Full Clip: Raekwon Discography Review/Interview

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Interviews - Interviews

As Raekwon puts the finishing touches on his upcoming release Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, we asked the lyrical Chef to break down the Staten Island crews’ catalogue as well as his own solo works. Protect your neck, indeed. —Keith Murphy



Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993)

There was always something to prove. When you think of us coming out with our first album we represented Staten Island, which is a combination of every borough that just happened to be across the waters. But we were always the borough that wasn’t really spoken about. That’s why representation was an important thing for us. We wanted to let brothers know it’s real over here. We know how to get down on the mic and we have our own style. To tell you the truth, we didn’t think we were doing anything groundbreaking at that time. We only knew that we believed in ourselves. I remember there were radio stations fronting on [our first single] “Protect Ya Neck.” It didn’t fit their program at that time because it sounded like a loud interruption [laughs]. When you think of hip-hop you think of a culture that’s uncontrollable.

RZA had come with a musical chemistry that was good for us. But looking back, do you know how hard it was to get 9 brothers on a song? You would hear three or four MC’s and you would hear a posse cut here and there, but you were not hearing 9 MC’s throughout a whole album. We knew 36 Chambers was an experiment. But we already had it strategically mapped out. I made sure I was on the majority of the songs because I felt like this was the opportunity to express myself as an artist. You can hear it in my voice. I was thirsty. I felt like, “Oh, you haven’t heard shit yet. Wait til’ you hear our solo albums. You haven’t even heard Method Man’s album yet!” I was fighting for my dudes to win. It was about giving the next Wu-Tang Clan project value.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)

Around this time, I was just really retiring from the streets. This is when I made the decision, “Yo, you are going to either do one or the other. Do you want to pursue this rap career or do you want to stay out here in the streets with a gun in your pocket?” All I knew how to write about was that kind of street shit because I was still half way in between it. I remember when me and RZA sat down to talk about the album, he knew where I wanted to go. I came to him with the idea about the Wu-Gambinos, which was my mindset at the time. With Cuban Linx, the Wu was going to turn into my version of the mafia. RZA knew that was my chamber. I loved that kind of cinematic, mafia street storytelling. I could not compare myself to a Method Man as far as the chamber he was in. He was the flow MC; captain hook; the energy booster. Ghostface and I were the visual MC’s. We became narrators of the street world. We knew we had a record like “C.R.E.A.M.” that took off huge for us. So I knew that was the direction I wanted to head into for my album.

We figured out a way to combine the karate skits of the first album to the whole mafia, killer drug shit. And Ghostface was the perfect MC to back me up. We had the same kind of elements. We were the more street type of dudes in the crew. We both go back to niggas wearing rings on each finger, rocking the cable ropes, and going to school with high top fades with half moon parts, and loving Polo. But we also knew what it felt like to be in front of store freezing putting in work. Ghost became my muscle man on Cuban Linx. That’s how it is in the streets. You have that one nigga that was good at executing; on some put-that-head-out!

Wu-Tang Forever (1997)

There were some huge egos on this album, but truthfully it had always been that way with the Wu since 36 Chambers. This was our second project as a group, so by then we had become stars. Everybody had to bring something to the table and with nine artists on one album there’s bound to be a lot of competition. We were looking at it like who is going to knockout who on the next verse. It was definitely a challenge, but RZA headed up the whole movement. He felt that the Wu-Tang could be a cult, not just a hip-hop group. He was really feeling like I’m leading a crew of MC’s, so everybody had to be catered to in a certain kind of way. When you hear songs like “Reunited” and you hear RZA, GZA and ODB attacking that one and then me and Ghost come on another joint and then Meth come in, you can hear our distinct styles.

I was happy with the album. It was a double album…very mean. This was also the same time when we were doing our first international tour, which was crazy. We were all from the projects. We had never been to places like Australia. We were in a lot of different cities outside the U.S. And the groupies came in all colors [laughs].

Immobilarity (1999)

At this time there were a lot of Wu projects being made. And everybody in the Clan was going in their own direction. For me, I felt like from watching us do so many things together that I wanted to go out and do something different without having to lean on RZA. He just finished knocking out five to six classic albums. So he always busy with other projects. Meanwhile, I needed to have my product out on the streets. The plan was always when you are dealing with 9 members they all get an opportunity to shine. So if my album was second or third to come out, then I got to let everybody else who didn’t come out get their shine. I had been away for a long time, but when I was getting ready to do my album I found out the RZA wasn’t going to be available to give me 100 percent. I wanted to take on a bigger role. I wanted to try something different and give people an album from my perspective. I was of the frame of mind like, “You know what? Everything doesn’t always have to have RZA on it. As long as it sounds good, that’s great. ” I never put RZA on that pedestal where I felt like I couldn’t move without him. You can’t depend on no man to do what you need to do. I had my own crew, The American Cream Team, which I felt was poppin’. My plan was to put some new dudes on. I wanted to give other brothers the opportunity to shine.

I think about how long we have been in the game and my solo album track record to this point was like come on! I was only two-albums in? Meanwhile, it’s going on six or seven years. I called this album Immobalarity because I had just come from doing the Cuban Linx album which was basically us being street niggas. We made that street shit work, but by now we had matured as dudes. I didn’t think it was a wack album. But if we are just going to sit back and judge something just because one man didn’t produce on the album, that’s not really given an artist his just due. There was a lot of politics involved with the way the album was received. I would get the, “Hey yo, where’s Ghost, where’s RZA?” questions. So that’s something that’s always going to be there. I was just surprised that I could do an album by myself.


The W (2000)

We were going through a lot. There were personal problems within the family, so we weren’t as tight as we were in the past. By this time, everybody had made their money and had their own lifestyle that they were used to. This was a dark album and period. Dirty was away locked up. We recorded it in a couple of months. To tell you the truth, dudes were not excited about making this album. It was more about displaying our individual talents. We just wanted to make a strong record so we could go back on the road and see the fans again. That was the most important thing.  RZA was the quarterback on this one again, but at that time, some of the members didn’t feel good about that. That’s when we started having disputes. It drove the music in another direction…again, very dark. I love “Hollow Bones.”  You could tell from that song that we were not worried about getting radio airplay [laughs]. We were all about being loyal to the underground.

The Lex Diamond Story (2003)

I was on Loud Records, which was going through a transitional time. Loud was closing its shop, so I joined up with Universal. I was in control of my own destiny. RZA didn’t have any hands on the Lex Diamond album. It was no longer a Wu-Tang Clan production. I was coming into the Universal building as a solo artist, so I wanted to give the label a record that I felt they would understand. I feel like I know how to be creative; I know how to make great music if I’m given the space for it. And coming to that building it made me feel more independent about my situation. I felt like I made a strong album, but at the end of the day Universal didn’t understand me. They didn’t know how to deal with the records I was coming with. Now there were some people in the building that were in support mode for me like Kedar Massenburg. He was one of the individuals who were dealing with my project and he just let me do me. But I also had a lot of other people in my ear telling me, “Yo, come with something commercial.” They wanted me to stray away from the hardcore shit and try to come more mainstream.

I was really indecisive on which way to go. One of my singles, which was called “The Hood,” was more up-tempo than any of my previous records. It was a happy record and that might not have been a song that people wanted to hear from me, When I wanted to come with something harder that’s when I got the label politics. They were only concerned with me getting radio time, not making a strong record. I realized that my fanbase was looking at me like, “Hey, hold up! This is not Raekwon.” Lex Diamond was definitely a learning experience.

8 Diagrams (2007)

This was another strange period for us. We came back together for this one. We tried to keep Dirty’s spirit alive. RZA was still the quarterback and there was still some issues we had to settle, but it felt good to be back with the brothers. This was an interesting album. We definitely made this for the longtime fans. Again, we were not trying to get radio airplay or hits. It wasn’t perfect, but it was raw.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II (2009)

I started [making this album in 2005], so the gray hairs started kicking in on this one [laughs]. I was experiencing a lot of stress because when you think about the first Cuban Linx project that we did because the Wu was always together. When I made Cuban Linx II we were so far away from each other. I’m scratching my head like, What the fuck did I just get myself into? A lot of personal things were going on in my life. At times, I didn’t even think I would be able to complete this album. But I felt like the challenge was built for me. I had to make sure the album had the right Cuban Linx sound and still be able to stand with today’s hip-hop.

We had [a diverse roster] of producers and was still able to get a unified sound. I think I showed that I had great ears on this project. I also had RZA helping me out because he has great ears as well. And as an executive producer, Busta Rhymes meant everything to me. He was a great mentor as far as someone who had a track record that I could respect and that was longer than mines. Busta had shown that he could still stay relevant. I gained spirit and great energy from this man. Busta was the one patting me on the back like, “Yo, you are better than you think you are.”

There were a lot of highlights on this one. Rhyming on a Pete Rock track was a dream. Pete is a wizard at production. He’s the definition of real hip-hop. He knows how to dissect those break beats. The crazy part is he let me hear a beat some years ago, but I never used it. I think he recorded it with Royal Flush. Flash forward to Cuban Linx II. I still wanted to use that beat. So Pete re-created the track from scratch! And when I got that J Dilla track I was like a little kid bringing cookies back home to his brothers. God bless his soul. In the beginning, I felt like, “Damn, if people don’t respect this one, I might really be on my way out.” But overall I think we met the expectations of releasing a classic.