Raekwon Talks ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’ Album, Ghostface Killah’s Guidance, Collaborating With Kendrick Lamar & More [EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW]
Raekwon’s groundbreaking hip-hop bible of sorts, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, celebrates its 20-year anniversary in August, but before he begins reflecting on the past with The Purple Tape Files, the Chef is preparing to drop his highly anticipated sixth studio album, Fly International Luxurious Art (F.I.L.A.).
The album, which is available for pre-order here, is a long time coming as Raekwon began promoting the project as early as 2013. While he spent two years working on the LP, the “Wall to Wall” rhymer blessed fans with a Lost Jewlry EP, the first effort released under his own Ice H2O Records. Then he continued to please his supporters with hardcore bars on "Son of Sam," "Whatever Baby" and the gangster-loving tribute to his female fans "All About You" featuring Estelle.
But just as fans were getting amped for Rae season, he took a break from his own project to devote his energy to his brothers, the Wu-Tang Clan, to craft their A Better Tomorrow effort last year. Thankfully, the Chef didn’t leave the kitchen for long. This time around, he paints vivid pictures wrapped in his gritty New York flow and focused more on the production end. He handpicked all of the beats to once again create the ultimate cinematic rap soundtrack.
With F.I.L.A., his first full-length solo album in four years, ready for an April 28 release, The Boombox chats with the MC to get down to the basics. During our talk, he addresses his musical relationship with RZA, drops knowledge on longevity in the game and even reveals which newer rapper he is looking to collaborate with next. Check out the discussion below.
The Boombox: We know about songs like "Wall to Wall" with French Montana that will be on the album. Describe another song you're excited for fans to hear that you haven't mentioned before.
Raekwon: To be honest with you, I can’t even choose just one because there are so many dope records on the album. One might hit me today and that might just be the one. But that’s how I have always tried to make my music. I always make every song as best as the last record, so that when I hear it collectively, I like all of them because I put my foot in this one.
Well, what’s your mood like today? Which song are you gravitating towards?
You know me, I like storytelling rhymes. It doesn’t really have to be about bragging or nothing, it’s just the way it sounds and feels in the car. I think it would have to be one of the songs I have by myself its called “Live and Die.” It’s me telling a story over a hard beat -- I call that my signature flow. Everyone knows Rae tells stories so I would really go with that one.
You worked with Estelle in the past on “Chop Chop Ninja” off Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang and again in 2013 on “All About You,” for this album. What is about her voice that you think adds to your music?
Yeah, I mean it really depends. I am a big fan of R&B music. You know we [Wu-Tang Clan] was always down with SWV and all that back in the day and you know we did some Jodeci records. As for Estelle, she’s a dope artist out of Britain and it goes with the whole Fly International Luxurious Art movement. Having someone out there with that voice and I am a big fan of hers, so it was the perfect mesh. I had a super producer come in and produce “All About You” and it just felt good so we went for it. I don’t mind working with artists I have worked with before because if we made great music, then let it be. But that record is more for the women and me thinking of y’all.
Listen to Raekwon's "Wall to Wall" Feat. French Montana & Busta Rhymes
Talk about a studio session for this project that is really memorable to you.
Well, you know I have that kind of story for the whole album. I been in the game -- a 20-year veteran -- so I just wanted to give people what they expected from me. But with a little bit more growth to it, a little more intellect. I wanted to really plan and map it out. I just tried to go in the studio and have fun. The greatest thing to an MC is to have the right production to get them motivated. For this album, I sat around with a lot of great people who listened to my music and got to understand the artist that I am and they also helped uplift it. That’s why when people listen to the album, they will hear that it’s full of color and adventure. I think I not only did my thing as just me being on records alone, but it’s the teamwork. Having other artists jump on it just started to develop it’s own type of sound. I wanted it to be a bigger sound.
For your Wu-Tang albums, there's a lot more team work going on. Who do you work closely with or turn to for advice on songs when it comes to finalizing a solo album like Fly International Luxurious Art?
I would definitely say Ghostface. Ghost is one of my favorites in the group. I love all of my brothers, but he was there more or less to give me some guidance on what he liked on the album or the features that I picked. He was always like the big brother I could call and ask for advice.
Last year, in a Rolling Stone interview, you mentioned that the Wu-Tang "is being compromised by RZA's so-called 'logic' of making music." Do you still feel that way?
We always have musical differences and directions of where we want our music to go. I guess that’s what always brings the best out of us. It’s that we are so critical of each other. Sometimes he might be on and sometimes he may be off. Sometimes I may be on and other times I’m not. But we have that relationship where we have to be like that sometimes with one another. That’s the yin and the yang. It’s like you don’t ever want your brothers to feel like you are setting them up for failure. But one thing I can say is if you allow someone to make you fail, then that’s on you. As a group, we are always going to remain one of the illest groups of all time, regardless of the climate of the record.
As far as the Wu-Tang album [A Better Tomorrow], we let him drive the bus. He had a concept, he had a vision and we all came together to fulfill the vision. We wanted more because we are still here doing it. All of this happened when I started working on my solo album so I had to put my work on the back burner. I said, "Let me see what’s going on and pay homage to the team."
Watch Raekwon's "All About You" Video Feat. Estelle
You are known for your cinematic approach to albums and storytelling. What kind of film would you compare Fly International Luxurious Art to?
That’s a good question. I think the album would be more like Casino, starring Robert De Niro. He’s one of my favorite actors. That’s how I do look at my music. Fly International Luxurious Art is not only a really good adventure, but it’s an album where you don’t have to worry about being bored with it. I call it a classic because it’s hard to make an album that you don’t have to touch. Anything that you can just put on and be like, "Yo this s--- is going to take me on a natural high." Then it becomes timeless and that’s how I always make music. I never come in and say, "Let me just get my two hot singles."
You have been in this game for more than two decades and have seen artists come and go. With your sixth solo album on the way, what are some of your tips for remaining one of the G.O.A.T.s in the business?
Stay humble and love what you do and don’t feel like you are over with. I think people start to feel like their time is up and they start to give up hope that they can never do it again. But as long as you attach yourself into knowing what’s going on and stay relevant with your peers in the game, that’s what keeps you at the top of your game. I think that a lot of the times our greats -- like the legends Big Daddy Kane and Rakim -- probably just had enough. Of course to me, they still do their thing, they are on another level of greatness. Their legend is more powerful because they were able to sit on that throne now and they used to sit from here [Raekwon moves his hands up and down to show levels of rank].
Which new artists are you checking for right now?
There are a couple of artists out there that are dope. I would like to work with Kendrick Lamar. I think he is really lyrical. That would be crazy. He has that aggressive flow. You know what I would want to do, honestly, with some of the dudes I want to work with? I just want to pick the beats because that’s what I did on this album. I made it my business to play an A&R position too, and get records that I felt complemented that artist. It’s the same with the French record -- me, French and Busta, I hand-selected them both for “Wall to Wall.”
So it’s architecture?
Yeah, just like that. Rae’s an architect. I like the sound of that.
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