It’s been close to two decades since RAEKWON THE CHEF dropped his pivotal solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (a.k.a. “The Purple Tape”). The project changed the game of ’95, as Hip-Hop reached a crossroads where street philosophies and the lap of luxury didn’t see eye-to-eye. Raekwon bridged that gap. The Shaolin native and Wu-Tang legionnaire cracked the code of the streets and managed to strike a balance, keeping all corners of the rap game happy. He details that journey in his upcoming documentary, Purple Tape Files, making the move from music maker to filmmaker. While Raekwon is delving further into his outside interests, his music remains a focal point. The Chef who kept us fed for 20 summers is back with his sixth solo album, FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART (F.I.L.A.), once again tying worlds together and reclaiming his spot as the artist who can do it all.
From the moment RAEKWON’s legendary slick vocals pierce through FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART, it’s clear that when it comes to his delivery, ain’t a damn thang changed. “I always know I have to keep my signature flow,” Raekwon acknowledges, “but I also have to consistently take it to the next level.”
Being Executive Produced by RAEKWON and Jerry Wonda, the 12-track offering (with an additional bonus track on the Best Buy version) comes with an A-list cast of co-stars, which has always played in RAEKWON’s favor. Guest appearances include bars from Ghostface Killah, 2 Chainz, and Rick Ro$$, while production is handled by producers such as Wonda, Scram Jones, and Swizz Beatz, to name a few. Even from his earliest days riding with the Wu-Tang Clan on their Platinum-plus classic Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Rae managed to shine in the midst of a crowd of wordsmiths. Rae’s on almost every track of that album – a huge feat when the Wu mentality was to have the hardest bars thrive on the cuts. You already know who survived, so having accessory verses on his project only enhances the experience, without eclipsing it.
In the case of FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART, RAEKWON put on his A&R cap, working with a solid stable of producers to tailor make beats for all of his guests. “In my mind, as an artist, I’m still an A&R,” he says, “So I know what sounds will complement each artist.” Take the plush S1 and Jerry Wonda-produced, “I Got Money,” where A$AP Rocky brings his most impressive bars to date, over a soundbed designed for him to recline on. “Me knowing the whole persona of A$AP Mob, what they do and who they are, I had to get a beat that would at least complement what they’re about. But then hearing me on it, he’s probably like ‘damn I’m with the OG. What the fuck I’ma do since he still sounds like what we’d expect.’” Rocky rose to the occasion. “For the most part, a lot of people tell me I inspire them when I come around,” Raekwon says. “But I think more importantly, I had to sit back as an artist and figure out how I can adjust with them. They lookin’ up to me, but I’m looking up to them as well on their level of what they’re creating.”
It’s a common theme on FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART — where neophytes and veteran acts all push themselves to their limits lyrically, flanked by a Chef who always comes to cook. On the She The God-produced “Wall To Wall,” French Montana brings a howling hook, but even supercharges his flow to a voltage suitable for competing with RAEKWON. An assist from mentor Busta Rhymes makes the mission complete. Rick Ross and Ghostface do the same on “Revory,” as Raekwon recalls a call from Ross after hearing the beat and triumphantly declaring, “Yo. This is the one!”
Those next level linguistics are woven throughout FLY INTERNATONAL LUXURIOUS ART, where legends that have arguably been maintaining, bring a resurge to their respective styles. Take a track like the Scoop DeVille-produced “1,2,1,2” where Snoop Dogg brings bars fresh enough to show up on “Deep Cover,” they feel so brand new.
The solo cuts are just as deep, with the S1-produced, “Live To Die,” being a welcomed return to RAEKWON’s knack for story-telling, as the cryptic title reveals that not everything has a happy ending.
In FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART’s case, though, it does.
FLY INTERNATIONAL LUXURIOUS ART is a reminder that RAEKWON THE CHEF has weathered a storm that has claimed many casualties. Few can say they have a career like his, where decades can pass from the start and the vibe is still as strong as Day One. He’s merged two worlds of Hip-Hop on F.I.L.A.: the product and the promise, and the result is another classic in the making.
RAEKWON has witnessed unbridled success, both as part of the Wu-Tang Clan and a solo artist. His multi-Platinum and Gold certified projects across the board have set a standard for Hip-Hop. The aforementioned Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was regarded as one of the greatest albums of all-time by Rolling Stone, and one of the greatest Black music albums of all time by The Source. Raekwon has collaborated with rap heavyweights including Outkast and Kanye West, along with newer kings like 2 Chainz, Big Sean and J. Cole. With numbers on the board and hits in pocket, his new project reflects the graduated level of continuity that we’ve come to know and expect from The Chef.
“When it comes to me, I’m always gonna score,” Raekwon says with confidence. “It’s like playing basketball — you know nine times out of ten, I’m good for that three-pointer. I could miss, but I’m like a Ray Allen. When you need me, I’m there.”