Only Built for Cuban Linx is a classic dish that The Chef, Raekwon, served up in 1995 and 11 years later people are still looking for seconds. Only Built for Cuban Linx II is set for release in early `07 and after his VH1 Hip-Hop Honors props, Raekwon feels like his career is, again, just beginning.
Considering himself one of the last Mohicans in hip-hip, Rae maintains his authenticity and places priority on time when making records; not making records for money, but for the sake of his art. Vintage bangers like â€œRainy Dayzâ€ and â€œVerbal Intercourseâ€ lift the bar for OBFCL II and with The Chefâ€™s buffet of styles, rap fans wait in anticipation for an album Raekwon says, â€œWill be cinematic.â€
Format: Itâ€™s been 11-years since your first album, Only Built for Cuban Linx, how have you seen yourself grow?
Raekwon: Since my first album, I see myself as one of the illest artists youâ€™ve ever met in your life. I keep growing with time, I take lyricism real important, itâ€™s not like Iâ€™m trying to sit here and be the best lyricist, but Iâ€™m trying to be one of the best lyricists. I wouldnâ€™t say too much has changed except my vocabulary and maneuvering of words and mastering all kinds of flows. You gotta remember, Iâ€™m the Chef, so Iâ€™m always going to come out with different dishes and them dishes are my technique, like how I may challenge a beat that I really like or I may rhyme with more style, or I may rhyme with more conceptâ€¦I just get better with time.
Format: On your first album, you said, there was a cinematic theme. What is the theme or baseline of Only Built For Cuban Linx Two?
Raekwon: Itâ€™s going to be cinematic, itâ€™s the lifestyle of a drug dealer, you know all the things that brothers can respect, you knowâ€¦when you think about Only Built for Cuban Linx you think about the dudes that we really said was those kind of dudes, so I really just travel back in that direction just to let cats know that the streets definitely made me the person that I am. I have no problem going back to that type of format for this album, which is the same format we were dealing with 11-years-ago. So I just need to step it up more and create the visual again to make dudes be like, â€˜Yeah thatâ€™s the kind of shit we lookin for.â€™ Thatâ€™s cocaine rap.
Format: You have Dr. Dre, RZA and the late J. Dilla on production. What was your involvement with him, because I know Ghost did some work with him?
Raekwon: Well first and foremost I want to say RIP to that brother, I wish he was here so I can shake his hand and tell him thanks. Busta was the man that was basically the catalyst to that situation. You know Iâ€™ve been a fan of Dillaâ€™s work watching him do various projects. Busta had a CD of his one day and was like, â€˜How do you like that?â€™ And, I was like he sounds so much like he and RZA got a lot in common. I just heard him and I respected his talent and we talked on the phone one time, and then he had that tragic incident, but you know if feels good to deal with that cat, and really learn more about him. I never really knew he was as big as he was, so to me it was like dealing with a legend in his own art, you know.
Format: In the last 11-years, what has been the largest challenge, for you, in hip-hop?
Raekwon: Iâ€™ve seen more or less the creativity side, you know what I mean, people are following trends of other dudes and itâ€™sâ€“really hip-hop is becoming more cosmetic. No one is really trying to make an album that is really making an impression. People are really coming with the radio and commercial, and that kind of world. I know when I first started doing music I didnâ€™t have any concern about how the media was going to take it, but it was more or less about the fans, but now it seems itâ€™s more about the media too. You know, if the media ainâ€™t satisfied with your work they donâ€™t know how to distinguish your shit to be looked at on another level. Like, when I dropped various albums before, people felt like I was serving cocaine rap, regardless if it had a concept that had a positive direction. They didnâ€™t really get to hear, because the people who were exploiting it they werenâ€™t happy with my talent. Say for instance, you donâ€™t like something that is not Cuban Linx, but to you it may sound good, but you still want Cuban Linx and if you feel youâ€™re not getting that then youâ€™re going to put in the review that Iâ€™m not on my job. A lot of motherfuckers donâ€™t look at a dudeâ€™s talent and respect it for what it is. I think thatâ€™s what a lot of people need to start to understand, you say you want a person to grow but when they grow you donâ€™t want them to grow, because you want what you want. Itâ€™s kind of like being selfish to the artist and at the same time being selfish to yourself for not letting the artist to have opportunity to show what he can do.
Format: Instead of being this redundant artist that comes out with the same thing all the time.
Raekwon: Yeah, itâ€™s like where Iâ€™m from you wear the same pair of sneakers and [if] everybody got them on somebody is going to shoot to the next pair. Itâ€™s just out of respect, itâ€™s like alright we know thatâ€™s the shoe but now itâ€™s time to move on to the next shoe you know what I mean? It just seems like some people donâ€™t want it to go down like that, they just want that Uptown and I ainâ€™t going to lie, I love AF1s, but every now and then I see something that attracts meâ€¦if it looks hot it looks hot!
Format: On the track â€œSneakersâ€ you said youâ€™re an Adidas freak, are Adidas still the shoe that you rock?
Raekwon: You know what son, itâ€™s ill that you just said Adidas just now my dude, because Iâ€™m sittin right here at the table with a brand new pair of black shell toe Adidas right here in my face, thatâ€™s ill you said that.
Format: Other than Adidas, what other sneakers attract your eye?
Raekwon: I have an eye for all types of stuff. My sneakers go from Adidas all the way to Louis Voutton, Gucci sneakers, Prada. Whatever I feel looks good on me and like I said, Iâ€™m a big sneaker fan but for the most part Iâ€™ll always love the Uptowns, thatâ€™s always going to be one of my selections. At the same time there is other shit that a kid wants to look at too, because Iâ€™m tired of looking at the same shoe all the time.
Format: Have you ever put a pair or kicks on ice?
Raekwon: Nah, when I was younger I may have done that, but everybodyâ€“actually, I got a pair of sneakers right now that I didnâ€™t rock yet and the kicks is made out of tennis ball fur so its like Iâ€™m just trying to make sure I rock the right outfit, they were a gift to me from this group called Alife. Just imagine a sneaker made out a tennis ball.
Format: Right now, how many sneakers do you own?
Raekwon: I canâ€™t even count, I may go through 600 pair of Uptowns a year. You know how we love sneakers. Sneakers is part of your forte of the person you are. People probably donâ€™t look at it like that, but when you come from the block you know your sneakers are important. When people see good sneakers on your feet they know youâ€™re alright and youâ€™re up to par.
Format: What are the first pair of sneakers that you copped and decided to keep clean?
Raekwon: The first pair I got that I really appreciated was when AF1sâ€™ started changing the colors and they had the straps on them. Like the green and white pair when they first came out and I used to love them shoes, because I used to rock them with Coca-Cola shirts. You know the Coca-Cola had the green and white, blue and white, and red and white, and it was like the Uptown Airs were made for those types of shirts. Like those rugby shirts you know what I mean? I really tried to hold on to my green pair, because I had the olive green.
Format: You talked about emcees and how a lot of them are saying lines but they arenâ€™t really saying anything?
Raekwon: Yeah, I mean itâ€™s like when we go to the movies, now, Iâ€™m a the level where I really want to see a good movie, I just donâ€™t want to see a movie, I want to see something where I can say, â€˜Yo, I really enjoyed that movie.â€™ And, thatâ€™s what I really donâ€™t feel in hip-hop no more. There are a lot of people out there doing their thing. All praises due to the man that can hold his, but as far as me, I want people to know that Rae is a visionary and he can go wherever we ask him to go, but we can also respect where he wants to go to. Itâ€™s like making a cake, going back to the cocaine rap, itâ€™s really just a form of hunger that I really feel needed to bring back to the forefront of the table. Iâ€™m doing it for the people first and me next. Any other time it would be me first but this one is for yaâ€™ll, because I know a lot of people across the world recognize me as a legend at what I do. Iâ€™m almost like a civil rights movement. When we started that movement and then we just left it alone.
Format: Has anyone come close to your style?
Raekwon: I donâ€™t know, to me thatâ€™s like a double-edge sword. Like, you do hear dudes flip they flows and they styles, and you hear producers with the same kind of soundwaves that we once dealt with before. To me, you really canâ€™t be looked at as leaders if you canâ€™t be the artist that everyone doesnâ€™t want you to be. I think itâ€™s so important for artists to step they game up and really start making good albums, because now the game is fucked up with all the downloading, that really put a damper on the financial aspect of selling records. I think if you make something that people are really going to love they will go and get your shit.
Format: Nasâ€™ new album is titled Hip-Hop is Dead, whatâ€™s your opinion on that?
Raekwon: Itâ€™s dead to a degree where some of that makes sense. You know, it makes sense to me, but it doesnâ€™t have to make sense to the world. I understand where heâ€™s coming from, but as far as me, hip-hop is what you make it. There are many kinds of hip-hop, there is graffiti hip-hop, there is hip-hop with skateboarders, you see what Lupe and them are doing, theyâ€™re opening up other avenues of hip-hop, but itâ€™s about respecting all kinds of hip-hop. The radio gets caught up into the suit and tie hip-hop, and the money side of it instead of looking at whoâ€™s really rhyming, and who be like, â€˜Yo I put on this catâ€™s CD and I donâ€™t what he just said but it sounds sweet!â€™ Itâ€™s like you still want to have that passion for it and itâ€™s like that passion is fading. So I guess thatâ€™s where that kid is coming from, as far as what he is saying. Itâ€™s like itâ€™s just for kids now. They want it to be so much for kids. To me hip-hop is crazy right now.
Format: Youâ€™ve said that your career has just begun and there is a lot of work you have left to do. Can you expand on that?
Raekwon: Yo, there is a lot, but I want to be able to drop more product because you know I only have three albums solo in my whole career and Iâ€™ve been involved with maybe 25-30 albums. And, as far as the Chef, I didnâ€™t really feel like I got a chance to show my talent to my ability. I always play tag team with somebody else and their project or Wu projects, but now I want to break the barriers and do different things. It ainâ€™t like I like to be away from my fans doing for four or five years not doing albums, but it happens like that and now Iâ€™m ready to make a change. Itâ€™s like starting all over bringing it back to them Champion hoodies and take off the suede for a minute, and love the art of what I like to do. When I listen to the music I want to smile again.
Format: Recently, Wu-Tang was honored at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors, but Ghostface was missing, whatâ€™s the word on that?
Raekwon: To be honest and Iâ€™m not going to sugarcoat nothing, I donâ€™t know where Ghost was at. In a way, it kind of hurt me, but you know brothers is grown and at the end of the day people will look at the things the way they look at them. Me, I was pissed off and he knows it. I look at it like, wow itâ€™s your birthday homie and youâ€™re not here for your birthday, wow.
Format: At the end of the day, what do you want your art to say?
Raekwon: I just want my just due, you see, me, Iâ€™m not one of these young cats that come with a one hit wonder. I want it be like when Chefâ€™s shit come out you can bet your ass in 20-years it will still stand next to the illest emcees that are out then. I feel very much underrated, but I feel respected and dominant. Itâ€™s really to let the fans know I didnâ€™t give up on my skill, or I didnâ€™t lose anything. I still tried to be conscious and represent the street side, which I always do. You have to teach the kids through the music. I really take this art seriously.
More Info: http://www.raekwonthechef.com/