Raekwon Interview

Label:Ice H20 Inc.
Next Project:Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II
Twitter:Raekwon on Twitter
Website:Raekwon's Website

Though many of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan‘s founding members went on to drop successful, critically acclaimed solo projects, none matched the game-changing impact of Raekwon‘s ‘95 debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.  In addition to selling more than 1.1 million copies in the US alone, the seminal LP set the standard and established the vocabulary for mafioso epics to follow.  Though plans for a sequel were announced in ‘05, label issues resulted in the highly-anticipated album being delayed.  Now signed to EMI, the Chef is finally prepared to serve up his second musical masterpiece.

Set to drop August 11th, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is sure to be snapped up by diehard fans hungry for new material from the renowned hip-hop storyteller, but previously-featured single Wu Ooh should convince any remaining doubters that the emcee’s cooked up another classic.  Produced by the Clan’s de facto leader, RZA, and featuring the lyrical stylings of Wu-Tang colleagues Ghostface and Method Man, the cut received a tremendous 4.5-star average from our readers, and stirred Booth anticipation to a fever pitch.

In an exclusive interview with our own DJZ,” Raekwon steps into the Booth to discuss the obstacles that stood in the way of the long-awaited album’s drop, the legendary producers who jumped at the chance to become part of his project, and the passion he still brings to his music after more than 15 years in the game.

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Raekwon Interview Transcription

DJ Booth:  What’s goin’ on, everybody?  It’s your boy, “Z,” and joining me inside the DJ Booth is an emcee who could be introduced in a variety of ways: an original member of the Wu-Tang Clan and known to many as “the Chef,” gearing up to finally release his long-awaited Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II this summer, please welcome Raekwon—how you doin’?

Raekwon:  What’s good soldier, what’s popping Z?

DJ Booth:  I got the press release, August 11th is the date that they’re giving me.  Please tell me that this is absolutely, one-hundred-percent true.

Raekwon:  This is absolutely a hundred percent true.  This is it, y’all.  I know people have been waitin’, I apologize for the delay, but I really had to go back and fix a couple of things.  The climate of hip-hop is different right now, so I have to really be on top of my game.  August 11th is definitely the official date we’re goin’ for.

DJ Booth:  Going back for a second, in ‘95 you dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and, that same year, Bad Boys was in theaters.  Thus, you can imagine my excitement when in ‘05, rumors about a Bad Boys 3 hit the ‘net at the same time roughly that an OB4CL2 rumor hit the ‘net.  But that was four years ago already, so talk about any disappointment in that it took longer than I know you wanted for this project to finally be released.

Raekwon:  Back then, we thought we’d be prepared to do it, but [it] was like, “Yo, something is not right.”  You know, on top of me bein’ a part of Motown/Universal at the time, I wasn’t happy with the way they were handlin’ my projects, and I wanted a release soon, so I had to deal with a lot of that.  When I did finally get released from Motown/Universal, it was still in the mix of me tryin’ to find a direction for the album.  One thing that’s important to me is, when you made a classic the first time, it’s important to make another one.  What I did was actually just continue to go out there and get the strongest production that I could get.  It started getting to the point where RZA was busy—you know, he couldn’t really give me the quality time that I needed and I had to respect that, ‘cause brothers have other things they have to do as well, and I’m not gonna be selfish when it comes to another man doin’ what he has to do to feed his family. I didn’t wanna make RZA the full-fledged producer of the album, ‘cause I knew he couldn’t give me the time like that, so I wanted to get a couple of other powerful producers involved with it.  You’ve got a brother like J. Dilla, Dr. Dre, Erick Sermon, Marly Marl—all these cats started to try to get in touch with me, to be like, “Yo, we know you’re doin’ this project; we want in!”  So for me, to respect the fact that you’ve got legends giving you a call, and legends want to be part of your project, you don’t say no to that.  You don’t.  You salute that, and hope and pray they come with what you need.  My prayers were answered, man—these brothers came in, and they made magic happen for me.  Just makin’ this album, it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but we have completed another classic album.  You’ve gotta love this album.  If you love real hip-hop, you’re gonna know that the production that Rae and his associates went and got on this album is flawless.  People may say, “Yo, it ain’t better than Cuban Linx I!”  But you know what?  At the end of the day, we weren’t tryin’ to outdo Cuban Linx I, we were just tryin’ to complement Cuban Linx I.

DJ Booth:  You mentioned briefly that, when you had all these collaborators knocking at your door wanting to work with you, that your prayers were answered, and upon release of this album I know that all of your longtime, die-hard fans, their prayers also will be answered.  Rae, you mentioned briefly that, for one reason or another, the situation at Aftermath did not work out.  I don’t want to go back in the past, I’d rather focus on the future, but do you ever think to yourself, “Okay, 2005, 2006, what if things had been different then?  What if the album did come out?”  Would you be on a Cuban Linx III now?

Raekwon:  I think there would probably have been a Cuban Linx III comin’ out, ‘cause, like I said, I’m one of the artists in the game who’s been hit with a gift-and-a-curse situation where that first album meant so much that people want part two, people want part three.  I am a growth-and-development artist where I kinda want to talk about everything, I don’t like to just put myself in one box, but I have no problem with making these kind of movies because it’s all entertainment.  I wanna just try to serve everybody, and give everybody the opportunity to get the best out of me, man.

DJ Booth:  How hard is it for you to really say, “Okay, I’m going to make an album that’s gonna make everybody happy?”  ‘Cause, really, no matter what, somebody’s not gonna like something that you do.

Raekwon:  Exactly, and I’m content with knowin’ that.  My thing’s always been to be a good sport when it comes to criticism.  It’s very hard to make people understand, you know, a Chef’s not always gonna come in and serve you turkey burgers.  He might wanna do a fish platter, he might wanna do a salmon platter.  And I think a lot of people, they’re gonna always be mad at some point, but by the same token, with this album right here, I had to really go back to the service that was there from the door with me.

DJ Booth:  We talked about a platter, so let’s talk about the tracklisting for this album.  It’s obviously morphed and changed quite a bit over the last few years.  When it is released on August 11th, how much of it would you say is original material that you intended to have on the album when you originally started recording, and how much of it has changed over the course of the last few years, due to all these great collaborations you’ve had the opportunity to heed.

Raekwon:  I would say it’s a 70/30 split when it comes to creative effort—the 70% is me makin’ sure that the sound is very important, and I feel like we have reached that pinnacle with the sound.  The other 30% is the new special effects that make Cuban Linx II Cuban Linx II.  Seventy percent of what I wanted is there, the other 30% is the newness that’s gonna make it shine even more.  I can say right now I’m ready to give y’all 20 tracks.  That may be a little bit too much, but I’m gonna make sure y’all have at least 55 to 60 minutes of good music from me.

DJ Booth:  I really don’t think 20 is too many, considering it’s been over 10 years since the original.  I think 20 sounds about right!

Raekwon:  Yeah, that’s my main focus: it ain’t about the sales, it’s about makin’ a prestigious album and showing brothers that, yo, Rae never went anywhere.

DJ Booth:  Let’s expound upon that, actually.  After you signed with EMI, their Senior Vice President and GM, Dominic Pandiscia, had the following to say about you: “Rae had a massive impact on the history of the history of hip-hop and urban music overall, and everybody at EMI is excited to be working with him on this record and to continue his legacy.”  So, Rae, two-part question: one, what impact do you feel you have made on the history of hip-hop, and how vital is this release in shaping the legacy that you leave on this game?

Raekwon:  It’s an honor, number one, to be in that class, but at the the end of the day, to me, this is all stuff I learned from my hood.  You know, we come from a town of broken dreams, and I just really came in with what I knew, and just tried to show people that I love to emcee, I love to rhyme.  That’s all I am really, at the end of the day, is an emcee that rhymes over beats.

DJ Booth:  Rae, you mentioned that, no matter what you do, people are probably going to compare this release to the original.  Do you feel like, after this one drops, people will still compare your work to the original, or do you think it’s going to shift to part two?

Raekwon:  I’m not saying people are not gonna do that, ‘cause you’ve got some fans who are gonna respect it, and you have some fans that probably don’t respect it.  Rae’s got a lot of energy still left in him.  You know how you just hear some cats, and you say, “Yo, he’s gotta let it go?”

DJ Booth:  I’ve talked to ‘em.

Raekwon:  You’re not gonna get that vibe from me.  This ride right here is really gonna make cats know that real, underground hip-hop, where it came from, still exists.  You’re gonna feel my passion on the wax.

DJ Booth:  Man, I couldn’t agree more, and honestly, I don’t think anybody’s gonna have to wait until the album drops to understand how passionate you are, ‘cause just listening to this interview, unlike so many artists I speak with on a weekly basis, I can hear in your voice the excitement and the understanding of how important and impactful this release is going to be for everybody, myself included.

Raekwon:  No question!

DJ Booth:  We’re gonna get into a new segment here, it’s called “According to Twitter.”  I was checking out your Twitter, and I wrote down a few interesting tweets.  The first is, you revealed the other day that Dre has three productions on the new album.  What type of reaction do you think longtime fans who have yearned for a Raekwon/Dr. Dre collaboration will have upon listening to your collaborative work?

Raekwon:  People have really gotta understand that, me and Dre, we are big fans that respect each other’s work.  I think it’s exciting just to know that you’ve got a strong West Coast producer who broke so many molds in his own way to be a part of something with an East Coast artist.  That in itself is something to really to a look at.  Dre could’ve given me one track, and I would’ve been appreciative of just havin’ one from him.  People are just going to be excited… I actually sat down and looked Dre in his face, and I could tell that he really wanted to be a part of this project.

DJ Booth:  Well, let me tell you, after this album drops in August, I suggest you place a phone call to him and tell him that, since your album’s out, he needs to finally put his album out.

Raekwon:  Yeah, we’re definitely waitin’ for that Detox album.  I know he’s got something up his sleeve as well, so you’ve definitely got to look forward to what’s about to take place within the next couple of months.

DJ Booth:  According to your Twitter also, Rae, you said that fans need to follow you in order to “get the ingredients.”  So, what would you say is the Chef specialty on this new album?  If you could serve up one of the songs on a silver platter to the masses, which one would it be?

Raekwon:  I would love to give you something that’s really a good dish from the late J. Dilla.  It’s kind of deep for me to have a producer on the album that perished, that’s not able to be here and witness his heat bein’ played on the airwaves.  “House of Flying Daggers” has four great Wu-Tang emcees on it, and we’re goin’ in on this track.  Like I said, if you’re a fan of Wu-Tang, and you know what you want out of the Clan when you want it, that’s definitely a main course, lobster; that course is probably around a G to get.

DJ Booth:  [laughs] It’s the one that comes with the bottle of Courvosier?

Raekwon:  No, the bottle of Krug!

DJ Booth:  I certainly can’t wait to get my hands on the brand new album, dropping this August.  Rae, give everyone a MySpace, your website, your Twitter account, so they can find out more about you and everything you have going on leading up to this highly-anticipated drop.

Raekwon:  Like Z said, if y’all wanna get in touch with the kid, y’all can get with me at myspace.com/raekwon.  Come check me out on Facebook, on Twitter.  All that stuff right there is being dealt with between me and my associates, me and my Team Chef, and, yo, I just wanna see y’all at the shows.  Get ready for Rock the Bells if you’re gonna be there.  I just wanna keep that real hip-hop movin’, man.  I consider myself still an underdog, and at the end of the day I’m just gonna represent real hip-hop and real emcees all over the world.

DJ Booth:  Well, Rae, the underdog is certainly gonna have his day this summer, and I will check in with you on June 27th, when Rock the Bells opens in Chicago.  Thank you so much for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth, it was an honor and a privilege, and I look forward to kickin’ it with you really, really soon, my man.

Raekwon:  Appreciate it, Z!

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