Interview: RAEKWON REFLECTS ON 20 YEARS OF ‘ONLY BUILT 4 CUBAN LINX’, LONGEVITY AND THE NEW WAVE OF EMCEES
Wu-Tang Clan elder statesman Raekwon is celebrating the 20 year anniversary of 1995’s landmark album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx with a tour. We had the chance to catch up with the Chef himself and talk about the legacy of OB4CL, his motivation to keep making music and his opinion on the new crop of emcees making waves today.
Congrats on the milestone, the second one — with the first being the twentieth anniversary of Enter the Wu-Tang. How is this milestone different for you, if at all?
Everything is just a process. We was getting better through the years. I always believe that hard work makes you more of a better person and we were just working hard. All of it is just part of our nostalgia. When we were doing Wu-Tang projects it was just the energy and the confidence that helped create everything afterwards. And when it was my time to make that album, if I didn’t go through the process and be successful from from that first project, it probably wouldn’t have given me as much hope as it did to make Cuban Linx. We was in a great space at that time and I always just look at the era. We was just dedicated to our craft at that time. I figured that if we could make one classic, why not try to make another one? That’s where my head was at and though they were different albums, they were still coming from the same fortress. That was a good thing for me.
That album is held in such high regard. Why do you think that specific album has had so much staying power over the past twenty years?
I think some albums do something to you in your life and it kind of brings you into a certain space to remember either the good times or the rough times. I think at that time I was speaking as a voice for the ghetto and for kids all over too — just making music and being an artist that can put that kind of effect in your world. I grew up listening to great artists and it seemed like not only were they giving us great music, but they were also painting a picture of how to be a better person and understand the world that you’re in. I was the voice of a bunch of people from that world. When you give people proof and you give people facts on certain situations and they feel like “Yo, it’s coming from the horse’s mouth.” People love that and I think that’s what that album did. It woke up a whole generation of kids that didn’t know how to express where they were at the time. It was just relatable aand to this day people still remember those days. Regardless of if they’re successful or they’re in other situations. It’s just that some albums and artists do that. I was just blessed with having an opportunity.
Like you said, you represent a lot of people from that time. A lot of them aren’t around anymore. How have you managed to stay relevant and do what you do at a high level without compromising? You’ve been yourself from day one.
I look at it like…my struggle at that time was something that was hard to be reckoned with. I lost a lot of good friends and I saw where their lives ended up at and it constantly made me think about how fortunate I am to have a situation like this and really take time to work on myself and surround myself with decent people. Like I said, we come from something that we never want to go back to, so I think it’s just about hard work, endurance and constantly wanting to be more successful. I would never want to create something that could help my life and then lose that spark overnight. So for me, I just get out there and live through the culture. I love this culture — the music of hip-hop. I love all kinds of music, but I apply all of it as one. It’s like a chicken noodle soup for me. You’ve got your vegetables, your soup…all that shit is involved to me. It’s all about the belief and the confidence. I feel that people recognize me as a great artist and I have to hold that torch up high for them. Not only for them, but for my family as well. So, I get out there and I do this for them too. It ain’t just for Rae. It’s a way to put myself in a better situation and leave something behind for my family. So I’m always going to wake up with that energy. Also, the fans give is that hope and desire to want to do better…some people fall off, while some keep going. I just happen to be one of those dudes where it ain’t goin down like that.