Raekwon's appearance at Hopscotch wraps the Wu-Tang Clan rapper's year-long rise back to hip-hop prominence. Last September, the Clansman finally dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx ... Pt. II—the long-awaited follow-up to his 1995 solo masterpiece—to rave reviews before spending the summer on the Rock the Bells tour with the Clan, performing their seminal debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in its entirety. Just days ago, Rae collaborated with Kanye West on a remix of Justin Bieber's "Runaway Love." We caught up with the busy Chef, who dishes on Wu-Tang, Cuban Linx and Bieber.
INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: How has it felt to be back on stage with all the Wu-Tang Clan members performing 36 Chambers during Rock the Bells this summer?
RAEKWON: It's automatic love, you know what I mean? These are the dudes that allowed me to have a career today, and anytime we got on the stage, we always shut it down, we always gonna win. You get a lot of different, multitalented dudes up there rhyming, and for me, it's like being amongst your brothers. They always have my back, regardless of what, through thick and thin, and it feels good to be up there reppin' with them. That's what it's all about—reppin'.
Did you feel any pressure when you were working on Cuban Linx II to deliver that next classic album? How did it feel to have the album be so well received after all the anticipation and delay?
Well, it feels great to even know that people were holding on and giving me the benefit of the doubt on making it. Taking classics and going back to do sequels is not the easiest thing. For myself, I did it because the fans wanted it. I still feel like I'm hot regardless. I'm nice at rhyming and doing what I do, even if it wasn't going to be Cuban Linx II. At the end of the day, I did that one for the fans. They rolled with me through the years and they wanted part two. When it got the love, I felt appreciated, I felt relaxed and I felt the pressure was off my back to be able to show niggas I still got it.
Why do you think a lot of listeners responded differently to the Cuban Linx albums than they did Immobilarity or Lex Diamond Story?
It could have been the production. I'm always going to be an artist that's going to allow other producers to step in the chamber with me and see what they can do. No one can ever say I make garbage. I am trashed out there in the world, but if my shit is trash, my shit must be top-of-the-line trash. I'm not going to act like everybody's going to love everything I do, as long as you respect everything I do.
I came from a long struggle. I talk real-life music. I lived my shit. I roll with niggas that lived it, and that's all I can continue to give you is my side of where I come from. The way I feel, I'm a way better artist now, a way better emcee than I was 10 years ago. My energy might have been stronger back then, but now I'm more of a political rapper slash gangsta rapper slash grown-man rapper. I can take it anywhere you want me to take it. When you think about The Chef, always remember I'm gonna serve y'all niggas dishes. Dishes—not just one or two, but different dishes.
Now that you're more of a family man, has it become harder to portray that grim, hard-hitting mafioso character in your lyrics?
Not at all. This is something I love. One thing about me, I'm gonna be hip-hop forever, until I'm 80 or whatever. I think for me, it's just that you have to balance life and really understand that when you're a parent and you're doing your thing, you have to draw a line some way and respect what your kids may look at later on in life when they hear you talking. I don't always like to talk about negativity or guns or drugs, even though I came from that. I'm giving you some movie shit, but at the end of the day, I do want to show a positive side, so when my kids get older they can say, "My dad made versatile music. He didn't just stay in one box. He was able to be a poet, for real. He wasn't just one-sided with it and he shocked the world." I did that, and I'm a bad rap motherfucker.
You just worked with Kanye West and Justin Bieber. How did that happen?
It's a great record for the kids. I felt honored to even be chosen to be a part of that elite. It came out hot, and we got a lot of good reviews on it and a few funny reviews, but that comes with the territory. It was a hot record, and the young generation is recognizing who Raekwon is again. The mission was accomplished.
Are you a fan of Bieber's work?
Absolutely, man, c'mon. I've got children that listen to his music and at the same time, I recognize his talent. I see him on TV doing his thing when his video comes on. The kid's got talent—you can't front on that.
How long have you known 9th Wonder?
I've known 9th since he came in the game. I've always been a fan of his music, and he's a guy with a great personality and a die-hard fan. He loves hip-hop and you can tell just from the way he moves. I practically see him everywhere on the map. We have a deep respect for one another, and I want to work with him a little bit more.
Are you going to see Public Enemy at Hopscotch?
They're one of the most legendary crews in the world, and they're gonna tear it up. For me to be able to witness that, it's another day in hip-hop, and I'm looking forward to it. I can't wait to see them do their thing. Hopefully I can be there.