INTERVIEW: Raekwon @ DTLR/Unruly Records Record Pool

by Marcus K. Dowling

“This album comes from where there was a problem with The Abbot, the RZA. It wasn’t on no beef, it was a tough love type thing. If you know your brother could be way better, production wise, you just wanna see that come out of him.” – Raekwon, on the RZA having zero production credits on Raekwon’s latest, Shaolin vs Wu-Tang

The Wu-Tang Clan are a legendary hip hop crew built on centuries old concepts of passion, strength and loyalty. SO, when Raekwon question’s the RZA’s talents at making beats, this is a move that feels concurrent to the Wu-Tang Clan’s adherence to societal norms culled from the strife of the Shaolin Monasteries of 5th century China. Fully embracing that concept, Raekwon crafts, alongside a plethora of Wu-Tang and RZA inspired producers his fifth studio release and follow up to the instant legend of 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, Shaolin v. Wu-Tang. Though a clan divided, Raekwon, alongside frequent collaborators Method Man and Ghostface Killah, and spiritually symmetric emcees Nas and Black Thought of the Roots band together for another lyrically impressive contribution to the Wu-Tang crime dipped kung fu gangsta legacy.

Appearing at U Street Music Hall on Monday night to a packed room of Wu disciples, a jovial yet still pensive Raekwon addressed the throng while rapping over tracks from the new album, discussing the nature of hip hop, and his legacy as an artist. “I listen to the same shit you do,” states Raekwon. “Mad props to all of the young kids coming into the game. I’m making these albums not so much as a statement to them, but to have fun making hip hop, too.” Singles “Shaolin vs. Wu Tang” which is produced by frequent Wu Tang non-RZA collaborator Scram Jones and “Rock and Roll” featuring Dipset lyricist Jim Jones and Ghostface Killah feature top notch rhyming and potent production that recalls the dusty samples and kung fu imagery of legendary RZA tracks of yore. Raekwon very much wanted this record to show “that we came back strong, and that (in relation to 2010 apparent disaster the Wu Massacre release with Ghostface and Method Man with RZA at the helm) this is the sound we’re looking for.”

Raekwon has recently embraced Islam, which has added to his arsenal in penning rhymes. “It absolutely makes me a more spiritual writer, a bigger thinker. It’s the same thing that happened to Rakim when he converted. You want to think more, and say more as well. Your rhymes become deeper.” Concerning the nature of his motivations after an 18 year career, he states, “I’ve got two queens and one king (his children) at home. I still know ni**as on the corner selling crack. This recession ain’t no joke.” This 17 track release, when compared to legendary performances (that were performed live on Monday night) like “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Ice Cream” and “Glaciers of Ice” doesn’t exactly meet the standard of immediacy and true grit of their more famous forebears, but is instead a continued assertion of the lyrical dominance and expected production standard that the Wu-Tang Clan feel is a necessity in protecting their legacy.

Raekwon is now a vaunted veteran of the hip hop game dripping in well worn wisdom and an expectation of dominance. In being willing to take such drastic steps to protect that legacy and to get solid return to match the greatness that he feels compelled to demand is indeed an impressive accomplishment.