Raekwon Feels Like a Giant Walking Among Hip-Hop’s New Generation
Longevity in hip-hop is something that is extremely hard to obtain. To be a successful rapper over an extended period of time while being relevant is a feat only a handful of MCs have accomplished. Enter Raekwon, one of the successful hip-hop veterans who has achieved that goal. The Chef has been cooking up heat for over two decades and hasn't lost a step since Wu-Tang Clan broke out in the early 1990s. Since his iconic solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., dropped in 1995, Rae has continued to produce high-quality music.
His most recent album, The Wild, is one of his best. With production from Frank G., Dame Grease, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and more, Rae's storytelling shines. His ability to create visuals within listeners' mind with every song off the album is hard to match. While his 2015 release, Fly International Luxurious Art, featured a plethora of guest appearances, The Wild is more centered on Raekwon taking the lead with perfectly placed acts—Lil Wayne, CeeLo Green, Andra Day, G-Eazy and New York newcomer P.U.R.E.—that shined when Rae calls on them.
The album artwork is a great representation of the story the project presents: a huge, unstoppable force wandering across hip-hop's new, unfamiliar wilderness.
While in New York, Raekwon stopped by XXL to talk about The Wild and how he continues to be a giant among men.
XXL: The album cover is really nice. What was the inspiration?
Raekwon: It definitely came from a King Kong-style of thing that I was thinking at the time. I feel like that in the industry anyway, just look at my track record. I didn’t have a title at first for it but I knew it was something that I felt I had to make another album totally different from Fly International Luxurious Art. This album [The Wild] right here is more me. When we were making [the cover], I’m just looking at life and seeing all this around me while I’m making an album.
I’m saying, "Damn, New York looking crazy to me right now. New York look like it’s going through an identity crisis." When you think about that, you think of coming to your city and it’s been hit by a fuckin’ hurricane and nobody fixed nothing up yet. So I said, “You know what? That’s sounds like it make sense.” Then me being bigger with everybody on there, it’s the longevity that I put in, I’m just actually walking around the jungle, living still [because] the industry to me is the jungle. The animals in the front, those are human animals.
To me, that’s how I look at the industry today. Everybody has an animalistic mind frame, whether it’s good or bad or ugly, you’re dealing with a bunch of characters because you don’t know who’s who. And also dealing with today, the women being strippers, you look at the cover and you’ll see pussycats showing off their bodies. This is all the shit that’s going on and I’m just walking into that kind of jungle. It’s not too diss it but it’s to show that sometimes as artists we feel shit. So it’s just a bunch of subliminals inside of an animation but a real life animation and it’s just me roaming through.
I felt like it represented everything that’s going on around me. I got with a British illustrator and I told him, “Yo, I like your work.” I was put on by one of my in-house producers. It’s only about so many times I really want to do a cover with me on it. I don’t mind getting fresh and doing it but I wanted something different because I felt like the album was a total different swing from the last album. I got up with him and I gave him some vision and that’s what we came up with. It was perfect.
The thought that sparks from the cover is that, yes, you’re this gargantuan creature but you’re also completely isolated in somewhere unfamiliar. Do you feel like that?
Let me tell you something, Wu-Tang is always going to be that symbol that's recognized throughout the world. But at the same time, Rae is still doing what he’s doing today and a lot of people may not be real familiar. I am off the radar to the new generation, to a degree. Because the last couple of years since making Cuban Linx I’ve been involved, I’ve been attached. I roamed through the jungle and made friends.
That’s how you’re able to survive in the jungle. Normally, that snake would of jumped out and tried to bite you but he ain’t bite you, you know what I mean? I’m a 20-year veteran that’s proven to the world, I still get busy. Whether it’s the 1990s or now, it’s the energy that you bring to the table. That’s what keeping me going. It is that King Kong mentality; platinum, awards, shows, we already done it and right now I do it for more pleasure then for business more. It’s always business but it’s more pleasure.
How is this album different?
It’s different because the last album we got a lot of features on it. That was first time I ever had over three features in my whole career. I’m a guy that likes it, I love to get on stuff and do things with my friends and all that but I always thought that doing your own album, it puts you in a prestigious level with the fans. They don’t look at you like you need that. When I recently started doing it, it was cool, it made sense. The last album I had a lot. This album I wanted it to be a little more about Rae, a little more album me.
You talk about a lot of things on The Wild.
It’s just good music—music that’s going to touch your soul, a lot of up-tempo energy. When you deal with me, you know I’m going to make an album and not just make a record. When you listen to [my albums], it captures my emotions; you’re going to see everything. Production-wise, it’s flawless. That’s the type of energy I’m bringing to the album.
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