Raekwon Embraces Role as One of Hip-Hop’s Elder Statesmen
In 1993, Staten Island’s Wu Tang Clan released their landmark album Enter The Wu, a release that’s often lauded as one of the greatest debuts to come out of any genre. The success of the album allowed the Clan to take advantage of their unique contract with Loud Records — it was a contract that gave each of the group’s nine members the opportunity to pursue solo deals with other record companies.
Method Man was the first to strike a deal, signing with Def Jam and subsequently releasing Tical. Ol Dirty Bastard followed with his Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version on Elektra Records. The third album in the first wave of solo releases that also included efforts from GZA and Ghostface Killah was Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Unleashed in August 1995, Linx was a departure from the previous Wu-branded long players and would ultimately go on to heavily influence and become a touchstone for an entire sub-genre of hip-hop — Mafioso Rap. The typical Kung-fu samples are swapped in favor of clips from John Woo’s The Killer that help push forward the cinematic narrative of street guys wanting to better themselves and sharing their stories in the process.
“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,” Raekwon says via phone when reflecting on why the album has continued to be so highly regarded over the past 20 years. “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 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.”
Being any sort of entertainer for over 20 years is a feat in itself, but even more so when it comes to the fragile landscape of hip-hop. Raekwon credits his remaining relevant in the industry to his struggles, work ethic, family and pure love for the culture.