Elliot Wilson got a chance to speak to the Chef about his growing up “Wu” and the work behind his latest project, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. This is an excerpt from the RESPECT magazine interview. Which is one the few print mags I still effs with. Props to RR for the link. If you want another dope interview w/ Rae, check out The Rap-Up’s one-on-one.
It’s My Turn
The Wu-Tang Clan has a wonderful legacy that Raekwon has contributed greatly to. But is there still time for him to cement his individual Hall of Fame plaque? Rock on, Chef.
As Told to Elliott Wilson
Raekwon isn’t in front of me, but I can still feel his stare. I’ve known him for 18 years, and I know that intense glare he gets in his eyes when he’s motivated and excited to share his thoughts. Although this is a phone interview, it’s almost as if Shallah is by my side.
Make no mistake about it, the Chef’s always been the anchor of one of hip-hop’s greatest groups, the Wu-Tang Clan, and he’s spent most of his career tryin’ to live up to the somewhat-unfair expectations to create music on par with his 1995 classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. A pretty much perfect album is hard to top, and Rae stumbled for years before finally hittin’ his individual foundation head on.
The universal acceptance of the long-awaited sequel, 2009’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II, has reignited Rae’s fire, so it’s no surprise he’s right back with a new album, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang. The God knows when he has a hot hand, and he plans to keep playin’ his cards right.
All legends will tell you in a minute they don’t feel legendary. When I look at my track record only having four or five solo albums out, that’s not cool. I should have at least 10 or 15. You’re talking 18 years in the business, so if you really look at it—a nigga’s RBIs could’ve been a little stronger. But when you’re dealing with an eight-man crew, everybody gotta take they time to get their thing off. So now I’m just trying to stay busy and keep the cash where it need to be at, ’cause I still love this shit.
Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang: First of all, it’s a great title. It just fits the catalog. Yeah, we all felt like at one point we wanted to make an album and call it that. It all was my idea anyway. I feel like our life is a karate flick. If you really sit down and look at those flicks’ themes—love, betrayal, trust, masters challenging they students—I felt like that’s what we was going through. When you think of the Shaolin side, you think of before Wu-Tang was here. I’m an MC, man. I love rhyming, you feel me? I do this shit for real. I don’t give a fuck what nobody say. Whether I was Wu-Tang or not, my energy was still for hip-hop. At the end of the day, that’s the Shaolin side, that’s the dedicated side. The Wu-Tang side is the side that we built that became the flamboyant lifestyle. Wu-Tang, that’s the mean shit. The best shit.
I love when my back is against the wall and people think that something can’t be handled the right way. I felt like the Justin Bieber remix was cool, regardless if shorty wasn’t in my bracket of music. Being in the game this long, you tend to become a father to the young generation of hip-hop, because all they did was watch what you did, and now they where they at because of what you’ve done! I applaud Slick Rick or Kane. When I see them niggas, the first thing I say is, “Yo, man, thank you, man.” And it ain’t on no suck-dick shit, it’s on a respect level, because they had us pumped up to wanna do this shit.
Each one of us is respecting the art of what the last man achieved before us—what he’s accomplished. You gotta pay homage at some point. Not only has Kanye become successful, but I know that man from producing when I first met the kid. So for him to evolve so much and then to become more lyrical, I’m sitting there saying to myself, Yo, he’s getting better, he’s getting better. So for me to step in the room with a nigga, I already know we on the same page, we’re looking at each other eye to eye. It ain’t nobody trying to stand over the next one. We’re gonna sit down, and we’re gonna make something that’s gonna make the people be like, “Yo, that was legendary.” It ain’t gonna ever be something weak, because we know where we came from. At the same time, it’s giving me an opportunity to emerge again in a way where people can say, “Yo, that’s something different coming out of Rae’s lunchbox right there.”
It’s so important that us artists move like that and put all that other shit to the side, because if we’re gonna set it up for the next generation, they need to know it’s a mutual ground of respect whether you’re an OG or whether you’re a new cat on the block. It’s about that respect. Because at the end of the day, you’re only as mean as the last shit you done.
Like now when I’m in my zone, it’s like I automatically know to stay there, and anything that comes at you, that’s respecting what you do, you perform great on it, man. I didn’t sit there and realize that at the end of the year I would’ve done over 30 features that I gave out, on top of me still making my own creations.
It just shows my work ethic is now being more empowered, because before my energy wasn’t right, man. I was caught up in a lot of other shit. I wasn’t militant, I ain’t afraid to say that. Everybody makes mistakes and goes through their shit and gets emotional, and certain things are always gonna happen, but it’s how you take that punch and get up and get back on. I’ve learned so much. We blew millions back then, and I ain’t trying to blow millions now.
Wu-Tang has set a platform for every last one of us to tour the world and give these niggas what they want, because they love hip-hop like we love it, man. Some of them just speak a different language. But when we get together in front of the people, man, it’s natural for us, and we always have great times when we’re on the road together. To sell out arenas and still be considered one of the top elite groups in the game feels good, and we can’t never act like we don’t appreciate that. I think we realized that we’ve become a touring group. We can make $5 million a year touring and don’t have to do no fuckin’ album.
One time I went to a show, I was drunk and shit and feeling good. I had a great mic that night. I asked the crowd, “Yo, can you niggas just boo me one time?” I had never been booed before, and I wanted to see what it felt like. “So at the count of three, I need y’all to boo. One, two, three.” Everybody just said, “Booooo,” and yo, it was the greatest feeling in the world. It was a great feeling.
My new single is called “Rock ’N Roll.” I do got a lot of rock friends and rock fans that love my music and love Wu-Tang. So, you know what, I got something for y’all now. And the song is still street, so at the end of the day, I am willing to challenge the audience with different productions to show the best that I can be. I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that. I felt Jim Jones was a great guy for that record right there, and he got on it and did exactly what I figured he would do.
Nas and I had a show in Switzerland. We was all the way on the other side of the world, and we know our history with each other, so regardless of the circumstances, it’s never that bad. I never was mad about Nas not being on Cuban Linx II, first and foremost. I was a little upset because I had already had the people feeling like it was happening, but he was going through his crisis.
We sat down and talked like men, and everything was sincere, looking in each other’s eyes, some real nigga shit, and I know that at the end of the day, he loves me. He always tells me that, like, “Yo, Chef, you’re like my big brother regardless of what. I know you might be mad at me, but I don’t never want you to be mad at me mad at me.” So I’m telling him automatically, “Yo, B, emotions is for bitches, man. What we gon’ do about our fans, man, that love us, man?” And we just made it happen (“Rich and Black”) the best way we knew it could happen. It was a breath of fresh air again to be able to be on the mic with my nigga, because when I see him, I see myself. We have the same kind of aura. We made a great move happen.
As far as album sales, I realize that there’s a lot of people that still love me. You feel me? But at the end of the day, what have I not accomplished already? I’m already in the books, man. I’m in the books! What the fuck? I don’t gotta be platinum on this album to be platinum. You know what the fuck I did already. You see what I’m saying? Took it to the highest level. So there’s nothing higher than that. All I can do is keep showing you my talent and let you know that I’m going to give you quality shit. I don’t care if this album does 10,000. I know I’ve made the label recoup—they owe me some money. And I’m-a go on tour and do my one-two.
At the end of the day, I’m just tryin’ to make great music and really just let them niggas know I’m-a give you more. No more four-year hiatuses and all this whole other shit. Let me show you niggas how to do 20 albums real quick. And you might like 15 out of them and not the other five. Those five might not be what you expected or whatever, but fuck that.
I’m telling you, man. I got hit with a muthafuckin’ lightning bolt of success right now. And the spirit came from the reaction to Cuban Linx II. The media, publications, the fans are really like, “Yo, he really did it. I didn’t even think he could do it again.” I got fans coming up to me like, “Yo, I underestimated you.” It feels good, it feels good, man. It’s the position I’ve earned. Yo, man, I dived into the fountain of youth again, straight up.