You know when you sit down for a huge family dinner and you bite into that first piece of roast that your grandma cooked? Unbeatable. You can taste her labor of love: the 5 a.m. wake-up just to start it simmering in the oven. That’s exactly what Chef Raekwon is hoping to cook up for his fans Sept. 8 when he finally releases Only Built for Cuban Linx Part II, the sequel to his much heralded, Mafioso street bible Only Built For Cuban Linx … which put him on the map as a solo artist, further bolstered the Wu-Tang Clan’s dominance and introduced the world to Ghostface Killah. The only difference is that grandma spent all day to make the goodness, this meal has taken Rae almost fifteen years. Raekwon reigns in on dotting his I’s, crossing his T’s, his personal idea of success, his 2004 trip to Sierra Leone and the return of Blue Rasperry.

“This is a full packed album. I decided to make it more chunkier for y’all. So there’s enough product on there to really make you feel like, ‘Yo, Rae, he really filled us up.’ It’s like going to your favorite restaurant and he just piled the fuckin food on there for you.”

Format: Raekwon, How are you doing, man?
Raekwon: I’m chillin’ my dude, what’s poppin?

Format: I hear you were just working on some artwork for the album, how did that go?
Raekwon: Everything went good, real good. I’m the type of dude that work all the way to the end, you know. Even the artwork is a major thing to me too. So, you know, everything look nice, though. As soon as people get it, they’re going to be real appreciative of the quality.

Format: Is that why you think you’ve taken so long on this album? You wanted it to be perfect?
Raekwon: I’m a perfectionist, man and, you know, you guys got me working hard like that, man. It’s you! You part of that, we part of that shit too, son! I got to do my best, but the main thing is that I like to be involved with everything that’s moving with my project right now so that’s all. And I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that you know? I see a lot of artists really don’t even think about shit like that. For me me, I got to dot every I and cross every T.

Format: Do you think that’s a big part of why so many artists come and go in the world of hip-hop? Because they don’t take enough care and allow themselves to get exploited?
Raekwon: I think its just that you tend to lack when you get relaxed about being in the business and, you know, and sometimes you still got to be creative one way or another.

For me, I always look at it like your project is your baby, you know what I mean? I just think that as an artist, you got to really, really stay on top of it. Everything is important.

Me, I look at it like, ‘alright, you know, I’m sure the album is going to get downloaded, ok I accept that. But at the same token, you can’t download the cover. You can’t download something that you feel is a classic picture of something that is exciting to look at while listening to the album.’ All that, to me, works together. So, you know what it is.

Format: Any bonus treats that come with buying the album legally?
Raekwon: Oh, definitely, definitely. Like I said, this is a full packed album. There are a lot of tracks on there which I felt would do to the long-awaitedness of the album. I decided to make it more chunkier for y’all. So there’s enough product on there to really make you feel like, ‘Yo, Rae, he really filled us up.’ It’s like going to your favorite restaurant and he just piled the fuckin food on there for you.

“Have the love for the art first because the money will come once people feel your passion is there for what you’re dealing with. I think that that’s the key to survival.”

Format: With all of the threats of downloading, declining record sales and the economy tanking, What’s it going to take for you for this album to feel like a success?
Raekwon: Just the respect, you know what I mean? Just for people to be happy, you know. I’m not really caught up in what it’s going to do the first week. You know, if there are a million copies, I’m forever grateful, you know what I mean? But I think its really more about the quality is what I’m wanting to get from the fans. Quality is always going to overdo quantity and I’m just looking at it like that, you know? That’s the first thing, is like, ‘do you like it, you know?’ You know what I mean? You know, you got a lot of people that really try to measure somebody’s career according to whatever they sell the first week. Everybody has a different way to the how the project may take them. It may be slow at first and pop off or pop off in the beginning and then slow up. At the end of the day, it’s just about the quality, man. I really had no time to deal with the other side of it because that something that as an artist, I’m really not too much worried about right there.


Format: Tell me about your impression of hip-hop today compared to when you and the Wu were coming up. What does it take to stay relevant?
Raekwon: What it takes to stay relevant? Number one is consistency and great character, you know? I think as an artist, you know, we have to really, really play our position as MCs, you know. Its like hip-hop went from hip-hop to rap. MCs went from MCs to artists. So my thing is, you really have to really show the people that this is something that you have a passion for, first, before the money. Gain that respect, gain that credibility from the fans that appreciate you as an artist. Its kinda like a ‘you go in for me, I go in for you’ shit, but a lot of these kids nowadays is more impressed with the money side – which is cool, I want everybody to get money. Get money, take care of your family, feed your children, do what you got to do, but at the same token, have the love for the art first because the money will come once people feel your passion is there for what you’re dealing with. I think that that’s the key to survival.

Like I said, for me, being in the game for so long, you know, I still have the passion, because I’m still out there and feeling like, ‘Yo, I still have so much to gain and so much to do.’ You know, and therefore the people will be like, “Yo, we looking for you, Rae, Yo!’ you know we feel this love all over the world that gives me the energy.

Format: So what’s this I hear about you, Ghost and Mef doing an album?
Raekwon: Well, you know that was something that, you know, was decided to make happen, but the politics got to be correct and you know, the I’s got to be dotted and the T’s got to be crossed. I mean, for me, it’s not a problem, you know what I mean? The political side is, I do have a family and I got to make sure we alright.

Format: Who are you cosigning today, who are you listening to?
Raekwon: Who am I listening to today? I listen to basically everything you listen to but I don’t’ study it. I listen to it. You know, I’m really just trying to stay in my lane and practice my craft, you know?

I haven’t really been, like, you know, stuck on one person’s music. I’m the type of dude, I want to be influenced, I want to see an album that can make me feel like ‘Yo, I can’t even touch it.’ That’s how I like to make albums.

That’s why, maybe I may be a more credible MC as far as making albums than probably making hit records or singles, you know what I mean? I try to present the body of the whole work other than looking at it as one thing. I haven’t really been getting stung with anything that I feel is really, you know, making me feel like it’s informative, you know what I mean? I like that kind of music. I want to be excited and I haven’t been getting it like that.


Format: A while back I went and saw the documentary “Bling” where you traveled to Sierra Leone to explore the effects of the diamond industry. Very powerful. Has that affected you as an artist in what you are doing these days?
Raekwon: That affected me as a man before anything because I feel like I didn’t know that people were still living under these circumstances. Before anything, I looked at it like, ‘Why?’ You got these young kids and brothers and sisters that are still under these certain situations – so that definitely affected me just to see how people have to live under certain terms.

Yeah, it definitely fucked with me though. Its one thing to be going through your struggles because, you know, everybody go through they struggles, but when you somewhere and they don’t have no water and, for me, I stick my hand out the window and give somebody a quart of water and fifteen, twenty hands reach for it like it was a fuckin diamond ring, that’s sad to me, you know what I mean? That hurts my heart. That was the type of thing that was going on in these places.

I even had the opportunity to go inside and see how they live. We got furniture in our house, some places ain’t even have nothing but the fucking concrete and the rug. A dirty rug, just four walls. Just shit like that that just pisses me off, you know what I mean? One person will spend a million dollars on some other shit but won’t put a million dollars into something that may change the world that may make you even more legendary. Its like, for me, if I was a dude that had money like that and I’d seen some shit like that, I probably would’ve cut a check to really help them people that was in that situation because when we see people under certain type of terms like that, it just brings tears to your eyes.

All I remember was just getting off the plane and next thing you know, five to ten minutes later, it’s like somebody is in front of me, like ‘Yo, everything is going to be alright,’ you know? I’m crying, I’m wheezing, my nose is running. [Coughs.] Excuse me. Oh shit, you getting me choked up. Yeah, but its stuff like that, you know, I don’t like to see shit like that.


Format: Is that something that has ever carried over into you as an artist and the work you are doing?
Raekwon: Yeah, because, you know, we all have emotions, everything is affected. Like I said, it was one thing to be going on a quest to find out about the diamonds but then just to see all the other shit and see the amputees and just see how our people is living, its sad, man, It’s really sad.

But I don’t want to feel like I’m having sympathy for them, you know what I mean, because they strong they’re able to deal with it and respect where they came from and they know where they want to go so I don’t want to give the sympathy trail for nobody to feel like that at them people, you know? They wouldn’t want you to feel like that because at the end of the day they going to be alright, they been alright.

To me, they just kings and queens, you know what I mean? Anybody that can deal with so much peer pressure, or, you know, living with certain kinds of strife, you a king to me, you know?

Format: How confident can we be that we are going to have Only Built for Cuban Linx Part 2 in our hands on Sept. 8?
Raekwon: 100 percent confident, you know what I mean? Like I said, you know, certain things happen for a reason, which I have no knowledge of controlling. But at the end of the day, this album is here, man. It’s here. Artwork is done, track listing is done, mastering is done. I don’t know what else to tell you, you know what I mean? It’s here, you know?

We did a couple of listening sessions, you know, the people was excited. They was happy, they was full, you know what I mean? It was like coming to Chef’s diner and you ate like you was at the Benihana’s, you know what I mean?

So, you know, I really feel confident about the body of work we did, and, you know, it’s here, man. It’s here and I’m so happy to get it to you and move on, man, because, you know, this is something that, it amazes me to know that I’m one of them artists that after fifteen years somebody would want a sequel to something I did from so long ago. So I’m kind of happy its done, We been through our blood, sweat and tears chambers with it and I’m excited to get it in your hands.

“It’s a hip-hop fuckin album. Not hip-hop R&B, you where every song has a fuckin R&B shit flying across it. I’m not saying that I hate that style of music, but I just feel like if you going to have an artist on there, let him or her bring some pain to the situation.”

Format: Any particular records off the album to look forward to?
Raekwon: I think they going to like the whole shit. I think the fans is definitely going to be impressed with just the whole format of how everything is going to be laid out because you got to remember this is a conceptual album. Its not like just me sayin ‘Ok, Rae put a bunch of songs and shit and just put them behind each other.’ It wasn’t carved out like that. This is something that’s going to get stronger to you as you listen to it more and at the same token, it’s a hip-hop fuckin album. Not hip-hop R&B, you where every song has a fuckin R&B shit flying across it. I’m not saying that I hate that style of music, but I just feel like if you going to have an artist on there, let him or her bring some pain to the situation.

I guess in my situation, we went back and grabbed Blue Raspberry, which is on the first album and I felt like she was definitely special to be a part of the second one. Everybody knows she has a beautiful voice. She can go from different tones and do what she do but this album is not carved out to be a hip hop and R&B album and I don’t have nothing against that, but for me, to make this kind of hip-hop it’s like it’s totally different from what you may expect form other artists.

If there was another artist that made something that was totally different we would probably root and cheer for him like, ‘Hell yeah, I’m happy he did it that way,’ Because it really depends on what kind of artist you are as well, you know what I mean?

From me, people do not want to hear that, you know what I’m saying.? They want raw hip-hop and I think that this album, it salutes that carpentry of what you want. There’s twenty tracks on there that going to have you being like: ‘Oh shit, yo, damn I needed this’ it’s like getting that meal that you ain’t had in a long time from your moms and you like: ‘Damn I needed this shit.’ That’s the kind of album that this is.

Connor Boals

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  1. Great interview, Shallah Raekwon breaks down the concept fo giving the people quality, and not co-signing any of these “rookies of the month flavor” rap niggas. I’m especially impressed with Rae not giving a flying fuck bout “radio” joint. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is exactly what the genre needs, an authentic street record.

    Long live the Chef!

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