Raekwon: The Cuban Linx II Interview
The wait is nearly over. After four years of work, and fourteen years of fan anticipation, the Chef has finally confirmed an August 11 release date for Only Built for Cuban Linx II (EMI). The journey was not without much adversity. Two high-profile executive producers, Busta Rhymes and Dr.Dre, dropped out for still undisclosed reasons. And with Dres departure, it also marked the loss of Aftermaths strong label support. But Raekwon persevered, and found success brokering a joint venture between his own Ice Water Records and EMI.
Now, judgment day will soon be upon us. Will Raekwon be able to capture the essence of his 1995 masterpiece, or will fans be treated to another respectable, but ultimately disappointing solo offering from the Chef?
AllHipHop.com: Its been over 10 years since the original Cuban Linx album. Of course in that span youve grown as a man and an artist. With those realities manifested in your current life, how did you approach the sequel as opposed to the 1995 original?
Raekwon: I just went back in there and basically visited my roots again by listening to the first album. It aint really no method to my madness, its just me still having the passion to make that kind of music. A lot of people wanted me to go back into that cocaine story, drug life world again. To me, thats the easiest sh*t for me to do. Im an artist who wants to constantly grow and come up with more creativeness. So for people to say they love that [Cuban Linx] vibe, style, the Chinese/karate flick sayings, the eerie sounds, I just put all that in my memory bank and really went back out there searching for that production. We came out successful with what we needed.
When we made the first Cuban Linx album, I remember having beats on there that were 4-5 years old, that I held onto like Im gripping these sh*ts right here! I dont give a f**k if theyre 10 years old, Im keeping these right here! And that became the same journey on Cuban Linx II. People love that new Wu Ohh, that beat is like 4 years old, b! But it sounds so fresh and so right that it still sounds new. I guess sh*t happens for a reason. That showed me I was on my way to making a classic. Im from that era that we work hard to make great music.
I took my time out to make sure I really did some soul-searching as far as the production side to really come up with making a classic. And I feel that its a classic off top. It aint no sh*t that youll say he tried to evolve with todays sound. Its what you want if you know who I am.
AllHipHop.com: Like you mentioned with Wu Ohh, you also have that classic RZA Wu Tang sound on Criminology 2. How was the chemistry with Dr. Dre on the songs you two worked on for the album?
Raekwon: Dre is a great friend. We met one time and had good chemistry. He gave me his word that he was here for me and wanted to be a part of this project. And once a man gives you his word, thats all you can stand on. So we made some heat and that was that. As far as going into anything else [businesswise], that started happening after the chemistry had been made. And when everything didnt pan out, we didnt let that supersede our friendship or our business ties. I just wanted to make sure the brother was on the album and had the opportunity to get in on this Cuban Linx sh*t.
I respect producers whether theyre a new jack, or someone who paved the way like Dre. Its just about coming up with that proper chemistry that I feel is the truth. And thats what happened [with Dre]. This was that classic world I wanted to be in. After I finished, I was like this is some sh*t right here. People are really going to love this one.
AllHipHop.com: When the original came out, you laid a modern blueprint on how to approach a cinematic album for your contemporaries in Nas (It Was Written), Jay-Z (Reasonable Doubt), and B.I.G. (Life After Death). Although the LP helped in creating a lot of memorable music, where there any Cuban Linx inspired trends that you disliked?
Raekwon: One thing about me, I dont really judge nobodys sh*t like that. A man is going to make whenever he feels he likes. I cant sit there and say a n*gga stole anything from me. You make your sh*t, I make my sh*t. Thats why I made my tape purple. I wanted n*ggas to know the difference between they sh*t, and my sh*t! Going through hearing n*ggas sh*t and seeing that they may have used the terminology the way we used it, I still wouldnt say anyone is near close to me. Just when you think youre close to me in the race, Im gonna fly and hit the turbo boost on you. All I can do is just worry about what the f**k I gotta do and when my time is to come.
I learned from n*ggas in the early 80s, dont get me wrong. We all learn from each other. At the same token I still got to make my path for me. I cant really say anybodys product is something I got to be pissed about. You Burger King, Im McDonalds, n*gga. It is what it is.
AllHipHop.com: Your last album was in 2003 but youve remained extremely busy, especially over the last year and a half. In that span, youve worked with Doom, Ill Bill, Big Boi, The Game, and a bunch of other artists. So looking at the industry today, who are other artists you look forward to working with or have worked with for this album?
Raekwon: Its a lot of people Id love to work with. Im in the zone where I got to prove to people that I can hold my own. Its more exciting for me to work as an artist thats in a creative zone right now. I dont want to base my sh*t off who Im working with. I work with people according to personality and if I respect your art. You dont have to be a multi-platinum artist for me to be a fan of you. You can be an up and comer, but if I feel you got it Im f**king with you.
Prime example is the cat Nipsey Hussle. Hes new, but one day his CD got inside my car. Before you know it I heard a line in his verse where he said my name on some big up sh*t, saluting me. And here I am saluting him as a good artist. It showed me that there are still people out there who get busy.
I want to work with some of the OGs in the game, too. I feel like paying respect to the ones who did it before us is due. You cant forget these cats. Just looking at the some of the producers I worked with on the album like Eric Sermon and Marley Marl. These are dudes that I grew up on that I really loved what they were making. They were making heat and classical music. Its all about respecting my origins.
AllHipHop.com: That philosophy pretty much defines why you reached out to Outkast for Skew It on the Bar-B. You were one of, if not the first NY emcee to really embrace the burgeoning mainstream Southern movement in Hip-Hop.
Raekwon: Yeah, I was the one that opened that door for those South kids to come through. Anybody will tell you that. When the South was down, Rae was there for them. A lot of sh*t that I do, it just happens. How that Outkast sh*t jumps off is Im pushing through the mall in the A, and I see the kid. And its like respect, kings respect kings. And we just got in the studio, I liked the n*ggas as individuals, and they looked at me the same way. We made history. I dont go after whos gonna help me on a marketing level.
AllHipHop.com: Youve blessed us with a Criminology 2 that captures the aura of the original. Is there any chance of us getting a Verbal Intercourse 2?
Raekwon: Thank you. We did the Criminology 2 because I felt that was a beat that I really loved. When me and Ghost did that one, we were like we want to start fights in the club. Not trying to promote violence, [but] you how youll be at a club and a fight goes down? And the music is still playing? Thats the vibe I got from Criminology. [The sequel] was just a bonus to let everyone know yo, get ready. Were still in our zone, we havent missed a beat.
Regarding Verbal Intercourse 2, Nas said hes gonna be on the album. Were still working on catching him. But if its not Verbal Intercourse 2, well come up with some new chemistry. And I think thats the most important thing, to revamp that and bring it back to life. These are my dudes from back in the day, like Mobb Deep, Nas, Fat Joe, and Big Pun, God bless the dead. You never know whats going to happen. Rae still got to move on as a general.
AllHipHop.com: On the last Wu album (8 Diagrams), you and Ghost really didnt care for where RZA was taking the production. When you hooked back him for your project, where there any issues with getting the sound you wanted from him? Or did everything flow like the original Cuban Linx?
Raekwon: One thing about RZA is hes like the Wizard of Oz. Hell give what he feels like giving you, but he has other sh*t that he doesnt really admire too much because it doesnt represent his growth and development process. I knew he already had it; its just hard to get him to go back into his bag of goodies because hes so used to dealing with another bag right now.
So that was the situation with the first album. I felt like yo, I want this sound. But he was like this is going to be the new sound! So now it happens to be a want situation. RZA is the type where youll ask for this, and hell give you something else. But he always has what you want [laughs]. You may have to search for a little bit, do some soul searching, but youll find what you need. Thats why happened on Cuban Linx II. I got what I needed from him for my sh*t.
[On 8 Diagrams], whatever else he wanted to grow on, we werent crazy over it. And thats the whole thing people took out of context. No one tried to take anything away from RZA as a producer. It was more or less you cant be selfish, and have to work with everybodys ears and eyes on something. Him being the dude that he is with mad platinum albums, some n*ggas be super cocky. I dont wanna hear nothing, I got this. Thats what happened in that situation.
AllHipHop.com: I talked with Funkmaster Flex last year, and we discussed how in 1995 you, Nas, and B.I.G. were viewed as the top artists out of NYC. And of course around this time is when the mythical King of New York title began to take on a tangible form. But out of the three, you were the only one that never really fed into that competition. Why did that race never really appeal to you?
Raekwon: All that right there my n*gga is just egos jumping off the curb. If youre a king, youre a king. I never really jumped into that world because I didnt have anything to prove at that time. My music was speaking for itself. Everybody wants to be on top, when theyre on top. I want to still be able to walk amongst the people, instead of being looked at as yo, you cant touch me. I always like to be in the mix. You got some dudes that feel like theyre so high; they cant come back down to reality. I didnt want to fall in that position, because Im really a street n*gga. I really come from this and live it. Everything you hear, see, or witness from me, its because of my struggle. I never let myself get super-egod up just because I had a hot f**king album out. Im always going to be grounded and respecting people who helped my career and life.
But I am a silent king. I dont do a lot of bragging and boasting. Its like when you come into a club and see a n*gga flashing all this money, just to show a b**ch he got money. Some b**ches dont like that sh*t. Theyre like real n*ggas dont show sh*t. Thats the same motto I have in regards to being a successful artist. I dont have to be in the flyest V, you might catch me in a rental, b. Im still live, though. I can have one chain on and the n*gga next to me can have 1,000 chains on. The most important thing is to be you and stay grounded.
I love the fly sh*t. But that dont make me.
AllHipHop.com: There comes a time for everyone when they realize their generations culture has become a thing of the past. When you look at Hip-Hop in 2009, have you felt or are starting to feel that when you analyze todays Hip-Hop culture?
Raekwon: Hip-Hop is about us showing each other growth and creativity. I dont really get that too much anymore. There are so many fans out there; theyre not even fans anymore. Theyre rappers! Me and my people had a discussion about how sales are so important to fans right now. Oh, this dude only did 100,000. This guy only did 40,000 or 130,000. When the f**k did fans start paying attention to that sh*t?! Does it make a difference? Lets talk about the music, man! The f**k n*ggas is worried about everything else for? Thats the sh*t that makes me weary with the game right now. Its just a hot mess.
Every generation goes through its own trends and sh*t. All that sh*t is not important. Its about making good and authentic music. You cant base an artists merit on sales. Everyone is not going to be a 5 million seller. When I came in the game, I didnt give a f**k about none of that sh*t. I was coming to get my respect. I wanted to hear people say he gets busy, he puts it down, he can rhyme. But now, these artists they get big headed because they sell millions. It makes you a fortunate cat, but it doesnt make you that n*gga. Im just old-fashioned, I want n*ggas to really earn it.
Its just like how boxing is f**ked up right now because we aint got no real live heavyweights. Whos an [American] heavyweight right now? We aint even f**king got one! Its f**ked up to me. Thats the sh*t we got to pay attention to [in Hip-Hop]. The art is special. When you get a golden child you want to feel like he paid his dues. Not like he got help for another artist to blow up.
AllHipHop.com: No matter what, the great music will stand the test of time, regardless of sales.
Raekwon: Exactly! I think thats the most important thing. You can make a good album, but will it stand the test of time? Will a mother**ker pop it in 10 years from now? Same thing with Cuban Linx. When I made that album, I didnt think people would still want me to come with a part 2. There are about 2 rappers out of 2,000 that people want a sequel to one of his classics. Thats incredible. I feel honored to be in that box. People really paid attention to what Ive done. Thats what its all about. The people are saying We know [Rae] has it in him to do it again, and we know hell do it.