Wu-Tang Clan elder statesman Raekwon is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of 1995’s landmark album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx with a tour. We had the chance to catch up with the Chef himself and talk about the legacy of OB4CL, his motivation to keep making music and his opinion on the new crop of emcees making waves today.
Congrats on the milestone, the second one — with the first being the twentieth anniversary of Enter the Wu-Tang. How is this milestone different for you, if at all?
Everything is just a process. We was getting better through the years. I always believe that hard work makes you more of a better person and we were just working hard. All of it is just part of our nostalgia. When we were doing Wu-Tang projects it was just the energy and the confidence that helped create everything afterwards. And when it was my time to make that album, if I didn’t go through the process and be successful from from that first project, it probably wouldn’t have given me as much hope as it did to make Cuban Linx. We was in a great space at that time and I always just look at the era. We was just dedicated to our craft at that time. I figured that if we could make one classic, why not try to make another one? That’s where my head was at and though they were different albums, they were still coming from the same fortress. That was a good thing for me.
That album is held in such high regard. Why do you think that specific album has had so much staying power over the past twenty years?
I think some albums do something to you in your life and it kind of brings you into a certain space to remember either the good times or the rough times. I think at that time I was speaking as a voice for the ghetto and for kids all over too — just making music and being an artist that can put that kind of effect in your world. I grew up listening to great artists and it seemed like not only were they giving us great music, but they were also painting a picture of how to be a better person and understand the world that you’re in. I was the voice of a bunch of people from that world. When you give people proof and you give people facts on certain situations and they feel like “Yo, it’s coming from the horse’s mouth.” People love that and I think that’s what that album did. It woke up a whole generation of kids that didn’t know how to express where they were at the time. It was just relatable aand to this day people still remember those days. Regardless of if they’re successful or they’re in other situations. It’s just that some albums and artists do that. I was just blessed with having an opportunity.
Like you said, you represent a lot of people from that time. A lot of them aren’t around anymore. How have you managed to stay relevant and do what you do at a high level without compromising? You’ve been yourself from day one.
I look at it like…my struggle at that time was something that was hard to be reckoned with. I lost a lot of good friends and I saw where their lives ended up at and it constantly made me think about how fortunate I am to have a situation like this and really take time to work on myself and surround myself with decent people. Like I said, we come from something that we never want to go back to, so I think it’s just about hard work, endurance and constantly wanting to be more successful. I would never want to create something that could help my life and then lose that spark overnight. So for me, I just get out there and live through the culture. I love this culture — the music of hip-hop. I love all kinds of music, but I apply all of it as one. It’s like a chicken noodle soup for me. You’ve got your vegetables, your soup…all that shit is involved to me. It’s all about the belief and the confidence. I feel that people recognize me as a great artist and I have to hold that torch up high for them. Not only for them, but for my family as well. So, I get out there and I do this for them too. It ain’t just for Rae. It’s a way to put myself in a better situation and leave something behind for my family. So I’m always going to wake up with that energy. Also, the fans give is that hope and desire to want to do better…some people fall off, while some keep going. I just happen to be one of those dudes where it ain’t goin down like that.
My next question was going to be what motivates you to keep going, but you’ve touched on that with the family and everyone around you. Let’s talk about the upcoming tour a bit. You’re doing the entire OB4CL album? Any surprises for the fans?
We’re definitely going to go through the album because this is definitely the Cuban Linx tour. We will be having fun, but we’ve also got other things in store for the fans because it’s hard to just come in and just focus on one thing but we know that’s the bulk of what everybody wants to hear. All I can say is that it’s going to be a dope show. It’s going to be a twist of this, a little bit of that, but most importantly it will surround the making of the album.
I think it’s definitely going to be a dope show also, because you’ve got a lot of material.
You can run right though a lot of hits, you know?
We’re gonna do it too.
I only have a couple more questions. I saw you’ve got the Linx Beach jacket going on…
How did that come about? I understand the significance of the Snow Beach jacket, but how did it all mesh together…if you will?
Around the 90s was some of the most favorite memorable moments of my career and just thinking about that jacket kind of takes me back to that era and time. I was always infatuated with clothes, cars and jewelry and stuff of that nature. That Snow Beach Ralph Lauren piece, I actually bought from the store and…it’s like Run DMC with the Adidas. Everybody knew Run DMC for those sneakers and I think a lot of people knew me for wearing that jacket. I wanted ro revisit the 90s and give them something that came from that time that meant a lot to me and I know how important that jacket was. It’s like a time capsule piece. It’s something I can point to like “Yo, this had something to do with my flow and with my style” and of course celebrating the classic album as well. So I put something purple attached to that jacket just to give it that remembrance of that time.
A lot of people in hip-hop love clothes. It’s like you can’t be in hip-hop and not be infatuated with music, gear, break dancing and all of that stuff. So I definitely wanted to come with a piece that people could relate to. It’s a limited piece and I know it’s kind of expensive, but we love quality stuff. I know that at the end of the day, this CL-95 jacket will have people recalling those days and just wanting to get it because they’ll feel like “You know what? I remember those times and they were special to me.” It’s just me giving back in the best way I know how and giving the fans a chance to say “Wow, Rae took us back to the times when hip-hop meant a lot to us.” This jacket had a lot to do with that. When I see people talk about it and the (Snow Beach) jacket is retailed at like five to seven thousand dollars, it kind of made itself a part of my career and life and I wanted to do something different. I wanted to come back and revisit it as if I was making an album. I wanted to flip the jacket and for everybody to say “Yo, the shit is dope,” you know?
What is your perception of hip-hop now?
You know hip-hop has evolved and it’s there always because of the energy inside of the culture that we love. You’ve got a lot of young kids doing their thing now, on their level right now. So the generation that’s under us is getting their time to shine and that’s cool. But as far as the authenticity…it didn’t go anywhere, but it went somewhere. I don’t know if that’s easy to say or understand. It’s just that right now you have to break down your hip-hop like you would break down watching a heavyweight fight or a middleweight fight or a lightweight fight. Everybody has their own little divisions and you get a little bit of everything now. Unfortunately, cats like me who really, really busted their heads to make classics are scarce right now. I don’t really feel like dudes are out there trying to make classics. I don’t think the majority of their fans even respect albums, but they do respect great artists. To each his own, you know?
You might like the music today. I like it, but I don’t love it. I respect it because it feels good and hip-hop is all about feeling good and expression. So that’s what’s going on right now. But when it comes to making classics and really showing your artistry, I think it’s really A-B-C shit right now for a lot of people. For us, it was science. You had to really, really work. Now it’s A-B-C. Dudes can just say anything, but if it feels good, has a catchy hook and makes girls dance, it seems like people gravitate towardss that a bit more. Back in the 90s, we were about making records that were timeless. I guess that’s what has me still here today…because we made an album that could stand the test of time through these years. That’s what it is. You just have to look to different music for different reasons and apply it the best way you need to apply it to yourself. I still want to see artists that deserve to be recognized get more light though, but it’s all about working hard.
Last question. What’s coming up next? I know you’ve got the FILA album now. Anything going on after that? Any outside interests?
There’s a couple things going on. We’re always in the studio, so we’ve got a few things but right now we’re celebrating the FILA and OB4CL albums. We definitely have some videos coming up, but right now we’re taking the time to pay respect to this album — this great album we made 20 years ago. We’re also working on the documentary of the purple tape, The Purple Tape Files. People need information on that. They can go to fanback.com/Raekwon and learn about what we have planned and y’all are about to start seeing more content about what we were doing back then. It’s gonna be dope.
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