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Rap legend Raekwon talks the early Wu Tang days and the current state of hip hop

RnB/Hip Hop | Friday 17th April 2015 |

What’s happening? It’s good to have you back in London.
I love London man, one of my favourite places to be at. I’m just excited to give y’all this new product that I got on the market that’s gonna come out April 27th. Feels good to be here. I love London, every time I come to London my shows is always sold out, I feel like all nationalities of people come out and support me and it’s a good feeling.

Didn’t you used to hang out with a couple of chicks from London who lived in a caravan and shit?
Absolutely [laughs]. They was just our homegirls that we met back in the early nineties, they lived in New York and had a flat up there. They were super cool number one but they knew their hip hop. We used to just hang out, ride around, smoke trees. It’s so crazy I haven’t seen them in a long time. If y’all see this, y’all better get in touch with me!

Going way back to the early times, I know you were living the life that people like Kool G Rap were talking about, and you was into some serious shit though weren’t you? Like the FBI were on the case of the people around you, was life like that bad?
I mean I can’t really say what it was at that time because I wasn’t even paying attention. My life was changing in a great way; I finally had something to live for. I didn’t see all of that in front of me. Of course you hear stories but we was just out there doing our thing and loving to be in the spotlight with a great movement happening. You know we come from the hood, so of course a lot of things tried to stop us from having our joy in our hearts. I wasn’t paying attention to none of that, I was just keeping it moving in a positive way.

Back in the day, it was a long time ago, you were stealing Susie Q’s and opening them up and smashing the cream in crackers’ faces though!
[laughs] You know that was fun in the hood, how you see an old black and white movie where they be throwing pies at each other, and they smacking their faces like Laurel and Hardy or some shit. That’s what we used to do, we used to sit up late nights and hang out inside the store, we be stealing cakes, and throwing cakes at fiends, just having fun. It wasn’t like we was running around causing trouble, it was just something to make us laugh.

I’m not gonna talk about no Wu drama because for me it’s unity that created that legend. It’s like Wu Tang kinda represented what people should do as a whole in terms of having a crew and doing things together to make things bigger.
Absolutely, ain’t no ‘I’s in team man. I tell anybody it’s important to have a team, and important to come in with a family that understands what they wanna do and the goals that they wanna accomplish. For us, we come from the block, so when we came in the game we felt like that one team that could change the world. It was all about the confidence and the music. We had to have the music to make sure that it made sense to feel the way we felt, and we felt like we was making that kind of music back in the early nineties.

So as well as having your tight crew around you, you always had some icons around you, people who were doing good things to inspire you. When did you first realise the power of the relationships you needed to have to make you hustle?
I guess when we started to see RZA and GZA’s careers start to take off back in the early days. You gotta remember RZA had a record deal before Wu Tang Clan was born, he was Prince Rakeem, the GZA had a record deal at that time, his name was The Genius, they pretty much was like the face of the neighbourhood when it came to who made it. It wasn’t like they blew up, it was just something that they was able to accomplish, coming back to the neighbourhood with they face on a LP, on an album cover. That was big for us because we love hip hop, we used to go to a lot of clubs back in the days and party, and go salute the artists that was hot at that time, so to see our boys make a record, that blew our mind. To see them do it, that gave us hope and spirit to wanna do the things that we do.

At that time I guess there was a big crew of you, you must have all known a few rappers in the game, those guys had had their success, and you were all sitting back thinking how’s it gonna happen for you all as a team, and RIP ODB, but it was ODB that brought the action right?
Exactly. ODB was the lifeline to it, his energy and confidence kinda like drew us all to the star power success that we had, because it’s one thing to feel like you could do it but it’s another thing to be confident, and he was the piece that allowed us to be that confident. He knew he was gonna win, he was more excited than anybody, and it showed in the way he acted. I knew Dirty probably since 84, 83, and this was back in the days when he used to beatbox. He was the beatboxer and GZA was more the MC, and they would go around and battle everybody, and RZA was the DJ, so they had a routine going and they was the spirit to bringing the Wu Tang together. Like I said Ol’ Dirty, knowing how important it was to him to wanna be the best, that was always his attitude, so I always commemorate him for that because without his spirit and energy we probably wouldn’t even made them kind of records.

The testament to you is that you’ve managed to stay relevant for all this time. In 2011 you told Guestlist that you felt like a new artist, so is this like another resurrection of you right now? Are you feeling like a new artist right now?
Absolutely, sometimes they say wine ages gracefully when it’s stored and kept in a preserved place. For me that’s how I feel I kept myself relevant and in the right spots to become better. Sometimes artists fall off after a certain period of time of being in the game, but it kinda went opposite with me, it kinda made me get more back into it. That’s why you can hear so much of me doing my thing out there in the streets, because I feel like the passion level never went nowhere. So I’m more hungry than ever, I’m more sharp than ever, I feel way better than ever, far as being creative, and this is what I love to do man, I’m passionate.

You’re a real hustler man, I see your game, I see all the hype that comes before each album. I’d like to ask you what have you learned about the game in the last few years?
What I learnt in the last few years is more about being consistent. You got a lot of artists out there that’s using their star power and creativity to keep them relevant, and they keep coming back consistently. For us back then we made a lot of albums but we also took gaps and chilled, and did a lot of touring instead of actually flooding the game like how you see a lot of the guys doing today. Wu Tang only has about four or five group albums, which really ain’t a lot. When you think of us being in the game as long as we were, I think we shoulda had more albums out there. You know me only having, with this album about to come out, me only having six solo albums, I still feel like I coulda delivered more. I just wish we all would have just been throwing shit like every other month, like really controlled the masses of product that we putting out there, and we did it, but we didn’t really do it in a way to put the flood on the way we should have.

At least every time you came back with a new album, your business was getting stronger, you got control of your masters. I remember you were putting out your album and you were like it doesn’t matter if you sell 50 or 100K, you’re gonna be doing better. How much did you go on to sell of that Cuban Linx II?
I don’t even remember to be honest with you. It was a great number, I made a couple of dollars, I got the opportunity to travel the world. It did good for an indie, it was on an independent dime at the time, I wasn’t with no label and I felt that I had already built up my brand to do it on my own. It came at a time where it was needed. When I was making the sequel, it was tough to try and come back behind such a classic album, and really, really, do it. That’s why you see me so much into it now because that was the turning point in my career that allowed me to start really going hard even more, so I went super hard, kept throwing out things and giving y’all free music, mixtapes. I was in a zone man, so I’m still here, still standing.

How does it feel looking back and saying we made an era of hip hop?
You know I still keep it humble, I’m just blessed man. I’m honoured to be able to be here still, from where I come from. Like I said we come from the bottom, so to be able to get this kinda shot, to have something to live for is the most beautiful thing in the world.

Have you seen another era come since the Wu era that’s impressed you?
Good question. Not on that level though, because they say lightning can strike twice in the same place but seeing another Wu Tang Clan emerge the same way, I ain’t seen that yet. I seen a lot of dope crews come into the game and wanna do it the way we done it, but I haven’t seen a group of men come in and every individual either give you gold or platinum. Like Wu Tang, we done that. That’s not easy for a group to come in and do like that.

I can’t see that happening. But what about another era of hip hop, because you know there could be another era, there’ll never be another Wu but what about an era of hip hop?
Oh nah, it was a different time back then. It was about skills and really stepping up to the bar, really showing why you deserve that respect throughout the world. I haven’t seen that, and to be honest, that era that we’re talking about, it’s called the golden era for a reason. Back then, artists were making albums that really stood the test of time, they were timeless albums. Nowadays it just seem like dudes don’t work that hard to make that kind of album no more. Dudes make great records don’t get me wrong, you might have an anthem record in a club, but when it came to giving a body of work, I haven’t really been inspired the way I would like to be.

Ok so Wu Tang, you come from this family thing, you came from this unity, and you all had different cliques, and now you all got families. Do you think that memory of how you did it with Wu went into everyone’s thought process when they’re building their families and as their crews developed?
At the end of the day, I think we the type of dudes that tend to know where we come from, so we try to help everybody that we can help. We came successful and some guys fell off, that’s just what happens. But we always definitely came in to try to add on and bring other people to the table. It’s all about work. Some guys got lazy down the line and really wanted handouts, and it’s only so much we could do. RZA was doing a lot of things at that time and really bringing in other men to add on to the legacy, and they just couldn’t do it the way we did it. Everybody was just moving and shaking, and Wu Tang, we already had our blueprint to come out as a group, shake shit up and then start doing solo, individual projects, and that’s what we did.

Ok so you got this album popping off, what are you most looking forward to now in life?
I just want the world to know that I’m really, really working hard to give you guys a great album. This is a great album right here, Fly International Luxurious Art, it’s got some dope, dope artists on there, dope production, and my goal is just to let you know I still do this at my best. Enjoy this album, at least you know now you can go buy an album that’s worthy of buying because I know how much people complain “I don’t wanna buy an album if I feel like it ain’t what it’s supposed to be”. Now you get an opportunity to come into the Rae store, and take a look at this project and say to yourself “is it worthy of me buying?” If you buy it, you buy it, if you don’t, you don’t buy it.

If they go cop this, they’re getting themselves a real Raekwon, Wu Tang classic banger!
No doubt, you get what you’re supposed to get, straight up. 

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