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Bite My Wire – Raekwon Interview Bite My Wire – Raekwon Interview

It's a bit crazy to think that Raekwon dropped his killer debut, ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’, twenty years ago this year, let alone the fact that the group that introduced him to the world at large - Staten Island's legendary Wu-Tang Clan - dropped their debut twenty TWO years ago this year. Most of the early Wu solo albums are still considered to be some of the greatest slabs of hip-hop ever created, and with very good reason, ‘Only Built…’ is widely regarded as the best of these.
When rappers and producers today are still citing these works as massive influences, it'd be a shame for their creators to either disappear into obscurity or to rely upon past glories to keep them afloat in the shark-infested waters of modern music. Thankfully, Raekwon has done neither, and doesn't look like he's considering these options anytime soon. With his latest modern masterpiece – ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’ - having just dropped (and a documentary to follow, and more touring), we spoke to him about why he wasn't down for the Wu-Tang reunion, the importance of delivering a quality product and, of course, skateboarding.

What are you doing in the UK right now?

Well I came out here to talk to cats like yourself, and talk about this new album that I’ve just hit y’all with. It’s called Fly International Luxurious Art. I just wanted to make my days about contacting the media and getting the word out to the fans that this album’s here.

This album seemed to take longer than you planned. You announced it a couple of times before it actually got finished – did everything that happened with ‘A Better Tomorrow’ affect your own personal productivity?

Nah, I would just say that it was a different time, you know? I wanted to drop this album around the time that I wanted to last year, but the Wu-Tang project was right there so I didn’t ever want to clash with that and make it me competing with my own family on dropping a product, you know? It was really just me getting the opportunity to take my time. I felt anyway that this album needed to come out in the summer, so everything pretty much happened for a reason. I was just happy to push it back and have it come out around the summer. There wasn’t no pressure; everything was smooth.

It sounds like it’s made up of a lot more written pieces than samples.

You know me man, I’m just a hip-hop fella. I love music and I really try to not think about what’s a sample and what’s not, you know? It’s gotta feel good, and that’s the most important thing to me, just giving you a body of work that feels good. I love samples, I love instruments, I love everything. As long as it sounds good, and it feels good and I can rhyme to it – that’s what I’m down for, you know?

I hear that man. The production on the track ‘F.I.L.A. World’ is next level, it’s beautiful…

Thank you.

…and it’s dope to hear an actual legend come out with something as fresh as that. A lot of guys in your position keep trying to recreate their first album nowadays.

Right. Everybody don’t actually take their craft as serious as others. Sometimes you get bored, I guess. Sometimes the music puts you in a state of mind where you don’t have the same passion as you used to tho’. But for me, I go search to give you quality shit, you know what I mean? I will go wherever it takes just to make it happen tho’, it’s to each his own. Some artists work hard like that, some don’t. For me, I’m always down to work hard tho’.

People like Nas, Public Enemy and GZA have been touring their big albums lately. You must have been asked to take your debut record on the road.

Oh yeah. This is the 20th anniversary, so we’re gonna get ready to do all that this year. I’ve never actually done that before, go out and play one album, so it’s gonna be interesting to see that this year. I’m definitely making it my business to travel the world this year and give you a little bit of everything. A little bit of the new album and a little bit of the classic album as well.

Why didn’t you tour with the Wu when they hit the UK?

I’m sorry to say I wasn’t on that tour because I was scheduled for other events. I couldn’t attend.

Do you think smaller, artist-run labels are the future, or are major labels more important than ever? Are artists in a better place to take care of their own business right now, or is it still the mountain climber who plays an electric guitar?

It’s always good to have a label’s support because when you are a young brand you need as much support as you can get when it comes to pushing your music out there. But when you reach a level of status where your brand is already speaking for itself it kinda gives you that window where you can explore it on your own, and just know the fine line. For instance, myself, I haven’t been on a label for maybe six or seven years or whatever the case may be, and I think these last six or seven years are probably some of the best in my career so far. I made a lot of money, I’m still traveling and I’m making sure I know my destiny.

You’ve made a lot of your music free over the years, with your mixtapes. What inspires that? ‘Lost Jewlry’ (2013) ended up being pretty huge.

Yeah, sometimes I have these moments where I just want to give out things. It ain’t always about receiving money from music. My thing was always just to try to get people just to start paying attention to my movement, you know? That was a part of my movement. When I dropped ‘Lost Jewlry’ it was more for the fact of giving people something to pay attention to me like “Yo, check me out, see where I’m at right now”. That was dope tho’, you know?

I don’t really want to go back to ‘A Better Tomorrow’, but do you think with the Wu-Tang that it was, like, a perfect storm of perfectionists? Or was there somebody there, always grabbing the wheel? Things have been said about RZA…

I don’t want to go too much into that, but I think at the end of the day that when it comes to Wu-Tang it’s so important for all of us to be on the same page and unfortunately we wasn’t on that one. We was trying to live up to RZA’s antics which, you know, we felt was not it. It was what it was tho’. That just shows you the loyalty that we got for our brother, because we knew that this was the kind of album that he wanted. He was comfortable with it but we weren’t. You can’t hit ’em all the time. I mean, I think in our situation, I think people know that we always get the right music, that we’re always gonna be dominant.

You were the first person to do a photo t-shirt with Supreme, and you’ve had a lot of your music used in skate videos over the years. Are you still tight with those dudes? Do you fuck with skateboarding?

Of course! Skateboarding’s a part of my culture, man. People don’t know, but back in Shaolin, back where I’m from, it was this big hill that we used to charge, called Snake Hill. We called it Snake Hill because it was like, if you was on the tenth floor and you imagine going down, it swirls… We would go down that on skateboards, flying over cars and all that, laughing. Making that a day of fun. I’m always big on the whole skateboard community. This album fits for them too, shout out to my mans that you know are just out there doing their thing every day.

I guess you probably don’t actually need to make music to get money anymore. Is it hard to get yourself in the position where you sit down to write?

Nah, not really. I’m pretty much content with doing it the way I do. I try to let everything work itself out; it’s like I said, I’m always passionate about the work. People can see that. That’s why we get a lot of events, why we do a lot of touring through the years. Still doing a lot of touring. For me it’s all about just going out there and fulfilling the job.

It’s something that you still love.

Exactly. If you don’t love it, then why are you even doing it? I think the greatest artists and the greatest performers, they love to do what they do, and when they don’t, they say they’re not doing it anymore. That’s all I can do, and right now I’m in the zone. With this album, you guys get a classic piece again. It’s filled with a lot of fun and surprises on it. It’s dope, it’s gonna be something the world is gonna love. Without a doubt.

Adrian Younge and Apollo Brown both produced different versions of Ghostface’s ‘12 Reasons To Die’ album. Do you think that could happen more? Like, instead of remastering an album, it just gets re-made? Would you allow that to happen to one of your records?

I mean, to each his own. I can’t say what people may want to do. If you want to remix a record that you feel it makes sense to remix, then who am I to judge it? Some of these people create their own place by doing stuff like that, because it kinda opens up the door for them to be recognised a little bit. If you are a producer, and you have the opportunity to remix something, and make it its best, and that’s your way of getting on, then hey – it might work for you. Once you got the record you can do what you want to do as a producer. And some people will like it and some people won’t.

F.I.L.A. sounds about as far removed from where you began as anything could. Do you ever go back to Staten?

Yeah, I mean, I always go back to my city and just take a look. That’s somewhere I came from, so I’m never gonna ever not want to go back there and see what’s going on. I think it’s important as artists that we don’t forget where we came from. That’s important.

What are your plans for now?

Get ready for this fly album that I got. Fly International Luxurious Art, get ready for this. It’s definitely a dope album and of course we’re gonna be celebrating the twenty years of the classic album – of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx – we got a documentary lined up for you guys to see soon. That’s called The Purple Tape Files, get ready for that. It’s going to be a hell of a year for me.

That’s dope. Anything else before we wind this up?

Thank you. I appreciate it. Nothing but love to the people. I hope to see you guys soon, and thanks for respecting our craft, and I’m gonna give you the best of Rae. So just get ready for it, OK?