Raekwon’s always had style. His alter egos Lex Diamonds and The Chef conjure up illusions of a drug king pin wearing silk shirts in his mansion, and even dressed casually for our interview he exudes a certain level of style. He’s a seasoned MC, always knowing when to rap and when to let his silence do the talking, like on Method Man’s ‘The Turn’ when he leaves the final bar empty for extra impact. His flow is distinctively his, though members of Wu Tang have accused him of missing the beat. “You know the guys tell me, ‘Sometimes you rhyme off beat or you don’t hit the beat where it needs to be hit at, but my thing is, I’m just going off feeling. It ain’t so much of me trying to do it the way I wanna do it, I just make the record according to how it feels. And if it feels this way, I’m gonna come at it this way. That’s The Chef for you kid.”
The iconic purple plastic cassette tape containing the 18 songs on Raekwon’s debut album, ‘OB4CL’, will turn twenty this August 1st. Known as The Purple Tape to dedicated fans, the album is undoubtedly one of the best hip hop releases of the nineties. Since its release, he’s barely taken a year off between releasing solo albums and Wu Tang projects. Not only is Raekwon still relevant, he works hard to continue producing music for loyal fans that span from his generation through to his children’s generation. This work rate is rare today, with many artists not understanding how much work it takes to get into the industry and more importantly, stay there. Raekwon agrees, “I remember when we first came up in the game, how important it was going out there and promoting you album. Nowadays a lot of artists don’t do that, they don’t get on the road and do radio and do interviews. To me that’s not cool because you gotta still do that as an artist and an entertainer. I still gotta do it.”
Raekwon is one of the most active members of the group, still touring the world both solo and as part of Wu Tang clan. Having released at least one album or mixtape per year since 2006, this year sees him release his sixth studio album, ‘F.I.L.A’ [Fly International Luxurious Art]. Though he’s said in the past that 50 is the cut off age for a rapper, he’s only five years short of that and seems reluctant to stop producing music. “It depends, maybe I might wanna stop and do something else that I feel I wanna get into. For the most part, I’m feeling good right now, I think if I lose momentum in what I do then it might be time to hang it up, but right now it’s too early for me. I still feel good, I still feel like I got more albums in store for you guys and I’m just at my best right now. I think putting it down doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not coming out to do shows, of course I’ll still be traveling to do shows or whatever but as far as trying to dance at 50 years old in the game, it’s gon’ be something to question.
Many of Raekwon’s peers are still active, including his frequent collaborator, Nas. Having first collaborated together on Mobb Deep’s ‘Eye For An Eye’, Raekwon enlisted the Queens MC for ‘Verbal Intercourse’ on ‘OB4CL’. He speaks highly of Nas, “That’s our brother man, he’s a good dude. [He’s] very humble, very intelligent, he’s a genius. [He] knows what he’s doing in the music industry and being that we all came up together, it’s like a certain amount of respect we got for each other. It feels good to come up with your peers and know 20 years later, we still making moves, because there ain’t a lot of us left.” More recently, Nas appeared on the Shaolin Vs Wu Tang song, ‘Rich & Black’. As Raekwon explains, collaborating with Nas is a very natural experience for him, “When me and him connect, it’s always fun because we’ve both been doing it for so long. We both have almost an equal amount of success. We’ve been good friends for a long time.”
Though he was familiar with Nas prior to ‘Illmatic’, the first time he ever heard ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ was when some girls from London played him the song. “It was so crazy because they actually lived up in New York and they was heavily into hip hop. They used to ride around in their van and they had this mixtape or something that they had Nas’ record on. Me and Ghost when we used to hang with them, we’d all just be cooling, bugging out, smoking, drinking, listening to it and I think the first time I ever heard ‘N.Y. State of Mind’ was from one of them tapes.” Recalling his first reaction to hearing the song, he said to the girls, “Oh shit, let me hear that again! Play that again!” and they played it like “Oh yo, that’s Nas, a new artist,” and we were like, “Word.” We were up on him but we didn’t know they was up on him.”
Despite being put on to Nas by a couple of London girls, Raekwon is one of the best of his generation when it comes to acting as an A&R for the new stars. When asked if he’s as passionate about listening to music as he is about making it, he responds, “Oh absolutely, I think its important people know that too.” Whether remixing a hot song or collaborating with some young talent, he manages to stay very relevant without adapting his own style to fit in. His upcoming album showcases this skill, as he enlists rapper Freddie Gibbs for a track on ‘F.I.L.A’. He says of the Ohio- raised MC, “Gibbs is a cool dude, he’s a respectable dude.” The song came about after the pair first built a friendship outside of the studio, “When I do a record with somebody, it’s cus I have a relationship with them or I feel like they cool. I gotta know who you are first. Gibbs is a cool dude you know, we did shows together and we have the same kind of mutual respect for each other. I asked him to do something for me, he asked me to do something for him.” His last statement leaves us wondering, do they have another collaboration yet to be released? It could be, unless he’s referring to ‘Bomb’, the song from Freddie Gibbs’ album with Madlib, ‘Piñata’.
He explains the importance of passing the torch onto the new school artists and how a feature can shine spotlight on those under the radar. “These labels come to certain artists to get them to help launch that artist. Like even I can recall when Ghostface did a record with Amy Winehouse, I never knew who Amy Winehouse was, but they needed a certain type of dude that can help her get some street credibility.” He stresses the importance of teaming up with new talent saying, “You’re never supposed to sleep on anybody when it comes to that, you never know who’s who.” A personal example he offers is the time he worked with OutKast at a point when artists from the East Coast and the South weren’t particularly close. “Cats like OutKast, back in the day when they first emerged into the East Coast with their music from the South, I was one of the guys that did they first record with. Sometimes we do get used in the greatest way to help other brands build they situations. But then again it’s also respect, you meet a dope MC or a dope talent, you wanna work with them cus you know what they gon’ do, you know they gon’ blow up. We always felt that from Ghost doing a record with Ne-Yo. Then the next thing you know, Ne-Yo take off and we ain’t stupid, we not gon’ just get on anything with anybody, we gotta see it makes sense for us too.”