Raekwon Is Lyrically Sharp as Ever on ‘FILA’
Raekwon’s legacy is set in stone. As a solo artist and member of the Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon has crafted some of the most important works in rap history. Albums like Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) have ensured that the Chef will always hold a special place in hip-hop lore.
Having achieved such lofty milestones, Raekwon is at point in his career where a new album does little to affect his place in hip-hop. He, like most of his Wu-Tang brethren, have nothing left to prove. But the need for a creative outlet and the demands of a diehard fan base can make an album like Fly International Luxurious Art a necessity. It’s unclear what Raekwon expected to deliver with this project. though, which turns out to be a mixed bag.
Those familiar with Raekwon’s solo work are likely to get flashbacks to his 1999 album Immobilarity while listening to Fly International Luxurious Art. Like that album, there’s a distinct lack of Wu-Tang presence with the production here, which seems geared toward mainstream acceptance. Nothing’s drastically out of place, but there’s a glossiness to the beats that feels like it’s seeking a wider audience. Yet despite that presence, the album never goes that direction in full.
Raekwon’s pen game is sharp as ever. The Staten Island MC impresses with his wordplay throughout the album and really finds his stride when paired with the right sound. The gritty beats provided by Scram Jones on “4 In The Morning” with Ghostface Killah and “Nautilus” bring out the best in Raekwon’s raps. The Chef’s imagery is quite vivid on “Live To Die” as he maneuvers over a mellow soundscape crafted by S1.
Raekwon’s collaborations with longtime rhyme partner Ghostface Killah on “4 In The Morning” and “Revory (Wraith)” are standouts, as the duo’s chemistry is just as strong today as it was 20 years ago. Rae also gets Snoop Dogg to deliver one of his better performances in recent memory on “1,2 1,2,” one of the most pleasant surprises on F.I.L.A. But when Rae strays from his wheelhouse, the album goes awry.
“Soundboy Kill It” is a misfire that sees Raekwon awkwardly matched with a Melanie Fiona hook and the reggae stylings of Assassin. “All About You,” the lead single which was released almost two years ago, is just as disappointing now as it was then as Rae’s rhymes feel out of place alongside Estelle’s chorus and the fuzzy production.
Raekwon’s attempts to build with hip-hop’s new generation bring varied results. The A$AP Rocky-assisted “I Got Money” works well as the two fit seamlessly together on the boastful cut. On the other hand, 2 Chainz’s style is so drastically foreign to Raekwon's on “F.I.L.A. World” that it’s difficult to see how anyone in the studio thought this worked. But that’s nothing compared to French Montana’s performance on “Wall To Wall,” where Rae seems like a guest on his own song.
Fly International Luxurious Art ultimately suffers from its inability to connect with any particular audience. There are strong indications Raekwon is going for mainstream appeal on the album, but it feels like knows his most loyal Wu-Tang fans won’t accept something too far from his lane. It makes for a very uneven listening experience as the album is unable to find any cohesive sound or theme. Raekwon’s passion and well-crafted rhymes show he’s still capable of creating high quality work as an MC, but F.I.L.A. is too disjointed to stand beside his best work. —Justin Ivey