Raekwon: My Life In Hip Hop

'The Chef' talks Wu Tang, Nas and living it large

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In 1993 a group of Staten Island rappers came together to release the album Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, an album which went on to sell over two million copies in the U.S and ranked 386 Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Album Of All Time.

An abundance of seminal solo albums from members including RZA, Method Man and Ghostface Killah followed, with Raekwon (dubbed The Chef for his skill in making “beats”) released his first solo album (and arguably the highest critically regarded album of the lot) Only Built For Cuban Linx in 1995, spawning a sequel in 2099. Now 44, he’s still going strong, working with the likes of Snoop Dogg and running Ice H20 Records.

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We spoke to the New York rapper on life lessons, racing stolen cars and his favourite record.

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What does a typical day in your life look like?

I’m a laidback fellow. I like to listen to a lot of R’n’B. Slow, tranquil music that gives me the ability to think. Me and Ghost always used to say we like mountains, we like oceans, things like that. I like to think about my life and the past. I try to reminisce and still feel good about what I’ve been through and where I’m going. I’d be in the house chilling, couple of great movies, good food, enjoying life with my kids.

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Who do you still want to work with?

A coupla guys. Of course I wanna work with the veterans that I never had an opportunity to work with. I have a record that I did with Snoop, he’s a real good friend of mine and he’s an artist that I look up to. He’s doing what he loves to do and the world loves him. You gonna see me working with cats like him. Then you got the young guys that’s coming up, the A$AP Rockys. Schoolboy Q is the latest feature that I did. I really dig his music. He’s a great lyricist.

Which song do you wish you’d written?

I think I’d go for a Nas record like If I Ruled The World. To me that record sounds like something that could have come out of my chambers too. I’m a big fan of Nas. I think he’s a good philosopher artist. He’s a gangster. People look at me and Nas as the same kinda guy when it comes to our philosophy and telling stories and painting pictures.

How did your life change with the success of the Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers album? 

I think New York City was needing a new heir to the throne. Wu Tang was born and I think when we came in the business it was all about showing people that we’re MCs that could come in and dominate and show we had a different aura and style of music that we could bring to the table. To me that was exciting. They were the golden years. It changed everything, you gotta remember we’re from the street and we got the opportunity to be heard throughout the world. Who would ever think that they would be in Paris or London exploiting his music? That’s what keeps me going.

Describe your relationship with music?

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I love this music, this music has made me a better person. It’s made me a better man. It means so much to me and I know how important that culture is that people have to understand the music that they love and have artists out there that can continue to grow with them. It’s a good feeling when you know what people respect your passion when it comes to making music.

Describe your worst gig?

I’m so grounded with what I love to do. Sometimes I have performed in front of 100,000 people and 100 people. At the end of the day it is what it is. As artists we have days where we go “damn, that one wasn’t a great one” but if I can make everybody smile when I’m on stage, that’s my job. That’s what I’m supposed to do.

What's been your greatest "hip-hop moment", when you've realised that you're living the life?

I think the greatest moment was when I was starting to get way more famous across the other side of the world. That’s when you know you’re big, when you wake up and they say “Tomorrow they want you do do a show in Germany.” I’m like “In Germany!?" I didn’t ever picture I would ever be able to get to Germany or any beautiful country on the other side of the world. That’s when I knew it was starting to pay off. When you can get in front of people who speak another language but love your music, that’s a beautiful thing.

What's been your most reckless moment?

Many times. As a kid we were very wild. We used to joy-ride cars. I had a race with my friend in a car. We both had rental cars and we were on the highway and while we were racing I didn’t realise that the traffic was at a standstill half a mile up. We were driving neck and neck and if he didn’t let me in to get out of the lane that was at a complete stop, I would have ran into the back of the car and killed them, killed myself and killed the people I was in the car with. I barely got out of that. It was so scary that I had to pull over and my friends told me to get the fuck out of the car right then. We escaped death man. For me, that was something that I look at a lot and that makes me spiritual because I know someone had my back.

How has your approach changed over the last 22 years?

I think the plans and the passion that we had when we was making classic albums and really paying attention to the body of work that we was giving to the world isn't around so much anymore. I don’t see a lot of artists today really care about making a great body of work. They care about today and the moment. That’s cool if that’s your thing but I’m into making albums that people can listen to from beginning to end.

What would you change about the music business?

The only thing I would probably change is the politics that come with the business. I would change the radio from playing the same 13 records a day. I’d tell them to play anything, because music is the key to life and we keep hearing the same people everyday, over and over. It’s all about listening to music from a wide perspective.

What do you think you've given to hip hop?

I feel like I’m a great writer that’s passionate about music. I don’t give up that easy, I still feel new, even though I’m a veteran. They say “time flies” but for me time has flew so fast that it still hasn’t made me want to stop it. If you love the game you do it until your body tells you can’t do it anymore.

See Raekwon at Brooklyn Bowl, London on Friday July 25. brooklynbowl.com


Tell us your favourite Wu Tang song in the comments

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