s the “silent king” with no plans to vacate that throne anytime soon.
HipHopDX: I was just listening to that “Happy New Year’s” joint, and you definitely earned the celebration you’re having for the critical success of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II on that. So how does it feel to add one more trophy to the shelf with your “Album Of The Year” award from HipHopDX?
Raekwon: It feel good, man. I’m a big fan of HipHopDX. Y’all talk about a lot of real Hip Hop. And for me to just get that reward from y’all, that’s a blessing. I’m just content with the blessings right now, man. I believe hard work and dedication has allowed me to win with this album. We stayed dedicated, and we believe in ourselves. I’m always gon’ give the credit to the fans [though]. The fans is allowing me to really get my head right on wax and be like, “Yo, you gotta come with that masterpiece again.” And that [encouragement] really made everything [jump] off. You know this album is being driven to an Internet crowd. Like I know we have a lot of [supporters] that don’t [be on] the Internet…but, for me and my team we felt like the Internet was definitely a main source of the [success] going on right now.
DX: Now you said you’re just in a content mind frame, but on that “Happy New Year’s” joint you said, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II / Best album of the muthafuckin’ year / That’s right we cocky, fuck that.” [Laughs].
Raekwon: Yeah, yeah, of course, I mean ya know, we definitely [cocky] because… If I could flashback the page [to where] I felt like a lot of people was really shutting me down, or making me feel a certain kind of way – and it definitely was around the time of making this album… So now yeah, I feel another kind of way [towards the industry]. But, to the people I’m always gonna stay humble.
DX: I love the chest-thumping you did [recently] on “Meth vs. Chef Part 2” : “Y’all rappers gon’ feel my pain, but the other way around when it’s goin’ down I’m gon’ reign (That’s my chair nigga, get the fuck out of it).” [Laughs].
Raekwon: [Laughs] Alright! [Laughs] That’s whassup.
DX: Is that the new mind frame? Is that Rae going into 2010?
Raekwon: Yeah, that’s me just really taking it back to the roots of rhyming again, man.
DX: Let me ask you though just to follow up on the chest-beating [there], can we say King of New York? Is The Chef officially occupying that throne now?
Raekwon: Of course. I mean, I’m a king in my [own] throne. But [by] the same token, I ain’t never gonna take away what you or the people may feel, ‘cause that’s y’all opinion. [But] that was my purpose [in] really making that picture [of the pillaged Times Square scene with the Statue of Liberty’s decapitated head fallen to the ground] to put it inside my [Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part 2] album cover on some silent king [shit]. More or less, that’s how I feel. Y’all woke up a giant. And all I know how to do is come through the city and do what I gotta do to survive, man. But I’m a giant.
DX: In the write-up in Time magazine for your nabbing that #7 album of the year nod from them they wrote, “He’s still rhyming about cocaine deals, hustlers and urban menace…The reason it works, like all ofOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, is that Raekwon is a poet of grime, a storyteller who understands that Rap is less about an easy hook than the collision of carefully chosen words.” My question for you is what do you think it was about this album specifically that made those critics, especially mainstream media like Time, give you the accolades they didn’t give you for The Lex Diamond Story?
Raekwon: I think they seen right here that I was able to give them and give the fans what they want. And they seen so much of a horizon for that to happen that they acknowledged like, “Yo, he really went there.” ‘Cause, a lot of people, when they had the opportunity to really get the album was definitely like, “Yo, it’s a classic…He went there,” whatever. So, I’m sure that they editors or whoever took a real live meeting and said, “Yo, he really broke the bar this time” – because that’s what people wanted. We made the album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx back in ’95 [and] people felt a ’95 feeling again in [the sequel]. And, of course the cinematic rhyming that we do on it is coming from a nigga that lived it, that’s been there with it. And like I say, [you] can only lack certain things, you can’t never lose it. So I just went back to school real quick and just [got] back to the streets like I was supposed to.
DX: I’m surprised though that you’re embracing some of this critical acclaim, ‘cause on “House Of Flying Daggers” if I’m not mistaken you said, “All these Hip Hoppers eat cock.” [Laughs].
Raekwon: Yeah, you know… It wasn’t like that though. But all the funny dudes, man, ‘cause it’s a lot of funny Hip Hoppers out there that really don’t understand it… I know fuckin’ Hip Hop, you know what I mean? A lot of niggas don’t know a lot of the music that we listening to. [What they’re listening to] is really not Hip Hop, its R&B Hip Hop. And that’s cool too if that’s your cup of tea, but I think a lot of people just respect [the sound of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II] because we went back to the basics, man. I’m talking about just a mic, a beat and a strong emcee.
DX: Going back to that “Happy New Year’s” joint, you spit, “Salute the album / Righteous with a pen / By the 9th LP, hey yo I might hit you with Cuban Linx 10.”
Raekwon: [Laughs] You analytical, you checking out all that, huh?
DX: [Laughs] Yeah.
Raekwon: [Starts rhyming] “Salute the album / Righteous with a pen…” That’s how I feel, man. I’m speaking from the heart. And at the same time I’m gonna be wise about making the [next] album what people want. So that’s what it is, fam. When I put my pen down on the table it’s coming humble but it’s gon’ make sure that at the end of the day it [still] be what it [need to] be.
DX: You gonna stay with the current formula, or you planning on elbowing things out content-wise going forward?
Raekwon: Um…I mean right now my mind is just still sitting here just trying to focus on making great music. So we gon’ see what’s gon’ happen. What I said about a 9th LP, “hey yo I might hit you with Cuban Linx 10,” you never know, but I’m not trying to just do it to like gimmick it. I’m gonna do whatever my heart say do, as far as making a great album. But if we do hit you with another one, hey, you got another sequel to worry about. But, right now it’s just about making great albums period, man. I want people to suck up this album right now and digest this real quick [first]. It’s like going in that restaurant, don’t order all that food if you can’t eat it. [Laughs].
DX: Let’s speak on the immediate future just a little bit though, we still getting Wu-Massacre on February 9th?
Raekwon: Everything is a go from what I’m hearing. It’s a record that’s gonna come out on Def Jam so…I really don’t have too much knowledge on it. I spoke to [Method Man] and he’s telling me by the middle of February the album should be already solidified. So, that’s what I’m hoping [is] gonna happen. We’ll see what Def Jam [will] do. I’m just coming in as a piece on the board just to really go in and do what I gotta do. But we gon’ see how they handle the business with that album.
DX: So you guys are done; you all the way wrapped or you still doing stuff for it?
Raekwon: Nah, we still got more things that we wanna do. We ain’t never wrapped. We gon’ definitely make sure that we really give y’all a tight album, and [make sure that] everybody’s opinions and criticisms account for this record.
DX: And you [mentioned] Def Jam, I’ma hit you with one more quote from the “Happy New Year’s” joint: “Chef start rhymin’, all the labels are spazzin’ / Suck my dick though / Thought we was cool / Don’t try to feed off / The only one that get love is Lyor.”
Raekwon: “The only one that get love is Lyor.” I think Lyor [Cohen] has to be one of the most genuine cats in the game that I ever met. And we all gotta remember that we dealing with people that don’t really got love for you the way you may think, they just wanna make money off of you. I seen that man Lyor change brothers’ lives and still be who he supposed to be [in the industry], and still understands great music when he hears it. A lot of these labels I really can’t relate to because they be funny, they be phony. Like, a lot of shit ain’t the same [in the industry as it used to be]. So, that was just something I wanted niggas to do [with that line] is know that when I was walking through the muthafuckin’ buildings trying to make it happen [for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II] a lot of niggas was full of shit. A lot of niggas was hatin’ on the kid. For what reason I don’t know, I’m telling ‘em that, “Yo, #1 you gon’ profit, and #2 it’s a tough album. But if you acting like you wanna take something away from my shine then I don’t even need to fuck with you.” So that [line] was just a payback thing to a lot of niggas that fronted on me – don’t try to hit me with that, “Thought we was cool,” nigga, I don’t wanna hear that shit.
DX: In that 57th Ave interview that went out day-before-Thanksgiving you was kinda sounding like you weren’t really feeling this independent situation though and how it affected the sales of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, so is the Lyor shout-out like a sign of Rae going to Warner Brothers with him? You moving away from the Capitol situation?
Raekwon: Nah, I still respect EMI and Capitol definitely for what they did. They did believe in me at some point where I felt like it was a little bit of love. And I appreciate it because it’s one thing to say you underestimate somebody but you still give them an opportunity to shine, and you keep me happy. And they definitely kept me happy. I wish we woulda been able to really reach the retail the way we wanted to [though], because that’s what I wanted to do was just let ‘em know like, “Yo, I feel like we getting ready to lose a bunch of money, because y’all [only] shipping a [100,000].” It’s like c’mon, that ain’t really nothing, B. The legacy of Cuban Linx has been going on for like 15 years; you can’t play with this kind of record, man. And a lot of people underestimated the power of what it could do. And I think personally if it was on a major or something it probably woulda been gold right now. ‘Cause a lot of people [went to buy the] album, but when they couldn’t find it they had to deal the best way they had to and [download it], and that’s what happened. I was kinda hurt back off of that like, “See, I told dudes we needed more records out.” But, it is what it is.
DX: Well hopefully Wu-Massacre will make up for some of that [presence at retail]. If “Meth vs. Chef Part 2” is any indication of what y’all cookin’ up Def Jam –
Raekwon: [Interrupts] Yeah, that’s definitely something that is a part of that album that’s getting ready to come out, on the Wu-Massacre that’s a song [with] me and Meth having fun, flashing back [to the original “Meth vs. Chef”] off an ill beat. That’s my thing right now, production is so important to me, and I just wanna make sure that everybody know that we rhyming and we coming with the right production and all that. We still keeping it Hip Hop, no Hip Hop R&B. And I ain’t taking nothing away from that, but right now the fans want the Hip Hop shit, so we gon’ keep it right there for now.
DX: Is it gon’ be some of the same beatmakers from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II – Pete Rock, Scram Jones?
Raekwon: Nah, it’s gon’ be spread [out]. We got a lot of great producers in the game, and I wanna spread it out and see what everybody got to offer. Shout out to all the producers that definitely play they role in the game and they really look at the right cats to get on they music.
DX: Gonna hit you with another quote from that “Meth vs. Chef 2”: “Niggas is lame, industry pussies, we can’t feel these / Regardless that I’m paid and flossy / Rich in the mind, I do this for the nine niggas who forced me.” You know I gotta have you elaborate for me on what you were saying with that verse?
Raekwon: Yeah meaning the nine niggas who forced me is the Wu. I feel like I have to really let them know the power of what we got. So that’s a force that I feel is reckoned that I have to deal with. But it’s like yo, we gonna make sure that everybody understand that we really gon’ get it right. And that’s the line that I feel like [is] to [the] nine men that I’m doing it for as well as myself. I just want everybody to know Wu is forever, and we told y’all we gon’ do it like that, [so] we gon’ do it like that. Brothers can really rhyme, but it’s something that is stopping everybody from getting to the next level, and that’s something that we gotta find within ourselves or whatever. But, everybody is doing they thing though so…I just wanted to say something about that. And “industry pussies, we can’t feel these,” it goes back to them haters, niggas that really been hatin’ and frontin’ and not being real with us. It’s like yo, we see you nigga. We see you; we know you wanted us out of here. We know you wanted to get rid of us, but we ain’t ready to leave yet.
DX: Now you know I gotta hit you with a little bit of RZA stuff, I just want you to address some stuff he told MTV back in October, that he pitched to y’all three doing a “Brothers From The Grain” project back in the day. Is that true?
Raekwon: Brothers from the grain?
DX: Yeah, that’s what RZA told MTV, that you, Ghost and Meth forming a trio, he had already pitched this concept to y’all way back in the day.
Raekwon: I mean, if he did though I don’t really remember…but, just [you] saying “the grain,” that was a big word to him back then so… I don’t remember man, I smoke too many blunts, I don’t remember.
DX: He also said in that same interview that y’all “don’t need each other, but it’s good to work with each other and use each other’s energy, because it’s better for the whole brand, and for the whole Clan.” You agree with that statement?
Raekwon: Definitely. We always told the world, before we came in the game, we coming in as a crew but we also gon’ break down and Voltron and do what we feel that we have to do. And we living that out right now. Like every man is in charge of his own life. We come back together and we work and we do our shit of course, but at the same time yo, each man has his own qualifications on where he wanna be at. So he’s right, as long as we can be able to kick it with one another and just keep making great music and everybody shining on they projects and we showing that we gon’ support each other, that’s what it’s all about.
DX: So was there any involvement from RZA for this Wu-Massacre though?
Raekwon: Yeah definitely, he came in with some ill production and you gon’ get some things…
DX: One last question about Wu-Massacre, just can you [give] our readers like a little bit of insight on what y’all trying to do different from just like a regular Wu group project?
Raekwon: It’s just basically a Hip Hop album. This album, definitely it’s gon’ have that classic Wu sound of course, but at the end of the day it’s like when you think of me, [Ghostface Killah] and Meth we have a lot of records that we done back in the days where if you really check our history we always sound good together. From listening to songs like “Box In Hand” off of Ironman, to certain joints on The W album… Like me, Ghost and Meth, we always know that we sound good together, so the chemistry definitely gon’ be, it’s gon’ be ill, people gon’ respect it. And I think us three, we know each other world perfect, so the album is definitely gon’ be a more energized album, it won’t be so laid back.
DX: I was hoping Deck would be in there with y’all. He ripped the shit on your album.
Raekwon: Oh you know [Inspectah] Deck gon’ have a verse [on] there or something. Like I said, don’t count the Clan out. Like, you will see a few cats [on] there.
DX: Speaking of, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, that’s still on the itinerary after Wu-Massacre?
Raekwon: Yeah that’s definitely still on the itinerary. That’s a album that I promised the fans. It’s just gon’ be a significant Wu-Tang-sounding album. Now this album is gonna be interesting because it’s gonna have that Wu sound all the way to the tee. It’s gonna be different from Cuban Linx, but it’s still gon’ be Wu. So, definitely get ready for that, that’s gon’ be a real hot record, trust me.
DX: One last question… You’re working with Capone-N-Noreaga for War Report II, and I don’t know if you heard, AZ announced he’s making Doe Or Die 2, and I just wanted to know how you felt about inspiring all these sequels to those ‘90s classics?
Raekwon: Yo, it’s good to know that a lot of the brothers that came up in the game is really going back to what made them who they are. If that’s what you gotta do, if you gotta go back and check out the tapes to what you done back then to make you who you are today, it’s nothing wrong with that. So I salute every brother out there that’s thinking like that. Ain’t nothing wrong with going back, B, to understand what made you who you are. And I think a lot of artists need to do that and hey, you put your best foot forward and you make it what it’s supposed to be. So I salute it. I wanna see brothers go back and…let’s show the young cats at the same time too like, “Yo, check out the music we making, it ain’t just to cater to the radio, man.” It’s about being creative, and if that’s what brothers gotta do [to do that] then shoot for it man and make it happen. I got your back.