He has a classic hip hop album under his belt and this year marks its 20th anniversary. He is also part of one of the best hip hop collectives ever to do it and The Wu-Tang Clan, amongst several other accolades, have a classic hip hop album under their belts also, where he is featured on almost every song. Raekwon (The Chef) has a hip hop legacy which is firmly cemented. He doesn’t need to ever release an album again. However he has done exactly that. ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’ is due for release on April 28th. We caught up with The Chef the day after his surprise performance at Kanye’s secret gig, to find out what we can expect from his 6th studio release.
Planet Notion: Last night, Kanye West put on what is being called the best hip hop concert the UK has ever seen. Everybody is talking about it and of course, you were a part of it. To us, it seemed like something that was arranged in one day. All of a sudden these tickets went up online and that was the first many of us had heard about it. How long had you known about it?
Raekwon: Actually, I heard it happened in one hour. People found out an hour before he actually performed. It’s amazing to know that you can be in another country and people love your music so much that they hear about a party that you’re having and they find out an hour before you get on and perform… I think that’s amazing. I think it just shows how hip hop is so serious in London… and the UK period. London is definitely my favourite city by far when it comes to hip hop. Every time I’ve come here, I’ve always had a packed house. Every show sold out. I’ve performed at KOKO before, one of my own shows, and it’s always great energy there.
PN: Did you get to see any of our guys, I know isn’t always possible?
R: The grime guys? Yes. Yes, I did. I was blown away, I was a fan. Just seeing how they were up there handling their business. I even asked Kanye, ‘Yo, is this your group?’ and he was like, ‘Nah, they’re from out here. They’re dope. I just wanted to let them come out and just do their thing.’ That’s how we are. If we go to somebody’s city and we hear about the guys that are doing their thing, nine times out of ten we’re like, ‘Yo, do you want to get on? Come out on stage, do your thing’. I think that’s so important in hip hop. We pass the torch down in so many different ways to help artists get established.
PN: Speaking of passing the torch, I notice on your new album ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’, you have a collaboration with A$AP Rocky. When working with younger – or even newer – artists, how does someone like you approach a project like that? Do you handle with kid gloves, or is it like when you hear men say, ‘I don’t just let my son win at games. A competition is a competition’, type of thing?
R: Absolutely! If you want to dance with me and be on a record with me, I’m not going to hold back and I think with this particular record, with me and him on it, I felt like it fit him. I respect the young generation coming through, because these guys are paving their way through to be a force to be reckoned with in the music business.
A$AP Rocky is a good friend of mine and I just felt like, with that particular track, his name was written all over it. That’s one thing about Rae, when I make albums… I’m pretty much my own A&R. I can feel who sounds good on what. That’s what I got out of that track and I was excited to send him the beat. He loved it. People have even said that is one of the best verses they’ve heard him do in a long time – that’s to each his own, you know what I mean? But I think they loved the fact that he held his own with me. When I’m making music, I’m not in competition like that. When I’m on wax with dudes, it’s more to bring us together, to make something dope. It’s not for me to be like, ‘Yo, you know I’m better than you, but come and dance with me’ No, that ain’t my style. I’m a fan of certain guys too, but more importantly I wanted to have the young attached to this album as well and I felt like he fit perfectly.
PN: And you also have Estelle on there, who is one of our very own…
R: Oh I love Estelle. This isn’t my first time working with her. She’s a sweetheart. Her voice is golden and I just felt like that track had her name on it. As you listen to it, it’s more of a grown and sexy kind of record and that’s what I wanted to do with this album, was to give you different sides of Raekwon, but still give you Rae. There have been thousands of times where people have asked me, ‘Yo Rae, why don’t you do no records for no females’ like I must not like females or something. I love females. I adore females. So we needed something for the women and Estelle came with that hook and it just sounded golden… over a Jerry Wonda beat… shout out Jerry Wonda… All three just fit together perfectly. That is one of records I really appreciated, because the whole thing just sounded fresh and new.
Me and Estelle have been rocking for a minute. She was on one of my last albums ‘Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang’ and she came with a dope hook for me on that too, [sings] ‘What are the keys to being a ninja’. I was like, ‘Oh shit!’ because I wasn’t too sure what she would do. That’s what a lot of people don’t know about Estelle, even though she’s so quiet and humble and soft, she’s down for the real niggas and that’s what I love about her. She can get in where she can fit in, on anything. That’s what I wanted to represent on this album. Of course, I come from the hardest of the hardcore dudes, but I don’t want people to think of me in just one way.
Raekwon ft. Estelle & Inspectah Deck – ‘Chop Chop Ninja’
PN: The album is indeed very diverse. I noticed there is also a Jamaican dancehall inspired track with (dancehall artist) Assassin and (RnB singer) Melanie Fiona. I also remember you saying, ‘Heineken and Sting made me a man’ which was a very big nod to Jamaican culture, but then everyone thought you were talking about Sting from The Police. As much as we love Sting from The Police, that isn’t what you meant is it?
R: No, I meant STING INTERNATIONAL. Me, in my neighbourhood, I grew up with a lot of West Indian culture. They showed us so many ways of survival, family, principles and just how to adapt to your surroundings and circumstances. One thing about my West Indian brothers and sisters is; they are survivors, man. West Indian people are resilient, yo. You can put them anywhere and they’ll be alright. We all lived in the same neighbourhood and we learned so much from them. We learned how to do things on our own. If you didn’t have a job, you would do something and make a job out of it. Whether it’s selling shirts, or incense, or patties, or whatever the case may be, there was always a way to earn and do it the right way too. They were definitely influential in my neighbourhood as a youngster. You might as well say Rae got a little ‘Yard’ in him too [laughs].
PN: I know your children are still quite young, but your eldest is old enough to have her own musical tastes. Have you ever heard your kids playing anything, hip hop specifically, where you’ve said, ‘Turn that shit off. That shit is wack’.
R: Nah, for me… I never challenge what my kids love. My kids don’t even look at me like a ‘superstar’ or whatever. They just see me as Dad. Of course, they know what I do, but they are still kind of young. My oldest, she gets it, but she’s more into herself right now. She’s in school. She gave me that degree, I’m a very proud father for that. She’s a good girl. As far as their music… play what you want to play. It’s a new generation now. They always have the TV on, music videos and all that and I learn from them what’s hot. I’m constantly like, ‘Yo, who is that?’ or I hear my five year old singing a song that like, Coldplay did and I’m like, ‘You know Coldplay!?’ [laughs]. It amazes me. I’d rather they listen to that, than listen to people talking about drugs and shit like that. If I start hearing that, then we’ll have to have a conversation.
PN: Really? But you spoke about those things yourself…
R: Music influences you… I don’t think it’s good for kids to listen to that at a young age. It paints pictures in your head. To each his own when you get older, but right now, there is too much going on in certain songs.
PN: Tell me about ‘The Purple Tape Files’ which is a documentary surrounding your classic album ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Links’.
R: This year is the 20th anniversary of ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Links’, my solo album which I made back in ’95. This is a monumental album and I wanted to pay respect to the people that love it and do a documentary/film. We’ve been working on it for about 7 months. We’re about 35% in. It’s coming out beautiful and it’s basically an in-depth look at how we made the album. When people can praise an album like that for 20yrs, all over the world, I think its time to do a documentary. Like in the same way Nas did, ‘Time is Illmatic’. It’s all about just giving you a good 90 minutes of how this album was made, how me and Ghostface connected and how we chose these beats etc… This album meant a lot to people. I also have a crowd funding thing that is helping me get the fans involved with it. So the fans will be able to donate anything from a dollar and be attached to helping me make this project. We are doing it for the fans. It would have been easy for me to go to a label and say, ‘make it for me’ but I think its better to do it this way, organically, where my fans can be a part of it.
PN: How long before we can see it?
R: I’d say maybe about 8 or 9 months, but I’m taking my time with it. It has to be done properly. That was a big album. I had an opportunity to go down to the Sundance Film festival and they let me show a 6.5 minute trailer. It was a private event, all film makers etc… I just wanted their opinion and they were blown away. They invited me back to show the film when it’s finished. We did another event around the Grammy weekend, because that was the film world and I wanted the opinion of the music world and they loved it too. I just wanted an honest opinion and it gave me a sense of hope on making this be what I wanted it to be. For more information hit fanbacked.com/raekwon and just take a look and see what’s going on.
PN: Do you know what would make a great film… I am fascinated by the old New York stories; you, Nas, N.O.R.E, Jay Z, all these legendary rappers, in the same town, at the same time. You’ll hear the odd story here and there, but nobody knows what is really true and what isn’t. For example, didn’t Biggie throw bleach on you once?
PN: Biggie threw bleach on you, then on the track ‘Ice Water’ you said, ‘Pulling bleach out, trying to throw it in my eyesight’, then Biggie made ‘Kick in The Door’ and he said, ‘Fuck that, why try? Throw bleach in your eye’, then Nas got involved… It’s on all the hip hop forums.
R: Biggie!? Threw bleach on me?? Why would he throw bleach on me though?
PN: That’s what people say. Maybe, because you both speak about bleach throwing and there was tension between you both at the time, people just assumed…
R: Yo… You are putting me on to something that I’ve never… and this is so crazy, because its 20yrs later and I’ve never looked at it like that.
PN: So Biggie never threw bleach on you?
PN: But that was such a cool story…
R: Rest in peace to the late BIG, but I’ve never been in a situation… that’s cold to throw bleach on somebody… I’ve never heard that though.
Raekwon ft. Ghostface Killah & Cappadonna – ‘Ice Water’
Biggie Smalls – ‘Kick In The Door’
PN: But there was friction between you both at the time though, be honest?
R: No, I am being honest… we always liked BIG, it’s just that… I guess, the album cover thing… when Ghost [-face] said it… one thing about us, if we look at you like a hero, we want you to be where we expect you to be. At that time, we wanted everybody to be original. We wanted everybody to have their own style and if that’s who you are, that’s who you are. So when BIG did that album cover, Nas had just done it and Nas is a good friend of ours. We were all in competition with each other in a friendly way, but when BIG did that, I guess Ghost felt at the time, ‘Yo, why do you have to do something somebody already did, when you are already a king within your own self?’. So it got taken out of context. I guess the way Ghost said it, it caused a… feeling and erm… you know? And one thing led to another… It’s so crazy and I don’t even want to get too far into it, because that’s the kind of stuff you will be able to hear a little bit more about in the film. But definitely, BIG didn’t throw no bleach on me, I had no idea there was anything in ‘Kick in The Door’ related to me. ‘Kick in The Door’ is one of my favourite records, one of my favourite songs.
PN: Finally, the album title ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’ has been shortened to F.I.L.A, isn’t this a lot of free promotion for the FILA brand?
R: I have heard people say that, but it’s nothing to do with FILA. If it is, why isn’t the FILA logo on everything? It’s just an acronym. That’s how I felt and that’s where I am right now. I am a fly dude, I’m internationally known and my music is luxury art.
Fly International Luxurious Art is out on April 28th.