Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Interview II (September 2009) | Interview By:
Jonathan Hay and DJ Atlas Jenkins|
“I realized what kind of artist I am…I’ve never been a commercial artist,” says Raekwon,
in this Dubcnn exclusive interview. Fourteen years after the nostalgic and original
masterpiece Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was released, Raekwon follows it up with the highly
anticipated sequel, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II. Fans and Critics alike are already
labeling this new album as an instant classic. With its acclaimed reviews and worldwide
fanfare, Raekwon is back in demand and giving fans what they want: “Cocaine Rap” as he
Die-hard fans demand more from this Wu-Tang Clansmen, arguably one of the most important
and successful groups in hip-hop history. As this skilled swordsmith from the “W” sharpens
his blade for another slice from the Big Apple’s elite, Rae comes out swinging with vengeance,
cutting down anything that comes across his path. He brought his group of brothers along,
too, and they sound more fresh and revitalized than they have in this decade. The Wu-Tang
Clan has reemerged.
Dubcnn sent Jonathan Hay and DJ Atlas Jenkins out on an assignment (or should we say a
blessing) to talk to the Chef himself and find out directly from the horse’s mouth what
he has been cooking up in the kitchen. Raekwon sheds some amazing, provocative and
insightful light on his new album, which boasts an all-star production cast, including
Dr. Dre, J Dilla and, of course, RZA, among others.
We also candidly talk about some historical Wu-Tang moments, including some of the
vastly publicized, past troubles and controversial disputes within the Clan. Raekwon
doesn’t hold back on anything and drops non-stop jewels all throughout this evocative
conversation. It’s with great pleasure we bring you: Raekwon.
As ever, be sure to leave your feedback in our forums or email them to
Interview was done in September 2009
Jonathan Hay And DJ Atlas Jenkins
Interview Assistance By: Sabrina
Dubcnn Exclusive – Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Interview II
By: Jonathan Hay And DJ Atlas Jenkins
What up my niggas!
Dubcnn: Rae, it is an honor and a privilege…
Thank you! It is an honor to fuck with you all niggas right now, no doubt.
Dubcnn: With the new album, Only Built for Cuban Linx II, what was the biggest difference
in the thought process of the preparation of this one and the first one?
It’s just a flashback to the project for me. It’s just me going back, talking that drug
dealer shit and basically not even looking at it, as I’m a celebrity. To me, it just the
skills and being that true, fresh emcee. I went in and studied the tapes of the first Cuban Linx.
Dubcnn: That is classic shit no doubt.
I know a lot of people since my first album look at me like I’m still that kid over the
stove and they want that back, so I, like, did that again for my niggas. I went back to that
drug-rap that shit that I came from when I wasn’t a star. At the end of the day, I just wanted
to go back to that world when it wasn’t about the radio spins, or the whole business, marketing
and selling process… I didn’t think about none of that this time around. I just went in with
that raw shit, that raw heat. I just did my thing and I didn’t worry about making a hundred
hooks, because that was never me. I realized what kind of artist I am. I’ve never been a
commercial artist, so I just went back to rocking that Champion shit… that old sweatshirt shit
Dubcnn: How did you creatively prepare for that? Did you go back to the same spots where
you grew up? How did you get back in that Staten State of Mind?
My thing is to know where I came from is to know where I gotta go. I always shoot back
and forth to the hood anyway. A lot of my friends are still there that I got a lot of respect for.
I think the key to my method this time is that this is what I love to rhyme about… I just try to
chill out and not flood the world with that shit, because at the end of the day, I got much more
growth and development in me. But when it comes to that street shit and giving you all the most
craziest stories that you could ever think of, and it’s so vivid that you can actually picture it
and see it as a movie being made. That is really the easiest shit for me, because that is my
department when you really look at it. I love to rhyme about the street shit. If I could keep
rhyming about shit like that, I’d do it, but sometimes that shit doesn’t take me to the next level
as far as where I want to be at as an emcee. So to really step back into that barrier of talking
that drug rap, that’s the easiest shit in the world for me because I lived that…
See, my niggas, it’s no fabrication when it comes to that… I still know niggas in the hood
that have been selling drugs for over 30 years. It’s like, damn my nigga you still getting
something out of that? But I got to step back and remember that I was a part of that. If I
wasn’t doing this, I could easily have been that same nigga. Some shit you don’t forget so
easy… I’ve never been that kind of artist where I feel I don’t respect my roots. That is the
shit that made me a man, on a real level… that lifestyle and it taught me so much on how to be
a businessman. It taught me how to keep the struggle game up, and keep your hustle up. Certain
things are like a walk in the park for me, especially when it is time to talk about that lifestyle.
I just got to remember all the shit that I was going through when I was doing it… I come from a
real legacy of emcees too, not only from my group, but also being influenced by the early nineties
niggas, that shit is painted on my face forever my niggas! So it’s nothing for me to go back and
talk that drug talk because I know how to do that. But at the same time, the thing that pisses me
off though is I don’t like steering our kids off into that shit and influencing young kids into
that world again.
Dubcnn: The thing that is fascinating about your music is that it doesn’t steer young folks
today, but gives them a descriptive narrative of what you went through and have seen… Honestly,
it’s almost like a “scared straight” for hip-hop…
Exactly. You right. You are 100% right!!! That’s how I look at it, at the end of the day,
I’m giving you II [Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II] and it’s basically a narrative movie of that
lifestyle. At the same time, I watch a lot of kids talk and they are nowhere from around this
shit, b. You feel me? It’s like, these mutha-fuckers throw a gold chain on it and some uptowns
or some air forces and automatically think they’ve been there… That’s what I’m talking about.
All these kids are infatuated with the shit that they really have no knowledge about… Our thing
was, when we were in the streets, we were really in the streets and we were trying to get the
fuck up out of the streets… We wasn’t letting the streets take over us. It’s like a lot of times
now, these kids are trying to be tough, but that ain’t what it’s about bro. You are supposed to
be a stepping ladder for you to be able to get OUT the hood and get away from it and grow as a man.
Dubcnn: Definitely, Rae!
But nowadays people start believing these raps and they think they actually lived it. Real
niggas can tell, like come on b – you just writing shit on paper. You can almost hear what a
nigga is going to say as soon as he says his first two bars… Like, alright here he come again,
now he want to be the biggest drug dealer on the block. Most of these niggas have never sold a
crack in their life.
Dubcnn: Most of them probably never had too.
Exactly and I respect the kids who grew up and never had too. If you was successful
without ever having to touch it, then that is a good thing for you man. But don’t start
talking about stuff that you really don’t know about. It’s like I want to believe you man,
but I just can’t believe you man… streets know the streets.
Dubcnn: Have you ever thought about getting involved with youth organizations, or just
speaking to young people about different things that can affect their life?
Dubcnn: I think we might have another side career beyond hip-hop…
Yo… and you know what, at the end of the day, I have no problem doing that because
it’s always good to hear it from the horses mouth. I have knowledge of self and I can
break down my experiences and make sure they don’t go down the same paths. I’m seeing
a lot of niggas dying man… This shit ain’t cool. It’s ain’t cool when you see little niggas
fucking up their future because they don’t have the right perception of what to do. It
fucks with me sometimes… I try to talk about the positive things and drop a jewel, but it
seems like every time I drop a jewel, everybody be like, no we don’t want no jewels.
They don’t want jewels from me – they want that cocaine rap. That’s when you see me do
the fake pictures with the cocaine all over my face and I do certain shit because I
realize now it’s a movie I’m making, not more or less about me anymore.
Dubcnn: We want to take it back to the Chamber for a second…
Dubcnn: When you all first formed the Wu-Tang Clan – was it both affiliates and rivals
from Staten Island? Did RZA come to you guys individually with a plan that he wanted the
best emcees from around that area, Rae, how did that whole initial process take place?
Well, number one, RZA was the dude that basically did a lot of traveling during his
early days. He would be in Brooklyn, he lived in Staten Island and different parts of
Staten Island. RZA was a product of a hungry artist coming up there… So when he would
come around, we knew his energy was strictly about music. RZA was never another drug
dealer out there in the streets. He was a dude that always had a lot of knowledge and
he loved music, so once we seen that in him, we all decided to fuck with him, because
that would be our leisure time to get away from the police when it was hot outside. If
it is hot, I’m going to RZA’s house (laughing).
Dubcnn: Laughing hysterically with Raekwon)
Real talk my niggas, so at the end of the day, RZA got a certain amount of cats that
would fuck with him from the hood that would come over to his crib on their own spare time
and he kind of like molded these cats into really wanting to do this shit. All of us had
question marks on our heads, because we would all love to do it, especially because he
believed in us – but honestly, we all felt so far away from the reality that the shit could
really happen. Where we come from, 9 times out of 10 – your dreams don’t come true. I think
he gave dudes that last amount of hope to believe in this shit. Me myself, I was fucking with
RZA, back when GZA first got his record deal…
Dubcnn: On GZA’s first album?
Yea, when RZA did “Words from the Genius” – we was all real happy for GZA. Everybody
knew that he was ill in the hood, because we knew a lot of the older brothers who would freestyle,
the freestyle kings… And I’m talking about the real freestyle kings now, not so much lyrical niggas
– but real freestyle kings – and they all knew GZA had it too. We all knew that GZA had it to be a
star. And being that he was RZA’s cousin, it kind of gave everybody a since of hope when they seen
that he made a record. Then, when RZA made a record, it was like, ohhh shit! Back then, when a nigga
from your hood was on a real album - - that was a big thing. So RZA already had his vision and shit.
He had his relationships already in the hood where he was good with certain niggas and I think all
that did was really give everybody an opportunity to know that their dreams really could come true.
We actually could be heard and to sense we were the forgotten borough that mutha-fuckers didn’t really
fuck with cause you had to come across the water and all that… RZA made it possible for niggas to be
heard. So when he went out and did his thing – and his thing didn’t grow at a level that he wanted,
he came back and got his crew. He picked a select elite from different areas and brought everybody to
the forefront and he said listen, this is what I’m trying to do and I feel like you guys are the ones
that can help me get it done. We just went it with our heart, the shit that we knew of from the street
and the little bit of talent that we had within ourselves and just went for it and believed in it.
Once we believed in it… it became what is was.
Dubcnn: So what was that like when you all reached the tipping point, and now you are actually
inside the group, as one of the Wu-Tang Clan and the whole world is watching you, literally worldwide.
Here you are… guys from Staten Island, who are now a phenomenon - what is that really like?
I mean, I guess it’s got something to do with dreams. I look at it like this, for each
one of us to make it like that, we each had to be some kind of respectful men at some point.
I could see a lot of people inside the crew that really had good hearts and good intentions
of doing right, so I guess the Most High blessed us because each of us had a good heart. We
were very fortunate, because like I said, we came from a place where nobody really gets heard
or gets to shine. People leave out of this mutha-fucker either to jail, or they get killed…
So while we were dealing with that, we all had visions of being successful on this level. We
went in with our heart and RZA and GZA were the leaders… They were good brothers and very smart
brothers and they were just real good to around too. That’s important too, when a nigga can
come around and take you from a negative to a positive, you will get your blessings from behind
that. That's what I think happened, RZA just snatched the proper elite to really run with and
make brothers see what it really is. We did it! Mutha-fuckers from the hood did it right and
pulled it off at the right time. We came with something new at a perfect time.
Dubcnn: Let’s talk about, Only Built for Cuban Linx II. You’ve got Wu-Tang all over this
album, so when it came time to creatively choose who would appear on the songs for the project,
how did that process transpire?
At the end of the day, I believe in niggas regardless. I’m around real lyrical cats’ man
and our thing has always been production. We always told RZA, we are that class that was taught
from yesterday’s class that really makes us be the lyrical niggas that we are. Even if we aren’t
trying to be lyrical, somebody will always come in and say something slick to make the next
nigga say something slick, and next thing you know, you got a bunch of slick talking niggas
on a record (laughs). We all feed off each other.
Dubcnn: What about some of the highly publicized problems, or past issues within the group?
I think our whole issue with that shit was, we needed stronger production and when you
are dealing with a cat such as RZA, who broke so many different records, in so many different
ways… He became a little arrogant in what we believed in him. He felt like he had so much to
prove, like Kanye was catching up to him, or this one, or Timbaland – or whoever… He started
even going a little too far for us. We were like, hold up, that ain’t our sound RZA. He
would be like, trust me, I did it then right Rae, so just do what I ask you to do. Aight
money, you are the master. But then, there was a lot of question marks when we were asked
our opinion if we really liked it or not. I would always be the one who sit back and tell
RZA, you can’t go too far with dudes, because sometimes everybody might not be ready to go
as far as you.
Dubcnn: Wow, man.
You got to keep dudes in their lanes where they are powerful at. If I’m a racehorse, and
I need that wheat grass in me, don’t give me nothing new – just keep me with the wheat grass.
(laughs) Give me what I am used to eating and I can perform better, but when you try
to give me something different and it doesn’t digest in me correct – you got to at least go
back and give me the right shit. I think that was the main issue. Even with the
8 Diagrams, I wasn’t really just trying to play my brother or nothing like that.
I would never do that to him. I did let him know that he was putting “I” in team right now
and that ain’t cool. When we came up in the early nineties, everybody’s efforts were important
to our success… everybody.
Dubcnn: Just from me as a fan, I really started to notice a difference with Iron Flag.
Although it is a great album, with some classic songs, the sound was a little different,
it still worked and it was dope… but you could tell something was changing. Were any of
those issues creeping up then during that album?
Yea… We felt RZA was sneaking in a lot of other shit, because he is a producer and that
is what producers do. One thing about evil genius’ and scientists’ is that once they make
something that is historical, they want to try and make something again. They want to try
and do other shit, because they don’t sit on one element. I understand that, but at the same
token you’ve got to know what works for your labatory too. Move forward, but it’s got to be
to the speed of the class… You can’t be the smartest nigga in the class and think that everyone
else is going to know what you know. It can’t be just one man to decide the feat of 9 individuals.
At the time, when we had been in the game for over ten years, we had to go back to what people
wanted from us. It’s the same thing for me too… People wanted the Cuban Linx II… They wanted
that cocaine rap. Now, I could go and give you all something else… but I might be going a little
too far for you all, so I got to respect what the fans want because you all pay your money for
what you want. We can’t bring experiments to the table, when all they want is a Big Mac. I ain’t
asking for no horseradish on my burger… I just want a regular burger. (laughs)
Dubcnn: Speaking of production, what is the biggest difference between working with Dr. Dre and RZA?
They are both scientists who are out to prove that they can come with a ill sound again.
Two scientists who each say I respect your mustache, you respect my mustache (laughs) and we’ll
get on this album together and work extra hard to make something new, that the next producers
work ten times harder as well. It’s like friendly competition, but it’s done so fine that it’s
like two great leaders amongst you. Like I’ve said before, Dre is someone that comes from
another coast so he is going to come with a different sound, but he is 100% hip-hop. It
becomes interesting for the project to me, because when you are sitting there and you got
a J Dilla, a RZA and a Dre - - that’s history alone. They are 3 giants!!! Dilla to me is
like a combination of RZA and Dre. For my situation, I’m super blessed to have them and
all the opportunities that have happened to me in my career. Now a lot of people may say,
yo you didn’t need Dre or J Dilla – God bless the dead…. all you need is RZA – but I don’t
agree when you are making a classic. A classic is let it be what it is going to be man.
If it is beautiful, let it be beautiful… Don’t ever act like it time for no more improvement.
We work hard my niggas. When I made the CD purple, I made it that way for a reason to make
people look at something different…
Dubcnn: A lot of people are excited about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II – and you’ve kind
of revitalized the die-hard Wu-Tang fans even more with raising the bar even higher.
It just shows me that so many people are paying attention to who I am and they believe
in me. I feel like these cats believed in me, like we could pull it off again and make an
exciting, creative classic album again for mutha-fuckers. I’m going to let the music speak
for itself, my nigga…