With his legacy irrefutably solidified, Raekwon could very well spend his days however he pleases. As a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan, his illustrious story is sculpted by some of hip-hop's most culturally impactful moments, but as exemplified through his latest solo work, the Chef is still as hungry as ever.
Born with a hustler's mentality and an intrinsic desire to continuously evolve in his craft, there's a book full of reasons why Raekwon is revered as one of the greatest emcees of all time. So with over 25 years in the rap game, how does one win over an audience distracted by glowing smartphone screens and obsessed with discovering the latest SoundCloud rapper to score a viral hit?
With Raekwon's seventh solo LP, The Wild, his success lies in his ability to craft an album from top to bottom, a concept that is an increasingly dying practice, with the rapid rise of playlists and a shifting movement that allows artists to build an entire career off of one hit single. However, one doesn't navigate over two decades making music without learning first hand how to weather the storm. With a wise assortment of features from Lil Wayne, G-Eazy, Andra Day, P.U.R.E. and CeeLo Green, the 11-track collection flirts with the new school without inexcusably ghosting from his roots in mafioso rap.
The Wild may not chart as well as its current competition, but it’s clear that that's far from the reason why Raekwon wakes up in the morning. At this point in his life and career alike, his focus has shifted. Evidenced on several of his tracks, such as the autobiographical "Can't You See," he explains, "Now it's all about good living, raising my children."
However, acting his age doesn't mean one should fault him either; it would be an extreme injustice to write off the 47-year-old as someone creating dad rap. Are you mad?! We're still talking about Raekwon here, someone who not only demands respect through his music but continues to earn it with every breath by way of consistently releasing polished tracks of quality and staying true to his authentic self as a tastemaking creator.
Instead of hitting speed dial to secure guest features from the members of his Wu-Tang family — an incredible feat that Raekwon could achieve before 10 a.m. on any given Tuesday–the veteran emcee instead decides to separate himself from his pack. As Raekwon continues to carve his own lane as a solo artist, The Wild places the shine where it should be: on him. As the Chef takes the spotlight, he offers a seasoned array of wisdom, reflecting on the current state of hip-hop and humbly reminding everyone why he remains at the center of it, all these years later.
With tracks such as "This Is What It Comes Too," "Nothing" and "You Hear Me" pleasing the palates of his die-hard rap fans, and tracks like "Marvin" (a dedicated re-telling of the life of the late legend Marvin Gaye, assisted by CeeLo Green) and his soulful collaboration with Andra Day, "Visiting Hour," showing off a different side to his multifaceted talents, Raekwon carefully constructed a well-rounded project. While his tracks with Lil Wayne and G-Eazy speak to the fact that his mentorship has transcended multiple generations, Raekwon remains grounded, still eager to tread new waters, tell different stories and comfortably refine the respect long put on his name.
As Raekwon celebrates his artistic success, the album's undeniable feel-good nature toasts to longevity and luxury, but does so in a way that doesn't exclude those with a fraction of his wealth of experiences. He's welcoming fans to dine with him, and despite having built that table by hand and paid for the Cristal Rosé himself, Raekwon will be the first to remind you of those who came before him. Paying homage with gratitude to his Golden Age contemporaries that inspired him to turn his passion into his life's work, he reassures listeners that such goals aren't out of reach. Through his storytelling lyrics and with voice as sound as ever, there are plenty of motivational reminders tucked into his new project and waiting to be discovered. Although Drake may have the lead in the lyrics-turned-Instagram-captions realm, Raekwon remains untouchable, with each song expertly written by the master lyricist in a way that proves today’s chart-topping artists still have a long way to go. Raekwon’s career remains a glorious example of the fact that consistency is a major key, one that is not only earned over time but also tested with each release.
The Wild is a testament that even when you thought you've seen it all and done it all, you couldn't be further from the truth. Raising his glass to that sentiment and more, it's not up for debate: in the year 2017, Raekwon's music is as worthy of a spin as it was in 2009, as it was in 1995. When will your fave?
(Photo: Ice H20 Records and Empire Distribution)