When Raekwon turned up on stage with Kanye West at London’s Koko on Tuesday night, the crowd’s “Holy shitting fuckballs, IT’S RAEKWON!” reaction was soon replaced the following morning by inquisitive wonderment - “Wait, why is Raekwon in London?”
You can make the safe assumption that The Chef isn’t just a novelty passenger on Yeezy’s magic tour bus, and as it happens, he’d actually been in the big smoke for a few days before he graced Kanye’s crowd with a surprise rendition of “C.R.E.A.M.”.
2015 is gonna be a big year for the Wu Tang associate. It’s the 20th anniversary of his ragged mafioso solo masterpiece Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and last month he showed up at Sundance to premiere a surprise trailer for The Purple Tape Files, a documentary about that fine record which he’s working on with Ghostface Killah. But, more importantly, Raekwon is finally gonna put out his long-teasing new solo album Fly International Luxurious Art in April, and that’s why he’s here in the UK, fielding interviews, taking meetings and bellowing “Dolla dolla bill y’all” into the faces of shocked Yeezy fans.
I headed into central London the morning of the secret gig he would play that night, into the pleasant haze of Raekwon’s particularly aromatic hotel room, for a quick catch up about what we can expect from the next solo record, and to glean some golden nuggets of opinion on various rap matters.
I should add, the Kanye appearance that night was not mentioned once, and kept totally confidential. I had no fucking idea.
Noisey: Yo Raekwon! Your sixth solo album is finally now just months away. This has been a long one right?
Raekwon: This album right here has been about 3 or 4 years. I haven’t rushed it because it was important to me that it felt organic. I make my music according to how I feel and sometimes albums take that long. This is a lifestyle project that really allows me to tell you where I’m at now after 20 years. I’m still doing it the best way I know how. I’m just excited, man, because it’s time for the world to taste my medicine again and know that it is good for your body.
We premiered one of its songs “Wall to Wall”, with French Montana and Busta Rhymes, on Noisey. That right there is a huge track.
“Wall to Wall” is a dope record. It’s a street record! It takes me back to times just being on the block, listening to hip-hop loud and blasting it. The production on this one was actually done by this lady (She Da God) I came across who was making beats that were blowing my mind.
Oh yeah? Where did she come from?
She got in touch with one of the A&R guys at my company and he let me hear the beat. Next thing you know I met her and told her I was intrigued by her music. She got in the studio, doing her thing, and came up with the beat for “Wall to Wall”. We was like “French could kill it on this beat, I think Busta could kill it too.” We reached out to them and we were one hundred percent right. Next thing you know we vibed on the song and came up with something great.
I always thought those unknown producer emails to major artists like yourself would get junk mailed quicker than they could say "Hey, you don't know me but…".
You know I’m always keeping my eyes on what is going on. I keep my ears to the streets. Sometimes I don’t want to know so much because I don’t want to start changing who I am because of the influences around me. But I do watch who’s winning; the new generation. I was always taught that the music changes every ten years, it transitions to a different style or a different sound. So I have to - as an artist - know where it’s going next. I have to study the new kids to a degree of knowing what I want them for.
Are there any artists you haven’t worked with who you are admiring from afar?
I’ve worked with a lot of people, you know? From Kanye to everybody. But there are always still more. I’d like the chance to work with Kendrick Lamar. And I’d say Snoop too. These are cats I have wanted to work with for a while.
When you look at today's rap scene, do you see noticeable differences from you came up through in the early 90s? The evolving business culture?
There are smarter artists now than there were back in the day, but back in the day the artists were more creative. There were more kids that did the music from the heart and wherever it took them was because of true talent. Now, you don’t have to be a great artist to be a great businessman, you just have to know what records calculate their time for you.
Very true. So tell me about your visit to Sundance festival last month?
This year is the 20 year anniversary of the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, so we are doing an in-depth documentary called The Purple Tape Files on that album. Discussing it, and giving a glimpse into the world of how we made it. We are taking our time doing it, but through some good relationships I was able to present the trailer to the Sundance Academy. We went down there and showed a 7 minute trailer and they loved it.
How is the film going to work?
So, we talk about the album, how we made it, some of the things that were outstanding, the controversy around it and just celebrating it because that album was loved around the world. We’re still working on it as well.
You're crowdfunding it right?
Yeah, that comes with wanting to interact with the fans as we are making it. I think it is so important to give them what they expect. You want this to be what it is, so I’m going to do my best to bring it to that level. Through Fanbacked.com, I've given the fans opportunities to be with me, be around me, and voice their opinions. Then they help me solidify certain things that I need to do on this side to get this project going. We never said it was going to be easy or cheap - I would never want to do anything cheap. It’s just all about everybody getting in and supporting. I don’t care if it is a kid out there who’s got two pounds. If his name is on that list of funders, then he will be there. And when it is time to talk about how we are going to do things, that kid is going to know about it and he is going to have opportunity to come and hang out with me.
It feels like there is a growing attitude among artists at the moment to strike these direct relationships with their fans and cut out the middle men.
Of course. Fans are like your whole family. As an artist it is important to know who it is that helps us feed our families. It is important to acknowledge that and love each other. I couldn’t think of anything that is bigger than this. We’re talking about me being in the game 20 years and still having that impactful feeling. It’s amazing man, and without my fans I couldn’t be nothing so I want to keep them involved.
Is the whole documentary finished now?
You’re looking at a basketball game and we are in the first quarter. We will answer all your questions, but trust me this is something the fans are going to love.
When it comes to things like 20th anniversaries of albums, does it feel weird to reflect on your career?
You know, it don’t feel like half the time I’ve been in it. I’ve got fans saying to me, “I’ve been listening to you since I was ten!” That’s hard for me to believe but that’s what they are saying. “My mom, this is all she played” or “My father always played this.” As long as I’ve been in it though, I don’t feel it. It just feels good to know that I wake up everyday excited to do it. It don’t matter how old you get as long as you love what you’re doing. I’ve got albums to go. Maybe I’ll chill after 20 albums, but I’m still waking up feeling good about it.
Do you still feel the same about performing live too?
Absolutely. We have a ton of shows internationally starting to come up. I’m going to be pretty busy. I guess the worst thing for me is not getting to spend time with my children. As an artist you’ve got to be able to be away from your children when making an album, then when it comes to promoting it you’ve got to be away even more. So I’ve got to figure out a way to be a better father to my kids, because they see the success in me but its always from a distance.
It must be weird to get excited about the project at the same time as knowing it’s gonna take you away from your loved ones for ages.
Yeah, it’s like you get excited and then an hour later you’re like, “Damn how am I going to explain that to the kids?” It can be a good thing and a bad thing, but it’s usually always a good thing really because I’m able to take care of them and make sure they can get a good education.
Raekwon, it's always an honour.
You can find Joe Zadeh on Twitter: @cide_benengeli