Raekwon trains Siobhán Kane in the way of the Wu-Tang ahead of his trip to Dublin,
While full of respect for the way of the Wu-Tang, which he’s still very much a part of, Raekwon wants to be remembered as the best. Ahead of his Dublin show he tells Siobhán Kane about coming from the old hip-hop storytelling tradition and how his ‘big br
COREY WOODS grew up in what is now seen as a golden-era of hiphop; in New York, among the early imaginings of the form. This serious-minded sense of honouring the past in order to inform the present has always been synonymous with Raekwon’s output.
“I became part of the game when hip-hop was so serious to us. It was a language, a way of life, a feeling, a hope. I feel like I came out as one of the best cats, because I learned from those before me – Rakim and Kane, all those innovative artists that came from the ’80s. I received the best knowledge of the day, and I carry that with me, because I take my hip-hop seriously. Don’t get me wrong: I recognise that it is also a business, but it has to come from the streets, like the late B.I.G., he was a great storyteller, Slick Rick, Nas, Mobb Deep – these were the guys who knew how to paint pictures on a crazy scale. I like Lil Wayne – I think he can be creative, but he is not as much of a storyteller.
“A lot of rap nowadays is party rap. It is totally different to what Wu-Tang came out of. We wanted to create art. It is so easy to just go one way with it, but it’s not challenging.”
This striving for authenticity is rooted in what hip-hop was originally born out of: struggle, a need to express in a world that would not accept, and from that need an entire movement evolved. “Hip-hop is an art, it is a whole thing. Imagine a rapper not respecting a breakdancer or graffiti artist – all of these elements have so much to do with hip-hop – that’s how we changed music. People may listen to the commercialism and maybe that’s all they will see, but hip-hop is rounded in so many ways that you can’t afford to not acknowledge that it started from poetry.”
This poetry can be found not just in official releases, but in the humble mixtape, which has always been a currency in hip-hop – a way to try new things, to elevate or denigrate reputations, it takes the fight out of the hands of the industry and back on to the streets, and for Raekwon, with his Cocainism series, it is a way of showing off his phenomenal technique.
“I am glad you said that. It’s true, you give a certain technique to the world with a mixtape, telling people what you are getting ready to do. I can’t sell you a hot CD if you haven’t heard where my voice is at. The mixtape became a vehicle for putting an album together. You can’t just worry
about making an album. You’ve gotta feed the fans, so they will keep you on their mind.
“I knew that at some point, making a comeback, I would have to have some relevance on a higher level, and I used the mixtape as the appetiser to the food I was preparing. You could be hot anyway, but sometimes people will check you for one or two records, whereas if you are really hot on a mixtape it is going to bubble up, where fans will start requesting a record. That is what happens with mixtapes, with Cocainism. I was just letting everybody know that I am still on my rhyme, but I am going to introduce something new. You have also gotta give back to the fans. Artists gotta be able to understand the value in giving music away as well as selling it.”
This valuing of fans is evident in Raekwon’s special upcoming shows, where he will perform Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, which follows in the more indie-rock tradition over the last number of years of artists performing one of their classic records in its entirety.
“It completely came from the fans. Sometimes people want particular things on the menu, and that particular album is really golden to people – they go crazy for it. One of my favourite albums is The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. I would love to see him perform that whole album because it meant a lot to me at the time.”
With this in mind, it must have been deeply satisfying to work with Slick Rick on Rick’s 1999 record Art of Storytelling. “Oh definitely. There is a feeling of becoming a kid again every time I see any of my favourites. It takes you back to when you were young, and I feel like these men are my big brothers, all the way.”
Another “big brother” is Busta Rhymes, who helped Raekwon rediscover his appetite for hip-hop to create Only Built for
Shaolin vs Wu-Tang,