Interview: Noah Callahan-Bever
Street rap is the new jock that has everyone itching for a scratch, right? Well, my young friends, believe it or not, long before Young Jeezy, Clipse or even 50 Cent, there was a stout rapper out of Staten Island who essentially drafted the blowprint, excuse me, blueprint for the genre. His name is Raekwon the Chef, and, in his day he served up some marvelous ish for that ass—namely his mouthwatering debut, Only Built For Cuban Linx….Sure, there were coke-obsessed rappers long before him, but their influence was minor. He was major, so he deserves kudos as a player because, on one level or another, his album more or less set the tone for everything that appeared in its wake.However, the rest of the Chef’s career has been, well, less than spectacular. Though his rap game never slipped, the three albums that followed his debut failed to captivate the public as their predecessor had. In an effort to reassert himself as the Black Trump, Rae has embarked on crafting a sequel to Cuban Linx with RZA (who was inexplicably absent on production on all of his subsequent records). As he prepares to release this make-or-break album—not only for himself but truly the entire Clan (short of Ghostface)—the Chef took a moment out his busy day to make mince meat out of some of XXLMAG.COM questions. Dig in, it’s sweet!
This record will kind of define your career and your legacy. What exactly are you hoping to get out of doing a second Cuban Linx?
First and foremost, I’m having fun with this, man. I’m taking it back to the golden era, when I really didn’t care about too much about the politics, you know? And that included radio, magazines and all that. My mind frame ain’t even on that right now. I’m mentally sniffing coke right now. I’m on drugs, mentally. Not on them physically, you know what I mean?
I was just listening to the original Cuban Linx. I could be wrong, but it sounded like you were doing a lot of drugs during that period.
I mean, I wasn’t doing a lot of drugs. I was selling a lot of drugs. But all that shit stopped because it was something I had to do, not something I wanted to do. When I make my music, I become this author of shit that I’ve been around. Them were some of my glory days right there. Just being around that shit, you know what I mean? I always stay talking about what’s reality, man. You can go back and check yourself.
So you mentioned you aren’t trying to pay attention to politics this time around. Do you feel like you were over-thinking shit on the last two records?
I mean, nah. I think on the last two records I was just doing my job, letting everybody know I still do what I do. This album right here got me in a whole new zone, where I feel all I could do is let the music speak for itself. Really, I ain’t caught up in anything else except making a classic album. Right now, I’m like a boxer training for the championship. He ain’t got too much to talk about until he gets in the ring and show his skills. Other than that, I ain’t really with the questionnaires and shit right now. That’s no disrespect to you or XXL, but that’s just the vibe I’m on. I’m on some straight Cuban Linx shit. I’m not really with the paparazzi shit.
Is there anything that you would like to talk about?
I mean, I want you to write it the way it’s sounding so they’ll know what time it is. For you to keep asking me questions, whatever, whatever. I’ma give it to you, but I can’t even get caught up in any kind of politics no more. It’s about artistry. I’m in there making a painting right now.
So do you feel like at other points in your career, you lost your way artistically?
I never lost my way. Muthafuckas lost their way, if anything. You got a lot of dudes out there that’s legendary [who] ain’t really got the politics behind their art. My shit stay growing, it’s just that the people need to grow with me. It’s a new generation, [but] I’m from a generation where [everyone is] very solidified in knowing who I am. I can’t keep trying to satisfy everybody that don’t understand. I’ll give it to the people who know about me, and that’s it. Me making good music, that never went nowhere. It’s just that people always try and come up with an excuse: This [rapper] ain’t on the record or this one ain’t do the production or the Clan ain’t there. Nine times out of ten, it’s about people’s personal feelings, not about artistry. I’m not saying that a muthafucka gotta like everything I make, but you can’t say in two sentences, Yo, the nigga still got it, or, No, he ain’t got it ’cause this one ain’t there. I’m pissed off with that right now. And I respect the criticism, [but] I don’t give a fuck about criticism.
Who are you collaborating with on the new album?
It’s back to the formula. Me and the Abbot, we know what time it is. I would never try to come out and do a Cuban Linx part two and not have the people that were involved with [the first] Cuban Linx. I got enough common sense to know that that ain’t the way to go.
What has Ghostface’s involvement in the album been?
I mean, Ghost’s involvement is what his involvement is. I’m not really gonna sit here and talk about that too much because it’s a Rae show right now. It’s not a Ghost show, it’s a Rae show. When you talking to me, you talking to me about what Rae is dealing with. As far as Ghost being on the record, y’all gonna see if he on the record or not. I’m not really gonna add on too much about that. I love my brother and he know I love him, but right now he doing what he gotta do. Chef doing what he gotta do. If you remember the formula from the first Cuban Linx, then you gotta know what the formula is for Cuban Linx II. I’m not saying that it’s the same, nothing can ever be the same, but Chef knew the ingredients that were needed for Cuban Linx II, and Chef went and got those ingredients. But I just don’t want to get too caught up in what Ghost is doing because, like I be telling dudes, me and Ghost are like two generals. It’s not no competition. But this is not about if Ghost is on the record or none of that shit. Them is the questions right there that I can’t stand right now.
You must understand why I would ask about Ghost, though.
I know, I mean, you the writer. You gotta do what you gotta do, but this is just me saying what it is.
So what have you been doing for the last two years?
I’ve been living. I’ve been doing the writing thing. I’ve been being the family man. I’ve been traveling the world. I been to like 18 cities last year. I’ve been getting my thoughts together, trying to figure out what’s going on with hip-hop itself. Like, is this shit all about money, or is this shit about the real shit? I’m serious about money, but it’s too much crooked shit. The way the game is, it’s like a crooked government right now. I’m tryna figure a way that I can crack it without being something I’m not.
What are your thoughts on hip-hop today? Does it even make any sense to you?
It makes sense, but then it don’t make sense. I never been a hater of these other cats who never really had nothing being successful. That’s not my problem. The problem is how these corporations and how these labels [making decisions] by figures and by money. That’s the side that really be fuckin’ me up. They look at this shit like the muthafuckin’ wolves and you kinda get discouraged ’cause you not saluting what hip-hop is really about. [They] keep going on about that dancing shit, coming out with a fuckin’ suit on. Get the fuck out of here, man. When has it ever been like that? I been getting fresh from the door. That’s how I get down.
How do you feel about the fact that a lot of the things you set off on that first album people have been imitating for the past 10 years?
They following the fuckin’ leader. If you gonna challenge my ways, know my history. Don’t put nobody in my face that don’t know about me or they here to write an article on someone they thought was hot when they was hot. Come on, man. I been hot. That’s why a lot of rappers respect me to the level where they know, Nigga don’t put my name in [your] mouth or I’ma crush you. I’m a good humble dude, but don’t ever cross me, man. But a lot of shit is being stereotyped based on dude’s feelings. I ain’t hear from Rae in so long or whatever, whatever. Rae is over with, whatever. Muthafuckas will say anything.
I just continue to do my work and take constructive criticism when it’s time. Not no muthafuckas with double standards saying, Yo, your shit is hot, but…Come on, man. It gotta be either one or the other. Either I suck or I don’t suck. It’s like in the Vibe magazine, how the fuck y’all niggas gonna give me two [stars]? How the fuck y’all gonna give me two [stars] and then give [more] to all these country muthafuckas, who I feel really don’t get busy like that. That’s not saying that I don’t got a lot of respect for country niggas, ’cause I do got a lot of respect for country niggas, but that shit is bullshit, man. Niggas is classifying that shit as hip-hop? Get the fuck outta here, man. I ain’t going for that, man. And I ain’t stooping myself down to another level to be some shit that I’m not. And I ain’t got nothing against nobody in the South. This ain’t me going at the South, ’cause I was the first nigga to give OutKast and them niggas a muthafuckin’ shot in New York. If you really wanna go back and check your history, at who helped muthafuckas’ careers, I was the one that gave Nas his fuckin’ shot. Me and my family. We were the dudes that gave all these niggas a shot…Kanye West, all these niggas, and now muthafuckas act like they don’t got to pay homage? We gon’ make y’all pay homage with this record.
“State of Grace” is amazing.
“State of Grace” is a piece of chicken on top of a plate at Thanksgiving. I’ma give y’all niggas the ultimate feast. Nigga, you just walked into Red Lobster.
Do you ever feel like it would be better for you not to read the press?
Yeah. [Laughs] But if I don’t do that, like right now if I said, “Nah, I don’t want to fuckin’ talk to you right now,” that might put something in the magazine’s head to start up some more shit. I might not even get a shot in the magazine because of somebody’s personal feelings. It’s like, Oh, he didn’t want to come up to the table for us, so fuck him. So remember, y’all made me who the fuck I am, so when I take the shit 1,000 times more serious, don’t get mad at me. Just respect what I’m trying to do, ’cause I know I’m a winner.