Raekwon The Chef may have gained notoriety as a member of hip-hop’s legendary Wu-Tang Clan, but it was his solo works, specifically his Only Built 4 Cuban Linx records that not only solidified him as one of the top MCs of our time, but also saw him pioneer Mafioso rap. Raekwon has a busy 2013 lined up, he recently released a mixtape, Lost Jewlry, has a record on the way this summer, F.I.L.A, is at work with Wu-Tang on a 20th anniversary release and has tour dates sprinkled across the continent over the year, including a stop at Toronto’s Sound Academy on March 20th. MSN caught up with Wu-Tang’s resident chef via phone from New York to chat about Wu, his next solo disc and songwriting.
You just put out a new EP, Lost Jewlry, an appetizer mixtape as you’ve called it. The precursor to your next album, F.I.L.A.
Yeah man. It’s a masterpiece. It’s me giving you twenty years of veteran status lyrics, and great continuity with the storylines. It’s just another hit for me in my career of being a great MC and artist. We had some joints that we had in the stash box that we were like, “Let’s finish this off and let them hear it. This is hot.” Certain songs that could have probably escalated into the mainstream world as well as still having that solid, hardcore fanbase that I treasure. We wanted to mix it up and give them a little bit of everything. We decided to call it Lost Jewlry, which is basically jewels given from Raekwon and given from the perspective of, “They were over here, and we had to go pick them back up and given them to you because they were good gems.”
When is the F.I.L.A. [Fly International Luxurious Art] gem coming out?
F.I.L.A is coming out within the June perspective of things. June is like the time when the music has to elevate itself. I felt that that was a good spot for it to be at.
There must be some good summer jams on there then.
Yeah. I’m hoping that they respect it enough to know there’s a good music on there, but you never know. At the end of the day, it’s a quality piece of work. This project is very different from a lot of projects I did because this one is more lifestyle. This one is more international for all the listeners that love Raekwon. I have listeners that listen to different things for different reasons. This album is going to be more fly. This is going to be more international. It’s going to be more luxury, meaning it feels fly, and still deliver that great art that I deliver. I’m giving you a painting. It has to be art. All those acronyms in one. When you think of fly, you always know that, “Sh*t, that’s what he’s going to do. He’s going to say fly. He’s going to flow. He’s going to do what he’s supposed to do.” International, it shows that it’s making the music more worldwide. More ground where I could say, “I gave him something. I gave her something. I gave her something.” Nothing should be ever the same all of the time.
How do you make it more international? Are you talking about things lyrically to draw more people in? Or, is it something you look for in the production of songs?
Exactly. You nailed it in the head. As an MC you always want to have great production because it opens your mind to want to create other avenues of music. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to have something that I know I could satisfy a dude that loves storytelling. Just make sure that you hit everybody’s world. One thing that people, when they look at my music, they looked at it as, “He’s an underground artist. He’s a person that may not be able to jump out of the box, but I know if he did, it would be interesting to see him do it.” As artists, we always try to recreate. We don’t want to get stuck too much with the same format. Then it becomes repetition and you don’t see the growth. You don’t see the challenge within that MC. That’s something I refuse to do. I can’t stay in one box. I want my music to be able to surface in London. I want people to say, “He had an international artist involved and the creativity was just excellent.” That’s my goal. To make music for the world as well that typical Hip Hopper.
What about rhymes. Are you someone who agonizes over words, and the cadence, and phrasing? Are you someone that scratches out words with a pen and paper? Or, are you someone who spits what you spit, and go with it because that’s what comes out.
I feel the music. The music talks to me. I don’t come in conventional. I come in to listen to the sound. The sound is going to direct me in the direction of where the rhymes are going to come out. It’s like sometimes you can come in the room and just hear music and it just sounds like you already know what’s going to come out. This is how I like to sit down when I create. I’ve never been a dude that wants to come in and rhyme over just anything that doesn’t fit over the music. The music is important. The music is the language. I have to make sure that I come in with an open mind. If I feel like rhyming something that I feel is hardcore and talking crazy, I’ll talk crazy. If it’s something that I feel I have to be intelligent, and be more of a narrator. Now as an MC, my mind is limber. It’s about being different. Be credible but be artistic. That’s what is missing from the game.
Why is that missing?
They love glorifying what we created. I don’t mean just me. Hip-Hop has created a platform where we took care of everybody mentally, financially, and spiritually. Right now, it’s more about the grammar, the lifestyle and the image. Maybe, ten years ago, it was about the skill and the integrity. The position of being a real artist. Now, it’s more commercialized. It’s more about whoever makes the most money is the most respected artist. At one point, it wasn’t about that. Even when you look at music in general, whether it’s soul music, country music, you see people who grow and continue to be different but still make great music. Everything now just sounds pretty much the same.
Except for F.I.L.A.
Oh F.I.L.A. is incredible. It’s another barrier of great sound, right there. You’ll hear this and you’ll know at the end of the day that this is an album that’s created. This is not somebody who comes in with just three songs, and says, “This is an album.” I’m known for making albums. I’m not know for making great singles. This time, you will be able to say he’s known for making great singles.
Talking about great albums, The Only Built 4 Cuban Linx records, you’re working on a third one, a third chapter. What keeps bringing you back to that story and where does the story go?
The story goes to the final chapter when I do it. There’s been speculations that I’ve been working on it. I’m working on it, but I’m not. That’s not the project at bay right now. The project at bay right now is F.I.L.A. I’m always sitting there knowing that people want the trilogy. They want it bad. For me, I have to do it at a time that makes sense. It has to be crafted in a way like you’re designing a new watch. Everybody looks at a watch and thinks it’s the most easiest thing to make. When in all reality, you’re going crazy and you need the littlest screws and the biggest nails to put it in the right perspective. For me, when it comes, it’s going to come organically. Then I’ll announce when it’s going to come. Right now, that’s not the topic. I know the fans want it, but at the same time, I might not give it you at this moment. I never want to rush greatness when it comes to doing sequel albums. Sequels, you have to be careful. You have to really make it go there. I have to make sure one, two, and three add up right. I have to make sure I have all the knowledge that I know what I’m doing. It has to play it out so beautiful that I know it’s time. Right now, it’s not time. It’s time for me to present another world for you.
Is it something about getting into a character like Lex Diamond? Is it about creating rap differently when you’re creating that persona?
Absolutely. It’s about going back into that drug world and that crime world. That’s what they want when they hear that. They want me to go back into being a mobster. They want me to go back into being the most flashiest persona alive and talk about the most craziest sh*t. Yeah, now I have to be an actor. Before, it was part of my life. Being now that I’m ten times more smarter, and faster and better at creating, they still want that world. Don’t get me wrong, that’s like me saying I don’t want Al Pacino doing another Scarface one day. I don’t give a f*ck how old he gets. I want Scarface. He can be 70 and he can come out with a new Scarface, I’m going to the movies. This is how the fans looks at you. They look at things they idolize, but they also have to respect your growth. Where they say, “He’s creating. He’s in the zone. He’s going to give it to us because he knows that’s what he wants.” It’s matter of time when I give that you. I can’t give it just right now. It’s still being created.
You’re talking about being ten times faster, ten times smarter, ten times better. I assume everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan would probably be similar, working on a record with those guys again, what’s the experience been like so far?
All I have to see is we’ve all grown. We’ve all grown to the next level. The thing I can say is that I love those guys, and love what they stand for. When it’s time for us to position ourselves again, it’s going to happen in a blissful way. I believe in every one of them. At the end of the day it’s about integrity with the brand and the artists. When it comes, it’s just supposed to be right. That’s what I want you to think about when you think about Wu. You think about a few good men that believe in something strong. When it’s time for us to go back out on the battlefield, we got to go right. I believe that we have the power to still conquer in a great way, which is being the black Beatles that we are. It’s always little things that get caught in the way of greatness. We have to make sure that we push that to the side and stand for something tall.
How does it work with that many MCs on a track? How do you decide who comes in where, and what themes you talk about?
You know what it is, it’s called being natural and having a gift. We come in the studio, and whoever’s there, he’s the painter at the time. We come and finish the painting off with him. We play our roles. We grab the brushes and the paints, and we colour. We make sure at the end of the day it sounds right. There’s never been an order. You got a lot of songs that may have started with Meth, or Deck, or started with Ghost. We flip it. We flip it every now and then. It’s about who sounds right from the beginning. Whoever sounds right from the beginning, the second person has to be just as impressive as who set it off. You follow suit. We can tell when a song is boring right away. You catch where it starts to get boring and you fix it. That’s what we always did. We challenged each other in the studio in a great way. If Meth came on the track and blew a hole in it, and I knew that I was up next, because ni**as felt I was next, then I had to make sure that I gave it to Meth but still stand next to Meth proudly. We worked together collectively and RZA would piece together some things. Some things didn’t work, and we would pull it out. You compose. This is what artists are suppose to do. We compose.
Six quick questions. One word answers.
Road or Studio?
Lennon or McCartney?
2-Pac or Biggie?
When you hear a song, what usually hits you first: lyrics, melody or rhythm?
Song you’ve written that you’re the most proud of.
My Mom’s Song.
And in one word, Raekwon the Chef.
Raekwon’s Lost Jewlry is available now, F.I.L.A. is to be released this summer.