Mon, 01 Jun 2009 14:36:43
14 years and countless rap fads have come and gone in the years since Wu-Tang capo Raekwon dropped his seminal, mafioso-inflected debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
The album introduced La Cosa Nostra sensibilities to rap's traditional street corner tales and is widely hailed as a hip hop classic. Chef would go on to drop two full length followups but fans continued to crave the slang-heavy cinematics of old and talk of a proper sequelOnly Built 4 Cuban Linx IIfirst started bubbling up back in 2007. Now, after a much speculation and rumor-baiting, Cuban Linx II is confirmed for release this fall. Excited at the prospect, we threw up our W's and spoke to the veteran MC about his evolution in the game, work ethic and much more in this exclusive interview.
The album is coming August 11. Is everything wrapped up or do you still have work to do in the studio?
Let me tell you something. As a real MC, you’re never finished when you’re dropping your project. The project is 90-percent done, but I’m a thinker everyday. So everyday that I’ve got time to create more that I think is worth it, I’m gonna add that. My projects are never done until I actually pass them to the label and hand it off. But as far as it being done, it’s made.
Like you said, MCing is always an ongoing process. When did you first start penning lyrics and putting pen to paper for this album?
We gotta go back to at least 2005. I started fishing ideas and saying “Ok. This is what people want and we’re going to give them top grade U.S. beef.” I think at the end of the day, I’m my own hardest critic. When I made it, it was more or less like, “Don’t pat yourself on the back too fast Rae.” I always have that monkey on my back and I talk to myself asking, "does this even stand next to Cuban Linx". Fuck trying to top it; you can’t top something that’s already a classic. We did that back in ’95. Now I have to step back and ask if this stands up to Cuban Linx. I had many conversations like that with myself all through 2007, 2008. I’m always looking to grow as an artist. I want music that’s going to stand the test of time. It’s not easy, but I think I had enough time to find what I want, and people are responding to it like I want them to respond to it. I’m a confident artist with my music. I’m not expecting everyone to go crazy over everything I do, but you know what? The scales will be titled towards the better side for me, because I’m working that hard. I think a lot of artists don’t allow themselves to work that hard. They leave their project in an A&R’s hands and let other people dictate what they need to be.
I agree that a lot of artists don’t get on their grind like they should. It sounds like the first lines they wrote down are the ones they spit when they got in the booth, but they can get away with that and get the easy money.
Hip hop has changed so much that it’s not even about making a colorful picture no more. If ya’ll like green and yellow, we’re just going to constantly give you green and yellow, and artists are trying to capitalize on giving you the simple shit. My thing is, it’s cool, but it ain’t cool if you’re an artist. A real artist is going to be a scientist with his shit and not just give you something that’s half-assed. We have to impress you. These artists just get caught up in coming with the radio hook, and coming with the chain on, and coming with the bitches in their video. Everybody wants to be a playboy, or just make fun music. I want to make music where you look in the book of MCs and my name has to be in that regardless. A rapper is just a nigger out here saying anything. I’m about to put my little son on the phone and he can say a rap if I give him 15 minutes to think of one. I come from a different cloth. I come from among the veterans. When we came out, they were saying hip hop is going to fade away, but because people came out as artists, it allowed it to become worth more.
The heads that have been with you on the ride since way back appreciate that. It got me thinking though. I know my mentality has changed since I bought my first Wu record back in 8th grade. How has your mentality as an artist changed since those early days?
I feel like I’m stronger lyrically. I’ve been through a lot in this game. I’ve learned a lot, and I became more hands on with crafting my style. We’ve been doing this shit a long time. It’s not a whole lot of people who can say they been with it more than four or five years. I think by us having that stretch, it gave me the strength to really work harder and become the MC I want to be. It comes from the admiration from the fans. When the fans see me, they still get excited to this day. Then it makes me realize how long it’s been, cause it doesn’t feel like 14 years. It feels like four really. I’ve got so much more energy to give ya’ll. Me being a soldier with the family, I had to sit in line and respect the fact that my brothers had to come too. It’s like being on the basketball team, where you get your five minutes, then the coach tells you to sit down to give another person their minutes. I wasn’t ready to sit down, but I had to. I’ve been on the bench so long that I don’t think I’ve fulfilled my true potential yet. After being out of the spotlight for so long, people always go right back to the classics when they see me, but they haven’t really taken the time to analyze Lex Diamonds and study how I’ve improved in my career. Automatically they start saying “Where’s Ghost at?” when they hear it. When actually it’s hot by itself. That could be because of the time bracket that people haven’t heard from you.
You always come with those street tales in your lyrics, but right now rap is kind of flossy and fun. Do you think the radio and the younger fans are ready for those real hard knock tales?
What are calling this album: Only Built For Cuban Linx II. ONLY. I’m a different kind of MC. My music my not hit the masses like they expect it, but at the end of the day I do rhymes for people who can relate. Will the younger generation respect it? I don’t know. They may not. It may be too strong for them. You can’t give a nigger who drinks champagne everyday a 40 ounce and think that he’s going to appreciate it like that. The fans may feel the same way. I’ve just got to rhyme for the people who know what I’m capable of. Hopefully that will open up the door and give those young cats a chance to take a sip.
Do you ever want to smack some of these young cats upside the head when they don’t give you the respect you deserve? You’ve worked hard and been up nights earning it.
Let me tell you something. I’m from the streets for real. Any hood that’s dangerous, that’s real, I’m a decorated General in those places. Those are the people I respect. The young cats are having fun. Have fun. But when you take it to a grown level like me, you can’t compare it. I represent a different side of it. I do it for the people who really criticize hip hop and know that 80-percent of the shit out is bullshit.
Let’s talk a little bit about the production on this record. I know on the last Wu joint there was some rumbling about the music you had to rhyme over. Who did you get in the studio with this time around.
RZA, Pete Rock, Dre, J. Dilla—masters of the ceremony. Dudes that really put their stamp on hip hop. When you have dudes like that, who know what Cuban Linx II needs to be because they know how important it was the first time, that gives me a breath of fresh air. It’s like being trained by some of the best trainers in the world. That’s what we did on this project. We’re getting it from the top producers and they studied the tapes with me. We give you that Wu sound. Everybody wants to hear Wu rapping over Wu sounding shit, but at the same token we know it’s about going to the next level.