Wu-Tang's in-house "Chef" better known as Raekwon proved he is still a force to be mentioned alongside the hottest rappers in the hip hop game with the release of Only Built For Cuban Linx... pt. II - sequel to his 1995 debut album. Marvin Sparks caught up with the hip hop legend to discuss rapping for drug dealers, people caring "more about stats than raps", his inclusion in MTV's Top 10 Hottest Rappers list, and converting to Islam.
Marvin Sparks: It has been almost fifteen years since the first Only Built For Cuban Linx, an album that was a 5-mic classic when The Source magazine held weight. Why did you decide make a sequel?
Raekwon: Because everybody wanted a sequel to the first one. When I did the first one I was a young cat, fresh off the block, I had a lot of energy and a lot to talk about. I think that people felt in love with my realness and how I put my album together, Only Built For Cuban Linx. That kind of opened the door for a lot of street cats, a lot of people that were into cinematic storytelling and basically talented music. We came with a strong production back then that really opened up the door for us to really make a classic back then. A lot of people consider that a classic back and they wanted me to go back to the style of rhyming again and that’s what we did.
Marvin Sparks: The sequel is ranked by many as one of the top albums released this year. When rappers get money, fame and adulation the hunger usually disappears, but despite all of that you’ve managed to make successful gritty street album. How have you managed to keep that mind state?
Raekwon: I’m really one of them dudes who can say hip hop has done a lot for my life, I have learnt a lot. I always did this for fun; it ain’t just about money or the fly chicks and all the other sh*t that comes with it, it’s about the love for just being an MC. I just kept myself relevant. It’s about staying relevant, being out there in front of the people, having that great character and at the same time believing in yourself. That’s what I did; I applied all these different things to my life and hip hop had a lot to do with it.
Marvin Sparks: What aspect would you say you enjoy most about being an artist?
Raekwon: I think that I get a chance to talk to the people, touch their hearts and minds, you know? Somebody may be having a bad day then they listen to one of my records, and it may take away from their bad day and make the sun come out. I like the fact that we talk about multiple content of music, whether it’s a concept or we freestyle. I just feel like we got a lot to give, especially myself. That’s why they call me ‘The Chef’ because I’m always giving a different dish, so I think that’s very important to a lot of people.
Marvin Sparks: Hip hop gets a lot of negative press regarding the gangsta nature. Why did you decide to make this album for the drug dealers?
Raekwon: Because, this is apart of our legacy when I came up. When I say drug dealers I don’t mean dudes that’s just out there selling drugs, I mean people that have been around that lifestyle that’s able to relate to the stories that I talk about. I’m a hands-on guy with that lifestyle, even though I don’t live that lifestyle no more, I know there is a lot of people out there that wanted this to come back. That was like the first audience I was catering to at first, the guys in the street hustling and doing what they need to survive, you know what I mean? But surprisingly, everybody accepted how my stories were painted.
Like I said, I support all my peoples but this album was particularly for the dudes with broken dreams and no hopes in their life. They wanted this kind of music because they were able to relate to it faster than others. I know that they helped my album the first time so I wanted to go back to support them and allow myself to open up new doors for other people. My thing is to serve the people and not discriminate. I rhyme for street cats, I rhyme for suburban cats, I rhyme for whomever, whoever loves real hip hop.
Marvin Sparks: Do you ever listen to previous solo or Wu-Tang albums and compare yourself to now?
Raekwon: It’s always good to go down memory lane and represent some of that stuff that we did because it really opens your mind up on your creativity back then. I believe that you always gotta remember where you came from, so every now and then we go back and listen to it. We may be in the car sometimes and be like ‘Yo, you remember this?’ so I think it’s always good to go down memory lane.
Marvin Sparks: This will be a tough question but what would you say was your favourite 16?
Raekwon: Ahh that’s a tough one for real; I’ve done so many vocals for so many different things, so it would be hard for me to say my favourite 16.
Marvin Sparks: Ok, what is the first one that springs to mind?
Raekwon: I would say, umm, I would say probably the one the one I did on John Blaze with Fat Joe was a hot track. That was a hot lyric. I did a lot of good lyrical tracks, you know? You’re always gonna get a hot 16 from Rae.
Marvin Sparks: I saw '48 hours with Raekwon', one quote you said stuck out to me. You said: ‘people care more about the stats than the raps’, how do you feel that has affected hip hop?
Raekwon: I think people are more or less just looking at the lifestyle and wanting to live the lifestyle than MC’ing. Everybody wants to live the life of the rapper, but you got to have the skills and I just feel like at the end of the day, the skills aren’t matching up to the flamboyance that a lot of people bring.
Marvin Sparks: How would you say being apart of Wu-Tang benefited you and helped your craft?
Raekwon: A lot, man. Showed me how to be a great business man, showed me how to make good albums and be passionate about hip hop, and taught me how to be real critical when it came to making this music. We criticised everything we do, in a good helpful way, but in the same way, if you’re an artist and you ain’t prepared for criticism then something is the matter. For me, they taught me a lot, they’re my family and I’ll always remember that.
Marvin Sparks: Are there any new rappers you are a fan of?
Raekwon: I think Drake and all them cats are nice in their own way. I ain’t got nothing against them, I’d love to work with that cat one day.
Marvin Sparks: After being in the rap game for so long how did you feel about your inclusion in the MTV Hottest Rappers 2009 list?
Raekwon: I appreciated the fact that they showed a brother love and put me in their top 10 list. I appreciate that but Rae always been a top 10 in the game from I began in this business, you know what I mean?
Marvin Sparks: What do you listen to when you aren’t listening to hip hop?
Raekwon: I listen to a lot of soul music, I may listen to some Coldplay, just really open my mind to some melodic things. I may listen to some reggae - it’s according to how my day is - I may even put on some slow jams. Some sh*t that I know will really help my day out. I could be having a bad day and not really want to hear rap. I may fling on something from the past that may be talking to me when I’m listening to it. You just got to be versatile with what you’re listening to.
Marvin Sparks: Congratulations on the album sales. I’ve noticed your Twitter game is very strong. How beneficial has the internet been to your success of your album? That is something that you never had before.
Raekwon: The internet is basically a very important piece of hip hop now because it allows you to market yourself, take control over your situation with the project and it’s a utensil to reach the people. At the same time, you learn so much from dealing with so many different people by listening to the critics, but at the same time it’s a way to reach the masses. That’s my thing, I’ve always wanted to reach the masses at one time. Back when we were coming up, we never had these internet situations where you could reach people all over the whole world in 5 seconds, so it feels good to know that is there to use as a component to help your situation.
Marvin Sparks: And do you keep up with blogs and forums?
Raekwon: Of course, that’s all about keeping in touch with the fans. It keeps me closer to fans and really let them know we here. I wish we could have done that a long time ago.
Marvin Sparks: A lot of artists complain about the one-to-one direct contact that fans have with “celebrities”, especially the negative aspect of it. How do you feel about the negatives? Do you appreciate that?
Raekwon: No doubt, I don’t get upset because at the end of the day, if people aren’t checking for you they won’t get your sh*t at all, so for me it’s a good thing and a bad thing, but to me it’s a good thing because I’m confident in what I’ve got. I know if people wanna get it, it’s because they see that the boy is really on his A-game, so you’ve got to respect the fact that people are always going to do what they want to. If you tell a kid ‘don’t eat that candy’ he’s going to do it anyway. So at the end of the day, you’ve got to take it with a coin of salt and take it for what it is. People are going to get your music one way or the other, so just be thankful that they appreciate you as an artist.
Marvin Sparks: Taking it to a different side of things, I saw another interview where you gave thanks to Allah. Are you Muslim now?
Raekwon: Yes sir.
Marvin Sparks: How long have you been a Muslim for?
Raekwon: I would say around like almost 9 months now since I’ve really put Allah in my life. I’ve always been Allah’s son, but I think that everyman has to have a spiritual side to them and understand the ins and outs of who they are. My thing is, I wanna repent the bad things I have been through in my life and this is at this point in my life where I’m growing up and I wanna cast some of the negativity out of my life - all the things that I have been around. I wanna walk free now, I wanna feel free, I wanna know my maker, and my maker knows I wanna know him, so it’s very important for me.
Marvin Sparks: What made you take that step? Was there a particular moment that made you embrace Islam?
Raekwon: Just wanting to learn about your history, leaning about things in life and growing up as a person. Everybody is going to be judged by the most high one day, so why not be judged and forgiven for all the bad things you have done in your life?
Marvin Sparks: What kind of impact has it had on your life?
Raekwon: It has changed my life a lot! In so many positive ways that I feel a lot of people need that kind of spirituality in their lives.
Marvin Sparks: Will we see an influence in future music?
Raekwon: It’s all about positivity and believing in you can achieve goals that you would like to achieve. For me it’s like something personal that gives me the strength to know who I am and what I’ve been through, know what I mean? I don’t really apply it to my music, because I’m making music to please the people. When I go to my spirituals, that’s something that I want to face on my own and deal with that accordingly. I don’t use that for the music, I use that because it helps me to live better life in my heart.
Marvin Sparks: Who would you say are your all-time top 5 rappers?
Raekwon: Paid In Full, Criminal Minded, Great Adventures of Slick Rick, Cuban Linx and Enter the 36th Chambers. Those are my favourites.
Marvin Sparks: What about individuals?
Raekwon: Those same names I said.
Marvin Sparks: What does the future hold for Raekwon?
Raekwon: The future holds great things for Raekwon; success, prosperity, love, loyalty, commitment to the game, commitment to my fans and dedication to the sport. Hip hop is a sport, so at the end of the day I appreciate it and I’m always going to remain dedicated to it.
Marvin Sparks: Have you thought about when you aim to release a next album?
Raekwon: We going to be releasing Only Built For Cuban Linx pt. II Gold Deluxe edition will be coming out in December. You gonna be able to check that out. This is going to be a second draft of it, you may get some extra cuts, you may get some videos on it, you’re gonna see some different things on that. Next year, you’ll get a better update on what we’re doing.
Words by Marvin Sparks [www.marvinsparks.blogspot.com / Twitter.com/MarvinSparks]
Only Built For Cuban Linx... pt. II is available to purchase now.