FEATURE: Raekwon, Back for the First Time

Photography Matt Gunther

Photography Matt Gunther

Talk to Raekwon for any amount of time and it becomes apparent why he’s called The Chef. Not only does the Wu-Tang Clan lyricist cook up some marvelous narratives to get your mouth watering, he also peppers conversations with a heavy dose of food analogy. Ask how his long-awaited album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, will be consumed by an audience too young to recall his 1995 original, and he serves up this response: “It’s like trying to give a kid a fuckin’ chicken salad or something that’s better than eating a Big Mac. He gonna look at you like ya crazy, but, at the end of the day, he may respect it and be willing to taste that chicken salad, and be like, ‘Damn, this shit is good.’”

Fourteen years ago, business was all good for Wu-Tang, specifically Raekwon. The Wu-Tang’s iron flag was flying at full mast, and the first batch of solo albums to drop were all heralded as instant classics, from GZA’s Liquid Swords to Ghostface Killah’s Ironman, but especially Raekwon’s OB4CL, which die-hard fans affectionately refer to as “the purple tape,” since the cassette was made out of dark purple plastic. It was also a dealer’s reference to labeling his product. The Chef’s recipe for success was steeped in vivid criminology raps and RZA’s gritty production, which hip-hop heads ate up like free cheddar biscuits from Red Lobster. While the album positioned Raekwon as one of the game’s best storytellers, it also left the lyricist’s plate full with the high expectations associated with a classic LP.

Following the platinum success of his solo debut and the Clan’s eventful 1997 double album, Wu-Tang Forever, Rae returned, in 1999, with Immobilarity. RZA had long been the primary producer for all Wu-affiliated releases, so, in an effort to further build his own identity, Rae sought out new beatmakers for his sophomore disc. Immobilarity also lacked assistance from OB4CL guest star Ghostface Killah, who, at the time of recording, was serving a six-month jail sentence for attempted robbery. Sales of Immobilarity stalled at a respectable but downgraded 431,000 units to date. The lack of overall fan support and mixed reviews were tough pills for Rae to swallow.

“[Critics] kept saying shit like, ‘Rae’s lyrical content is as strong as ever, and you can tell he’s growing as an artist,’ but then they come in shootin’ me down with, ‘RZA ain’t make the beats, and Ghostface ain’t on it, so that’s where the album lacks the luster,’” Raekwon says. “That, I felt, was a disrespect. That hurt my feelings. I ain’t even gonna front. I’m always gonna take the good with the bad, but respect creativity.”

Signed to Loud Records as a solo artist since 1995, until the label folded in 2002, Raekwon secured a new deal with Universal Records the following year and released his third course, The Lex Diamond Story. The LP was a concept album that followed the rise and fall of a fictional mob figure, but even with the lyrical darts, story-arc approach reminiscent of OB4CL, and an appearance by Ghostface, only 135,000 copies sold. “I think when I hypnotized y’all with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and me and Ghost was really doing what we was doing collectively, people more or less just wanted that world,” says Rae of the disappointing response to his second and third efforts. “When I started doing these [solo] albums, a lot of people wasn’t looking at it like a nigga growing and still making good music. Sometimes I get frustrated because they tell you they want you to grow, and then when you grow, they say you didn’t keep it the way they wanted it to be. You could never satisfy muthafuckas.”

Raekwon figured the only way his career could move forward was by taking a step back. In late 2004, he announced that he was focusing on OB4CL Pt. II. There had been a small mention, five years earlier, on the inset of Immobilarity, that a follow-up to his classic debut was coming “spring/summer 2000,” but nothing more was ever really spoken. Now it was time for the Wu-Tang MC to take it back to the basics. In an effort to satisfy fans’ hunger for more, Rae promised that the album would carry on the tradition of the original and include RZA, Ghostface and the rest of the Clan, as well as a few unexpected contributors. Busta Rhymes, whom Rae describes as his motivational coach, would be serving as the disc’s executive producer. Early reports were that the project would be released through Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, the then-home of Busta Rhymes, but after several months of negotiation, a deal never materialized.—Anslem Samuel

For more of the Back for the First Time article, make sure to pick up XXL‘s October issue on newsstands now.

  • http://Pierzy11@gmail.com Pierzy

    OB4CL2 is that crack!! Wu-Tang is still forever!

    • joe p

      “tell a friend its that symbol again , the w , coming thru” co-sign pierzy that shit is fireeeeeee!

  • Jhon da Analyst

    Thanks Rae for that OB4CL2!! I needed that shit like Tyrone Biggums needs a big “jumbo”!! XXL post my shit u fags. The only knock on Immobilarity and Lex Diamond was the production. Lyrically this nigga a beast cause like GURU said it’s mostly the voice. Plus, this nigga flows with his shit like he be on some Nicky Santoro shit you young muthafuckas. XXL yall suck, but thanks for allowing a nigga like me to shine.

  • AZ40

    Good album…

    “Sometimes I get frustrated because they tell you they want you to grow, and then when you grow, they say you didn’t keep it the way they wanted it to be. You could never satisfy muthafuckas.”….Sooooooo True

  • DetroitDraper

    Yea the Lex Diamonds story was the shit…lyrically. I did miss the gritty production of the Rzarecta.

    MAYN HOL’UP J7M

  • 11KAP

    All I can say is Big up the mon! Nuff respect!

  • alderman j

    ive said it before and ill say it again, THE PURPLE TAPE, is actually the BLUEPRINT!! All east coast rappers stole directly from that album!! EVEN JAY!!

  • dockevoc

    OB4CL2 = Album of the decade, easily

  • $ykotic/Don McCaine

    Linx 2 is straight fire. Can’t stop playing it. beginning to end, no skips. I can see I’ma have to cop copy 2.

  • 619

    The first time I listened to it I was in a hurry just flippin’ thru the whole album real quick for joints I hadn’t heard yet. But I couldn’t even make it past “Sonny’s Missing” and “Pyrex Vision” without replayin’ them shits. Rae got the hardest shit out in the East right now. We ridin’ thru South Cali knockin’ this shit out the old school Grand Marquis.

  • brand-new

    i’ve been having an argument about this album with a friend of mine. i say its a classic, he says its all hot beats and less than average lyrics, kinda like group home livin’ proof i guess. does anyone else feel that way? but, regardless its easily the best hip-hop album in the past few years….maybe longer! lol

    • $ykotic/Don McCaine

      brand-new that Group Home LP is CLASSIC. Hiphopper’s know about that CD regardless. Mediocre lyrics and all, you can’t find that CD for less than $15. Listen to “The Realness” 1 more time.

      In 2K9 cats want spaceship music, but ain’t never seen a spaceship to know what music spaceships play, know what I mean?

      Linx 2 got me stuck right now…

  • http://XXLmag.com Kareem

    Man I been a Wu Tang Clan fan since ’92. I’m from Petersburg, VA & I went 2 every show they had down here, from VA State to Magic City. I was the 1st person 2 even have the 36 Chambers tape in my high school. I’mma tell u why the Wu fell off in people’s eyes (but not mine, they been my fav group since they came out). In my opinion, instead of trying 2 stick 2 their fan base they tried 2 branch out & succumb 2 the tastes of everybody. What they didnt realize is that the niggas who understood were already there & stayed there wit’ ‘em. The sound they had, I felt like, was compromised. Don’t know who’s fault it was, why it happened or whatever but that’s business. I’m just glad they’re back together & still makin’ that REAL HIP HOP MUSIC!

    • kedordu

      U GOTTA LET THESE NIGGAS KNOW MAN . U GOTTA POST THIS SHIT TO THEM . THATS THE PROBLEM WITH THESE OLD SCHOOL DUDE . THEY NOT REALLY SAVVY WITH THE NET . THERE WAS DEFINATELY A DISCONNECT WITH THE FANS . THIS ALBUM I FELT WAS SCRICTLY FOR THE FANS . THERE WERE SOME TRACKS HE WOULDA KEPT OFF TO MAKE THE ALBUM A CERTIFIED CLASSIC IN CRITICS EYES . BUT THIS ALBUM WAS ABOUT THE FANS . I WISH HE WOULDA LEFT WALK WIT ME AND CRIMINOLOGY 2 ON THERE IN ALL THE RELEASES EVEN .. LOL THATS MY ONLY COMPLAINT ABOUT OB4CL2 .

  • TheGreat2380

    Imma say this once and one time only! THIS IS THE BEST STREET HIPHOP OUT SINCE GOD KNOWS WHEN!! PERIOD!!, I dont know when was the last time you got a cd that had good music, and not just ringtone or mixtape bulshit to complete the album. On top of that, the shit has 24 tracks! i dont care if some are skits(In my opinion,skits make an album, it gives you the concept of the album and the truth to see if a real mc cared about the music) and to get to the point,

  • TheGreat2380

    Imma say this once and one time only! THIS IS THE BEST STREET HIPHOP OUT SINCE GOD KNOWS WHEN!! PERIOD!!, I dont know when was the last time you got a cd that had good music, and not just ringtone or mixtape bulshit to complete the album. On top of that, the shit has 24 tracks! i dont care if some are skits(In my opinion,skits make an album, it gives you the concept of the album and the truth to see if a real mc cared about the music) and to get to the point THIS ALBUM RIDES!! I believe if jayz really cares about music like he says, he will listen to this shit and say, “whoa, i gotta step my shit up” mine you, like ya boy alderman j said a few post before, “OB4CL WAS THE ORIGINAL BLUEPRINT”. N****s copied for years and nevered payed homage cause rae and ghost didnt like biggie, and if you didnt like BIG, that meant……..? You know the rest! look whose the God of rap as we say! Research people!! real heads know and recognize!!

  • brand-new

    i definitely co-sign ya $yk, i wonder how many of these generation y cats bought ob4cl2 and actually went out and got the original 95 classic. it’s sad, but probaly very few. this album has me in pure wu-tang mode again, i pulled out all the old classic like liquid swords, ironman, wt-forever just to fill up my cd changer in the whip. i hope the wu still have more classics up their sleeve to give us. wu-tang forever!!

    • 619

      I haven’t listened to Liquid Swords in a minute. That whole album was real, somethin’ you never had to skip a track on from start to finish. From ‘Cold World’ to ‘Labels’ to ‘Killa Hills 10304′.

    • $ykotic/Don McCaine

      @ brand-new

      Bet you hardly any of them. Remember they’re “old”.

      Check out Chamber Music. It doesn’t disappoint.

      Now’s the time for that LAST Wu album. Go out with a bang.

  • BeerGangsta

    Rae Cd sound like a Pro! Lot of good Artist on the CD. Rae is my favorite WU. Rae was the first WU to make a song with Dr. Dre. Thats a A+.

  • money mitch

    brand new yes and no to be honest the beats are off the meat rack but the lyrics they aren’t below average but they don’t have the same multi-syllable rhyme scheme as the first but the lyrics are far from garbage they’re just for the most part in the single syllable rhyme scheme but multiple syllables are hard to put together in story tellin’ rap which is what the disc really is

  • romil

    we need part III now Rae lol

  • 313Dawg

    I think I’m still in shock over how good this “ALBUM” is!! I like many people was wondering if dude could pull it off!! OBFCL is one of my all time favorites!! Maybe top 10 all time!! And I was hoping he wouldnt tarnish the legacy of an all time classic!! Well Chef I gotta first apolagize and then salute you on the hardest shit to come out in forever!! Beats Rhymes, Whatever!! Its Wu-Tang forever!!!!

  • Gkid12345

    Everyone saying ob4cl2 is the first classic in years and its true

  • TheRefriedMexican

    PEEPS SAY PUBLIC ENEMY’S “IT TAKES A NATION OF MILLION TO HOLD US BACK” IS THE GREATEST RAP ALBUM OF ALL TIME. PEEPS OUT HERE ON THE WEST COAST PROCLAIM N.W.A’S “STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON” AS THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME. ALTHOUGH BOTH ARE DEFINITELY WORTHY CLASSICS. FOR MY MONEY ORIGINAL “O.B.4.C.L” IS THE GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME
    ++++
    +++
    ++
    +

    • http://XXLmag.com Kareem

      I would have 2 give Enter The 36 Chambers precident over OB4CL. That album changed my whole way of thinking when it came out. I have never had an album influence me more.

      • supersupreme

        i def co sign that
        36 chambers changed everything
        OB4CL is classic aswell
        but 36 is untouchable

  • http://xxlmag.com Goldie

    I was jammin wu tang till dey started doing kung fu and shit, as long as jay z rappin and jada,cam,buSTA RHYMES, METHOD MAN, fab and talib kwelli da east coast will be allight, and dis real shit im from houston

    • http://XXLmag.com Kareem

      What the hell r u talkin’ about? What member of the Wu Tang Clan have u ever SEEN do Kung Fu? From Enter The 36 Chambers on, they have ALWAYS had skits from Kung Fu movies on their albums, if that’s what u mean. I haven’t heard a Wu Tang album OR an album from one of the members that HASN’T had a Kung Fu skit or reference on it – that’s the basis of the Wu Tang name in the 1st place. U can’t be a Wu Tang fan with the comment u made because it dosen’t make any sense….

  • http://www.justice.gov.za GO-Getta’

    Rae delivered unlike jay on this sequel.

  • the G.O.D

    PEACE

    OB4CLII-all heads agree-is another classic, while y’all at it go back and peep GZA’S Pro-tools.

    PEACE

  • Nat Turner II

    OBFCL2=Slaughterhouse…two all time CLASSICS in a span of 3 weeks…hip hop is back…

  • ff1one@yahoo.com

    i love the album, maybe not album of the decade, but its great. we gotta promote it tho. post it on ur pages talk about it sell it for rae. Fans have control over the music.

  • abdulnasir

    I actually heard this shit throughout last week. I have to admit I was more excited about BP3, then I heard OB4CL and said to BP3, “Fuck outta here”. lol! The Dre produced bangers were the best and don’t even front on RZA’s production on Balck Mozart. I love that shit!