Raekwon on His Love for New Balance's 574 Sneaker & His Upcoming Album
Clocking in over 25 years in the game as a member of the formidable rap force Wu-Tang Clan -- delivering slick rhymes throughout the group's storied career and his own solo run -- Raekwon has long etched his name into the soul of hip-hop and his grind has only continued to strengthen.
Coming up in an era where sharp lyricism fueled the genre, The Chef has seen hip-hop culture come full-circle, and then change again, but his love for the game, he says, is what's keeping him going.
"It’s just the love for the music, the love for the culture, the people and this is what I feel I was born to do; I was born to handle mics, I was born to be an entertainer," he tells Billboard backstage at an intimate event celebrating New Balance's iconic 574 sneakers, which has become a style staple for the rapper since his humble beginnings.
"I had to be about 14 years old when I first started rocking [New Balances]. I remember my aunt buying me my first nice rich looking sweater and my uncle bought me my first pair of New Balances, they were the 574’s -- and ever since then I fell in love with them," he recalls. "It’s one of my favorite sneakers. Even to this day, I’m always wearing New Balance because it just takes me back to being a kid and appreciating nice things. New Balance is definitely a part of my legacy when it comes to just being fly."
Sartorial taste aside, The Chef is currently in the lab whipping up his eighth studio album, the follow-up to 2017's The Wild, preceded by three loosies dropped off at the top of this year, "The Sky," "The Biz," and "It's A Shame," lacing the sample-heavy beats with his smooth wordplay.
Raekwon warned in a recent Instagram post that his forthcoming effort will have "a classic sticker on it," stirring up anticipation for the "futuristic heat" looming. Where The Wild packed on features from the likes of Lil Wayne, Andra Day, Cee-Lo Green and Raekwon's up-and-coming artist P.U.R.E, the veteran MC reveals that on his upcoming effort, the focus will be more on him.
"For me, I'd like to take it back to me being the highlight again. I think a lot of time we tend to work with a lot but sometimes you want to do a project that may be majority of just your work this time," he continues. "I’m giving y’all a whole new energy, another approach, more rhymes, I just feel like I’m getting better as I go on and I just feel good about the music I’m making. People think just because you’ve been in the business as long as you have that you could lose your motivation to want to do it and I ain’t lose it. If anything I’m more attracted to it now because it’s fun. At one point it wasn’t fun anymore, it was just business but now I learned how to mix the business with the fun again."
As infectious, tongue-in-cheek bops flood music charts and radio airwaves, Raekwon admits that he's grappled with catering to his core fans and "dibbling and dabbling with other sounds" to connect with the newer generation but ultimately, what it all boils down to giving fans what they know him for: "East Coast heat."
"I’m learning how to do things differently and play with my craft but also just trying to give the people another great body of work from the heart," Kwon says. "I like to mix it up, that’s why they call me The Chef because you’re gonna get a little bit of this, a little bit of that, the dish is never gonna be the same. Some people might not think it’s great and I don’t expect everybody to eat my food but I do expect them to say it has a nice taste to it because it’s never gonna be garbage."