Raekwon: Stirring The Pot
It seems appropriate that while most rap infighting is centered on money, Raekwons most ardent criticisms of RZA are concerned with art. After all, the Clan represents a now bygone era when creativity appeared to trump financial motives, and when the closest the Wu came to being political was with Raes slang rap democracy. Claiming to be a spokesperson for the groups collective grievances, Raekwon is dismayed at what he sees as RZAs self-motivated stylings, and is planning a counter-offensive to put the embattled leader in his place. Regardless of whether or not a new generation of listeners will grant this artistic debate the attention it deserves, Raekwon is faithful that true Wu fans will follow its evolution closely. And if the lukewarm reception to 8 Diagrams is any indication, many disappointed listeners will be turning to Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang and the perpetually delayed Only Built for Cuban Linx 2: The Return of the Purple Tape as potentially more desirable alternatives. In a conversation with HipHopDX shortly after his memorable performance at the Jam Master Jay Awards show in New York City, Raekwon reveals his motivation behind the new projects and reflects on his influence in Hip Hop.
HipHopDX: Is the Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang album still coming out?
Raekwon: Yeah, its going to be coming out.
DX: How will this album separate itself musically from 8 Diagrams?
R: Its just gonna be fire. You got 8 Diagrams or whatever, it sounds aight; I mean Im on it, I came to work and do what I have to do. But I feel like dudes got a stronger ear for what they want right now. RZA gotta step his production up, and he probably gonna see what we dealing with and realize we not gonna play no games- its on, he know what it is.
DX: Is it true that the entire clan is down with the idea to exclude RZA?
R: I really dont like when people try to sit here and say we trying to assassinate RZAs character. At the end of the day, RZA ain't doing no production on it, because hes not with it. Its like we representing what we representing, and he representing what he representing. So its not to incriminate him but its just to teach him a lesson, and let him know that that Yo, you The Abbot and all that but we the backbone, so watch what we do. We gonna show you how to make a crazier album, thats all. RZA is being selfish right now with his ears and he gotta understand: as an artist coming up under the family, it aint no higher team. And hes still caught up in his ways, so therefore we have decided to move forward and do a project. He can be mad or whatever whatever, it is what it is. Its just to let the world know that we not having it and we not going out like no "yes men" niggas, so thats what it is.
DX: One of the most remarkable things about the Clan is how well you all understood each other creatively, on so many levels. When did that understanding start to break down with RZA?
R: You know a lot of shit been going on for years, we just havent really been exploding off of it because we have a lot of respect for one another. At the end of the day, we all brothers still. But by the same token, if I feel like my brother is fucking up and he ain't on point the way he supposed to be and he not listening anymore, then its like You know what? You gotta sit in the corner for a little while and do what the fuck you feel like you gonna do. Im so surprised you can sit here and try to speak for all of us, and you know we all dont feel like you feel. But you disregarding brothers feelings and you just cant do that, that aint what its about. Its about us coming together for one common cause and working together. I dont work for RZA- I come together to do business with RZA and when the hands are pointed at you from mad different people saying, Yo, step your game up my nigga, and youre not stepping it up, then weve got a problem.
DX: Were the tensions apparent when you were recording the album, because according to RZA they evaporated in the studio?
R: It's been tension, it been a lot of tension. It been to the point where its like RZA feel like he know everything, and at the end of the day we not agreeing with his ways of handling the situation. We came up working together- if Im telling you it ain't right, the shit is weak, come on. Its like yo, that ain't how we supposed to work if we family. Its a lot of other shit though, but it is what it is.
DX: You mean the money situation, what is the deal with that?
R: Its normal shit, we feel like weve been getting played for a degree of time and right now nobody having it. Im too old for that shit, for a nigga to be trying to hold my hand wit' some bullshit mysteries. RZA and his brother and their company
R: Yeah. Divine. I dont trust Divine. Divine say one thing and do the next. And Divine act like they dont know whats going on. Im not having that. They represent each other, so if Im feeling like I cant get certain information because of whatever reason, and you dont want to step to me like a real dude and let me know fully whats going on you telling me in other words you dont gotta answer to me and you playing me like a son, and Im not your son.
DX: In response to your accusations, RZA said he pays all his bills. So are you contesting that statement?
R: He can say that he pays all his bills or whatever, whatever. At the end of the day- I know what I know, he know what he know. So he paid his bills? If you paid your bills and you feel like that then thats what you feel like. I know its more to it and all that shit. We gonna get to the bottom line of everything sooner or later, when its time. So of course he gonna say whatever he wanna say. Somebody got they hand in the cookie jar and trying to do that Tom and Jerry shit to niggas, and we ain't stupid.
DX: You and Ghost have been the most vocal about your issues with RZA, so why havent we heard from the rest of the clan?
R: I just think some people get souped up when they become somewhat successful. And it gets to the point where their head gets so swelled up, that they think theyre going to win every time because they felt they won with a couple other things. But my whole thing is when we won what we won, we won together. Its like you dont try to act like you did it by yourself, cause I never act like I did it by myself. So when you try to hit me with shit like that, you talking stupid to me man, straight up. Cuban Linx, the first one is a Clan collective thing, man, I never tried to take credibility for it on my own. I always stood for the crew. And at the end of the day, since you the RZA, you think that you cant ever be wrong? Get the fuck outta here, man. Everybody could be wrong, I could be wrong but at the end of the day I seen the faces on everybody when mothafuckas was asking how they feel about this album, and a lot of hands wasnt up the way they would normally be up. So you know me saying what I mean and meaning what I say, I said what I said and you know I speak for the crew. Everybody dont gotta necessarily get in front of the cameras and talk all that shit, we dont give a fuck about it like that. We want the people to know about it but we aint stressing that. Its more or less about us getting our family back together and dealing with each other like real niggas. Its like, Yo, you aint do it by yourself man, so therefore you gotta listen sometimes, man.
DX: With the effort youre putting into the Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang album, are you concerned that Cuban Linx 2 is going to get derailed some more?
R: Cuban Linx is on the market, baby- that project is coming out the second quarter of 08 so that right there is already in the glass casket. Like I said, we just going to show and prove and let niggas know the fire that we bring to the table. Its like you know if you liked the 8 Diagrams, thats your business. For those who know we stronger than that, we gonna show niggas how its done and its called Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, period. Im repping Shaolin right now: Wu-Tang forever, but right now, Shaolin.
DX: So youre taking it back to that vintage Wu?
R: Yeah, Im going back to square one on it, where Im just a hungry emcee again, you know what I mean? My whole thing is Yo, just watch the plays, just see what happen. Its probably people that want to see it go down, its probably people who dont want to see it go down. At the end of the day, its still respect towards each other but right now we ain't playing the same game like we wanna play. When you hear some joints, we gonna give y'all a taste of what we dealing with, its going to be us showing y'all the best of us. 'Cause if I feel like a nigga is drunk driving, and you with the driver and Im in the passenger seat, and before you made me get over there I was safe and now I feel like you drunk driving, Im getting out the car, man. You not running me into a wall man, thats the bottom line. Like I said, we just ain't respecting that Wu Music Group family and the way they do business. So right now there aint no love going on now, its real tough love going on right now.
DX: At this stage in your career, what do you want Cuban Linx 2 to achieve?
R: I'ma rep that album regardless, 'cause thats all I know how to do. Im making that music for the niggas that I know is waiting for it. Its like yo, it may be a lot of people that cant relate to where Im coming from because its a new generation. But you know what? At the end of the day, the die-hards know what Im capable of doing. Im not letting nobody down, I'ma show niggas how to make another classic. And being that its Cuban Linx- added on to that one and coming with the second one- I know what I gotta do and Im very confident right now.
DX: So its not Aftermath?
R: No, its not Aftermath.
DX: Who is it now?
R: I cant even tell you who it is right now, you just gotta wait until it drops. Everything is in my court right now, Im still looking for where Im gonna be comfortable and feel like attention is being given to me like I need it.
DX: You cant really repeat moments in history and circumstances. So do you get frustrated when people always hold you to that Cuban Linx standard?
R: No, because that was the best era of Hip Hop, if you asked me anyway. That was when you had more creativity going on. Now you got too many fucking mimics going on, its like it aint real. Niggas dont got no crafts right now, niggas is playing games with this Hip Hop. My whole thing is to continue to make art and continue to be the best that I can be. I aint lose no beefs, Im good. I still know how to do this. If Im classified as one of the dudes from the '90s thats going strong, Im holding that flag up.
DX: Do you think Hip Hop is still capable of making cinematic albums?
R: It is capable of making cinematic albums, I been doing it. You sit there and check out what Ive been doing, youll know the seriousness of where I come from. Through my whole career, I did nothing but make cinematic albums. Check The Lex Diamond Story, I been doing cinematics. I dont think nobody could fuck with me on that level anyway, when it come to that type of album.
DX: Do you feel like youve been misunderstood in your post- Cuban Linx career?
R: No, I think people just ain't on my level. They feel like they dont see me on TV enough or whatever whatever, but you gonna have that. Like I said- I may be loved by few and hated by a lot, but Im respected by all. Im always going to be respected. Im a big giant in this, Im doing this for the real niggas. And at the end of the day they gonna know how Chef get down, so I feel good about it.
DX: Do you think the quality of the fans has declined along with the quality of the music?
R: I think fans ain't buying shit that they feel that they dont like, and the people that are buying records may not be buying them at the velocity that the world is saying that they are. It is so much crooked shit going on, Im not going for that. It could be whatever it is, but like I said the rich run shit, the poor gotta deal with. Its about rich and poor man. The rich make shit happen, the poor still gotta struggle to get to the top.
DX: How often do you hear things in rap that wouldnt be there if it werent for you and your crew?
R: I mean I know we got a lot to do with the whole movement of Hip Hop today. At the end of the day, its just about moving forward. I feel like an ancestor anyway. But at the same token its like I still gotta do what I gotta do and represent. So its all good, we aint mad. We teach people anyway, we trend-setters so thats what we been doing. Im content with that.
DX: Do you think that any of the music thats being made today, including yours, has the potential to be timeless?
R: Oh itll definitely be timeless, my shit wont be no puppy shit that niggas is already hearing. My shit is always going to be authentic, its going to be something to listen to and enjoy. Its all about making strong records though, so I think I'ma show and prove my formula and let it prevail.
DX: On the Ice Water Polluted Water album, you worked with Pimp C. Are there any words you want to say on his passing?
R: Oh yeah, definitely- Im gonna miss my brother, he was a good dude. He always used to call me every now and then. When I heard the news, I was hurt, another good brother. I just send my condolences on the real though, outside of just this interview I already did that. And its sad in Hip Hop right now, its a sad day man, word.