Last fall’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part II was a milestone for Raekwon. The long-promised sequel to the Wu-Tang Clan member’s 1995 classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx drew stronger reviews than he’d seen in many years and hit the Billboard 200’s top five the week of its release. Considering the six-year pause that preceded Cuban Linx II, you might expect Rae to be resting on his laurels right about now.
Hardly. He returns March 30 with Wu-Massacre (pictured), a full-length collaboration with his Wu brothers Method Man and Ghostface Killah; after that, it’s back to work on Rae’s next solo album, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. To take a breather from recording might risk losing momentum, which he’s simply unwilling to do. “Right now, I’m tired as hell,” Raekwon admits, sitting at a conference table at EMI Records’ NYC office with a red-and-blue New York Giants hoodie pulled low over his forehead. “But it’s a job.”
On top of all that, Raekwon is also trying to establish himself as an music-biz mogul. Cuban Linx II was the first product of his Ice H2O label, released in partnership with EMI. Next up is Capone-N-Noreaga’s The War Report II, another sequel to a beloved ’90s New York rap album. Rae is interested in diversifying to other genres, too: “If I could come with another Avril Lavigne or Lady Gaga…” he thinks out loud. “We’re just ready to keep it moving. No more five years away Rae s—. I’m trying to make Ice H2O the next Def Jam. In my eyes, I’m the Berry Gordy.”
Read on for Raekwon’s thoughts on Cuban Linx Part II, Wu-Massacre, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, and the possibility of another album from all eight members of the Wu-Tang Clan left after Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s 2004 passing — plus Rae’s reaction after seeing for the first time the crazy/awesome “RZA crosses the Potomac” painting that lit up the Internet last month.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you happy with how Cuban Linx Part II was received?
RAEKWON: Oh definitely, definitely. It just shows that hard work and dedication can lead to success. I’m glad people accepted it. It took a minute, but it was worth the wait, though…I think my heart was in the right place. My team, everybody was really coaching me to make this album the best album it could be. We just worked hard, man. Blood, sweat, and tears. I felt confident with it. I felt I could do it again. And my prayers was answered.
One of the things a lot of people liked was that the album sounded like it almost could have come out 10 years earlier or more. Was that something you were intentionally doing?
Yeah. I mean, I wanted to come with a whole new sound, but still be able to relate to the early ’90s when we made the first one. So we took a lot of time. I think the key thing to this album is the production. I think when it comes to lyrics, everybody knows I’m one of them dudes that’s going to be able to write forever. But the production was very important to me. I had a lot of superproducers involved. I had a lot of cats that wasn’t as popular as the other producers that put just the same amount of work in. Maybe even a little bit more. But at the end of the day, though, everybody came to the cause of making a classic.
Moving on to this album you’re doing with Meth and Ghost, Wu-Massacre, when did you start working on that?
I’d say probably four or five months ago. We just wanted to make another album that really represents our brand, which is the W. When you think of Wu-Tang, we’ve been in the business for damn near almost, what, 17 years? We just want to make sure that people still know that we didn’t go nowhere — musically, passionately about hip-hop. When you get records like this, it helps keep the W flag up high. You know what I mean? Like the American flag. We gotta take care of that flag.
How did you decide to make an album with those two guys specifically?
It was something that was going to happen sooner or later. Us three, we always work good together throughout the years. On a lot of records, me, Ghost, and Meth was always next to each other. If you look at [the Wu-Tang Clan] as being the Lakers, we are the MVPs of the team. We are the ones that everybody may feel like takes us to the championship. Everybody else is going to play their position, but these three are definitely going to have to control the ball at some point. This is what the fans been wanting, man…You know, I work for the fans.
From your perspective, what do you three bring to a project? How do you balance each other out?
When we get together, it’s a lot of energy in the building, because everybody knows Meth, Rae, and Ghost for being super-lyrical, but still got that great character inside their rhymes. I guess that’s why people really is excited about this record. They’re saying, “Yo, these dudes put the Wu where they need to be at.” I don’t look at it like that. I look at us all as being one, still. I understand some may have a little bit more special gift than others, but it’s still a team effort. I love to get on tracks with brothers like Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, the GZA. The whole crew is golden, man. When you think of us, you gotta say, “Yo, these are the Jacksons of hip-hop.” But for me to get in a room with Meth and Ghost and do an album, it’s serious to me. I know it’s going to be a lot of lyrics in there, it’s going to be a lot of great energy, stories. We all master these different departments of rhyming. So you’re just going to get a great album.
Which producers did you work with on Wu-Massacre?
Being that everyone was so spread out, we didn’t really get a chance to be hands-on on everything. You’ve got Meth doing a movie, you’ve got Ghost over here super-touring, you’ve got me just dropped an album, having to move around. So we did a lot of phone tag. But we did get [some opportunities] to sit around and vibe out. As far as the producers on the album, they did their thing as well. Shout out Pete Rock. Shout out everybody, man. Cats realize that hip-hop is going back to its beats and rhymes format again. Everybody came in and did their part. It’s just about staying busy. If you look at this as a sport, we gotta stay in practice, man: Stay going to practice, stay looking at the tapes, stay looking at the things that you may have done wrong and learn from them. That’s what we did. We came together to make another great album and keep that flag alive.
Speaking of flags and Wu, did you see the painting of RZA as George Washington crossing the river?
Nah! I ain’t see it. You got it? [Later, after being shown the image] Oh, s—! He killed that right there, on some RZA Washington s—. That’s hot. That’s hot. It kind of reminds me of when I did Gulliver’s Travels on [the booklet art for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part II], being tied down. It’s messages behind why [RZA] feels like that. You see what I’m saying? He feels like he’s leading on a nation of emcees and producers and taking them to the other side. That’s his way of throwing a subliminal out. I know RZA. It’s the same way how I did Gulliver’s Travels: I’m a sleeping giant. I haven’t been around for a long time, but I still do got that credibility as a giant. These are our ways of being extra creative and taking it to another level.
The first single from the Wu-Massacre album is “Our Dreams,” which prominently samples a Michael Jackson song. People have been wondering, how do you even clear a sample like that for release?
Right? I didn’t know that it could be cleared. But I guess people look at it like anything to keep his legacy alive is a great thing. That was definitely one of my favorite songs right there. That song was going to be on another album, but we kinda chilled, because we didn’t know if that fit the album that we wanted to come out with. We just felt like it worked better for this [Wu-Massacre] situation right here. But yeah, I didn’t think they could clear that sample either. I heard it on the radio. I was like, “Well, maybe they threw it out because they couldn’t clear it and just said, you know what, let’s give it to the DJs to have fun with it.” But it made it on the album. Shout out Def Jam for making it happen.
Was it RZA who produced that track?
Yeah. We done the track in Cali where RZA live at. This was around the time we was just making heat. Everybody was coming back together. Because we don’t all get a chance to see each other too much. When we was out there, we was on a roll.
I was going to ask, for the Wu-Massacre album, were the three of you in the studio together trading verses, or were you recording long-distance mostly?
A mixture of both. You can’t stop dudes from going out there and being providers for their families. It gets to the point sometimes where I don’t like to work like that, but I have to respect it. We got kids now. It ain’t like before when we was coming up and we had all the time in the world to be around each other. Now it’s a whole different game plan. Dudes gotta go home and be parents sometimes. [Laughs] You know how it goes. “Yo, I gotta go babysit.” “What do you mean, you gotta go babysit?” “I gotta babysit. I gotta do it.” So, you know, the album was definitely crafted based off of playing the phone and communicating and sending things that needed to be sent. And when we did have the opportunity to come together, we would come together and verse it out and s—. I always like to do my s— in the flesh with n—-s. That’s just a certain energy that you can never buy, what you’ve got when you’re in the room with everybody. But at the same token, we’re kind of like veterans. We know what we’ve gotta do now. Once I tell Ghost on the phone, “Yo, this is what you’ve gotta do,” he’s going to feed off of my energy, and then the next dude is going to feed off of our energy. It gets rough. Nobody thinks that being a rapper is a hard f—ing job, but it is. Brothers still ain’t stopped f—ing working yet. You feel me? Sometimes I feel like f—ing crying, on some “I need a break.” But I can’t, because I’m dedicated to the people, to the fans. They help me feed my family, so I have to get up.
What’s the most tiring part? Touring? Promotion?
It just gets tiring when you know that you can’t really be around your loved ones the way you want to. Sometimes I see my moms, or I see my lady. I only get a chance to be with them for maybe a couple of days. That’s where it gets strenuous, when your mom is like, “I want to cook for you,” and the next thing you know, “Damn, ma, I gotta break out.” You know what I mean? It’s just those fun times of being around your family, your children, that we miss. But we have to go pay the bills. That’s just the life right now.
You mentioned that you were thinking at first of putting “Our Dreams” on another project. What was that?
It was actually going to be a Wu-Tang album, but we felt like [the song] was a little bit more commercial for the record that we were trying to do. When you think of us doing another 36 Chambers, we knew that that ain’t fit for that.
So is there going to be another full Wu-Tang Clan album?
I mean, in my eyes there’s always going to be another Wu album. Whether you hear me come out with another album or whether you hear any one of the Clan members, we’re always going to involve everybody. When I look at Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Part II, I look at that as a Wu album. You feel me? Even though it was my brand and my thing that I done, I had my dudes on it. The first one was like that too, a Wu album. As far as doing another [full Wu-Tang album], we don’t know when it’s going to come yet. But it’ll come. We have to do it. It’s a job. I can’t call exactly when. But you got this Wu-Massacre about to come. You got the Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, which is my next album that’s coming. These are all avenues to incorporate the W at a high level right now.
What’s Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang?
Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is another album that I promised the fans a long time ago. It’s not nothing derogatory towards Wu. It’s just that Shaolin [i.e., Staten Island] is the place, Wu-Tang is the crew that came from that place. It’s like me just going back to my history of being an emcee first, before I actually became part of Wu-Tang. I always give RZA that support as far as saying he brought Wu-Tang to the table. It was his philosophy. He picked certain dudes to be part of this group, and he said, “This is what it’s going to be called.” Before that, I was on the block. I was living in Shaolin. So this album just shows the street side of me, challenging the great side of Wu-Tang. Which is almost like how T.I. did T.I. vs. T.I.P. You’re going to get sounds that relate to Wu-Tang. You’re going to get sounds that relate to great Rae at his best s—, too. You’re going to get a lot of animation as far as the skits are concerned. It’s going to be a hot one. Everyone’s going to love that.
Is that going to be released as a solo album under your name?
Yeah. It’s definitely going to be a solo release, and it’s coming definitely before this year is out.
How far along are you recording?
I’ve been working. It’s going to be a classic album. Like I said, when it comes to lyrics, I do not have to worry about that. Production, we always gotta worry about that. You’re going to get a great album.
I see what you mean about staying busy.
Yeah. Because you don’t ever want to lose the buzz. I feel blessed just to be in the business for so long and still have that relevancy. I guess that’s what makes me want to get out there and work 10 times harder. I want to be one of them dudes that’s mentioned, like, “Yo, been in the game 20 years!” It’s like watching Busta Rhymes. He’s still relevant regardless, but he’s been in the game over 20 years….I think that’s a weak excuse, to say because a rapper’s getting older that he ain’t got it no more. Nah. Don’t go by that philosophy. Let’s just recognize that talent is within. I just want to keep it moving, man. We got a good buzz. Everything is going according to what we wanted. For me, it’s like, “You know what? Now I gotta do it again.” I’m never satisfied. I want everybody to be like, “God damn, he went in again?” That’s what it’s all about with me. Word.
How involved do you get in running Ice H2O day-to-day?
Every day, man. One thing about my company, we all try to communicate every day. I feel like if we don’t, that’s going to be the weapon to destroy us. Even if it’s holidays, we still gotta check in. I gotta be involved every second of the day. Maybe that’s some of the s— that makes my days a little harder to sleep. We’re signing different artists, and I always gotta cater to my fans on the Internet. All this type of s— is always in my head to remember. It’s like, “Oh, s—, I gotta do a blog for my people, let ‘em know where I’m at.” “Oh, s—, I gotta send this music over to this DJ.” It’s constant work. Checking on the new artist, making sure that the production that she may need is where it needs to be at.
What are the names of some of the artists you’re working with at the label?
Christine Eva. I got a young cat coming out of North Carolina, he’s 11 years old. His name is Little Justice. I think he’s going to be the next Lil Romeo or the next Bow Wow. I want to help them be able to teach kids their age, too. I got children. I want to show them that, hey, y’all can’t listen to what we talk about, but y’all can listen to what he’s talking about…. It’s a positive side to what we’re doing as well, other than just talking about so much of the street life, the other things that we talk about. Shorty will be my protégé when it’s time to speak on that level to the younger generation. That’s important to me.
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