The Intro to Fly International Luxurious Art is Raekwon at the airport en route to Abu Dhabi with cameras snapping, fans screaming, and no room for stamps in his passport. This is the vibe that made him famous, and that he seeks to establish once again: Mafioso Rap, drugs, sex, and money under an umbrella of power.
Not unlike Only Built For Cuban Linx 2, the rollout for F.I.L.A. was wrought with anticipation. Fans have eagerly awaited its release for more than a year, and the writing, recording and mastering processes were arduous. Lyrically, Rae sticks to his guns, save for a handful of minor deviations. He is one of the godfathers of the aforementioned Mafioso style, but he’s also developed a niche for complex, often uniquely metaphorical wordplay with patented New York slang. This time around though, the articulation is simpler and better suited for a wider audience. Guest features include Rick Ross and 2 Chainz, and the level of technicality slips slightly in the process.
Crisp instrumental production provides a palpable backdrop to F.I.L.A. “I Got Money” is a mellow island-style xylophone beat from producer S1 with smooth flows and rhymes from Rae and A$AP Rocky. S1 also appears on “Live To Die,” a high point on the album with Rae delving into story-telling mode. Although it has visceral moments, F.I.L.A. is far from a lyrical masterpiece, but Rae still has moments of greatness. The Snoop Dogg collaboration “1,2 1,2” sees both emcees on top of their respective games. And, over booming drums, Rae spits: “Guns eclectic, flips perfected / Boats flying in, every brake’s inspected / The clique’s connected, everybody wrist and neck lit.” It may seem predictable on paper, but sonically, Rae has mastered his craft without ever being repetitive or trite. Said ability also speaks to the talents of A$AP Rocky and Rick Ross (“Revory (Wrath)”), who admirably capture the vibe he seeks.
Yet while Rae plays to his strengths, his experimentation ultimately proves costly; the songs geared towards mainstream audiences stand out like a sore thumb. “Soundboy Kill It,” the second official single is a frayed attempt at Dancehall flavored Rap, with an auto-tune hook from Melanie Fiona. Similarly, the foray into R&B (“All About You”) is a head-scratcher and the rhymes are uninspired: “True, yeah, nothing but a G-thing / Whoa, yo, they be coming through, peep game / Boo, I know it’s over baby, keep playing / Oops, I’m out of energy, street king.” As such, Raekwon’s desires for new approaches are apparent and laudable, but unfortunately come up short. On “F.I.L.A. World,” 2 Chainz fails to impress, and the mood of the Scram Jones’ beat is undecided. French Montana holds his own with Rae and Busta Rhymes on “Wall To Wall,” but his verse is superfluous considering the shared history of the latter two (“Goldmine”; “About Me”).
F.I.L.A. had two years of hype for what amounts to an album with little true cohesion. At times the style itself feels like a copy of Rae’s hits instead of an organic creation, but The Chef does a good job of balancing the radio-friendly Rap with material his diehard fans crave. He certainly isn’t at fault for thinking outside the box, but considering the anticipation and buzz generated for any Raekwon product – especially F.I.L.A.— the finished product doesn’t quite match the overwhelming talent and legacy of the legendary emcee.