For over 20 years, Raekwon has played an integral role in sculpting the hip-hop genre. Despite being in an era today where glossy hooks overshadow dense lyrics, the resident Chef of the Wu-Tang Clan‘s masterful wordplay continues to gleam. With impeccable works under his belt beginning with his 1995 opus, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, the Wu-Tang lyricist is hoping to amaze pundits once again with his seventh solo album, The Wild, due out March 24 on Ice H2O/Empire.
After feeding fans a sampler of his latest album at New York City’s Engine Room on Tuesday night (Feb. 28), the Staten Island native sat down with Billboard to speak on his new project, working with Lil Wayne, his thoughts on the Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma beef and whether he regrets letting Martin Shkreli get his hands on Wu-Tang’s one-of-a-kind “final” album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.
Billboard: You have a record on the album called “M & N” where you and P.U.R.E. are showcasing some excellent wordplay abilities.
Raekwon: Let me tell you something, my artist P.U.R.E., he’s intelligent. I gotta give a lot of credit to him, because he keeps me on some s–t sometimes. We came up with the vibe like, “Yo, let’s just do something different. Let’s just do something new.” I wanted him to shine with being new and different from everything that I’ve done with an artist before. So, we came with the M’s. Then we were like, “How are we gonna do the second verse?” ‘Cause at first, it was a scrapbook thing we were doing, you know, just f–king around. Then the next thing you know, we caught a rhythm. We would laugh about the s–t we were saying together. Like, “Do it make sense? It gotta make sense. Go back and make it make sense.” [Laughs] The first verse, we bust that down. We were like, “Oh s–t. What we gonna do for the next verse?” So we were like, “M and, f–k it, N’s,” just some regular alphabetic s–t. M and N’s! If you had told us to do O’s, we probably would have done O’s.
The beat was Dame Grease, the legendary Dame Grease. He was the one who gave us DMX. He came to the table and said, “Yo, Rae, I think you need this,” and just gave me that. I was like, Wow.
Speaking of producers, I noticed with your last album Fly International Luxurious Art in 2015, you had Jerry Wonda on a lot of records. What made you decide to step away from his production on The Wild?
Jerry is a musical cat, too. Like I said, when you f–k with the Chef, you come to the circus, B. You ain’t just gonna see some other s–t. You coming to see flips flying and s–t. That’s what an artist is supposed to do. He’s supposed to go out there and make music that’s gonna relate to his world and just challenges. You know, I always wanna challenge myself. Jerry brought a soulful side out of me on that [album], too. More musical, but still gritty. We was just trying s–t, but at the same time, it was feeling good. That’s why I always say each album I give you is gonna be a different world. That’s just what you’re getting right now.
I was going f–king crazy. I gave n—as a whole f–king dynamite stick. That was some s–t for when I made it, but this time, I wanted to not go crazy. Don’t get me wrong, it’ll always be good to have people attached to you, but sometimes with being an artist, you gotta be a little selfish and do things yourself. I wanted to give y’all more of me. Less features, more me now.
You have Lil Wayne on the album; he can be unpredictable when it comes to features. What kind of Wayne will the fans hear on “My Corner”?
Oh my God, the n—a went bananas on it, B. He jumped on it and did backflips on it, kid. He put style on it. He put taste on it. He let n—-as know that he still do what he do, which is important. Wayne is a clever n—a, man. He gets busy. I thought the beat at first would have been hard — not like hard, he f–k with hard s–t — but my thing was, I wanna hear him. I was being selfish like, “Nah, give me this right here.” He jumped right on it and I was like, “Yo. This was what I needed.” He handled it. He threw some s–t at me. It was all about the tag teaming, making it fun and making it to a level it’s supposed to be. We gotta keep the s–t going.
After the listening session, you mentioned how you have a great ear for talent. If you can sign two artists from New York right now to your own label, which three would you choose and why?
That’s probably one of the illest questions in the last six years that I got. Let me tell you something, that Don Q kid, I would make him a maniac. He would never leave the studio, you know what I mean? He got a voice. He got a charisma behind that voice, so he would definitely be one that I would take a leap at. Dave East, definitely. He has that charisma. He wanna rhyme and you could hear it in him. Right now, everybody is dope too, though, but I would play with them, based on being from the town. Those two right there.
Everyone is going crazy about the Nicki Minaj and Remy Ma feud. If you were in Nicki Minaj’s camp, how would you tell her to attack a diss record in response?
She gotta really, really go for the gusto and just go air out s–t. Remy comes from that school, and Nicki comes from that school in her way, too. It’s just interesting. You know, we were talking about that earlier, if they were just to really get it in — two different styles, of course — but they’re both New York chicks. That’s what’s gangsta to me. It’s like being in a park and seeing a girl fight and they’re getting it in. Get it in respectfully and tastefully, but go at it. It’s fun.
It’s like Roxanne Shanté and “The Real Roxanne,” you get the modern day of that. But I want Nick to say something just because, nine times out of ten, what Nicki said, she knew what she was getting into when she said it. Remy loves this. She gets down. Remember, at the end of the day, she just gets busy. She just comes from that school. But Nick, she comes from that school in her way, too, but she found a lane and she cracked her lane. That ain’t saying she can’t give it to you if she has to. My thing is, y’all get it off y’all’s chest, get past it, and then take care of your families. That’s grown s–t.
What’s your thoughts on Martin Shkreli purchasing Wu-Tang’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin album? Do you have any regrets?
I don’t know the kid. I never met him. I don’t even know him. I can’t be mad at something I don’t know. Whatever. I’ve never seen him. I’ve never shook his hand. None of that. So, you know, I don’t care. I don’t care. It’s just, enjoy it while it last. Enjoy it, man.