Raekwon doesn’t like to stray far from creative spaces. Three decades into his career, he still seeks opportunities to record. Ever the historian, the golden-era rapper finds inspiration in the makings of masterworks that pre-date hip-hop altogether. “When Marvin Gaye made What’s Going On, Berry Gordy and them ain’t respect it at first,” the 50-year-old explains to BET. “They was like, ‘Yo, you went somewhere else!’ But that was his heart… he wrote that on a mountaintop.”
For his latest EP, The Appetition, Raekwon’s personal mountaintop was tucked away in New York’s Red Bull Studios. Released in collaboration with the brand, the project represents an experiment of sorts. After stepping away from the kitchen upon celebrating the 25th anniversary of Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon the Chef was tasked with cooking up an EP in just 72 hours with a crop of fresh producers—recorded entirely at Red Bull’s HQ.
“I hadn’t been inside the studio for a couple months,” Rae confesses. “Sometimes as an artist, you feel like you’re losing it if you don’t be near the studio. So, this opportunity to do a great project with Red Bull hit my desk, [and I said], ‘Damn… perfect timing.’”
The three songs on The Appetition are presented as a sample platter of sounds. “Solid Gold,” produced by K-So and featuring vocals from singer-songwriter P. Wright, is a modern and surprisingly radio-friendly tune. “Chef it Up,” produced by LordQuest, is another youthful-sounding record, yet bent to form around Raekwon’s patented '90s-bred slick talk. And “Shells Kitchen,” produced by Twhy Xclusive, is gritty and sinister in a way that feels obligatory yet never stale.
Below, Raekwon discusses his three-for-three pack, as well as his love for Griselda Records and the “entrées” he’s preparing for the future.
You recorded The Appetition in three days with three different producers, resulting in three tracks. How did the idea to record the project that way come to you?
I just really wanted to just get back up in [the studio] and punch the bag some more, but also give the new generation of producers an opportunity to work with me. I'm always passionate about s**t like that because I know how hard it is to get a shot. Especially with somebody that really been in the game for a long time. So the opportunity presented itself, and I had 72 hours to make something that was pretty clever.
I'm excited to see the world get a piece of what I'm about to do with other things. It's like you're going to your favorite restaurant and you start off with the starters. This is a starter. You could say, “OK, Rae is getting ready to give us an entrée, but let's taste these little chicken wontons right here. There’s fish and chips [coming], but these wontons is the truth, though—before we even get the meal.”
With these young producers in the kitchen with a master chef, how were they able to keep up?
They believed in themselves. They knew that they wanted to bring something to the table that was going to impress me. They knew that they was either going to be accepted or rejected. They really took time to bring something dope to the table, and I was very much impressed with what they was doing. Red Bull created this platform for these guys to be able to get themselves recognition from somebody of my status, and I embraced it. That's what it's all about, man.
Speaking of the younger generation, a topic of conversation last month was whether Griselda had a stronger 2019 than TDE or Dreamville. Personally, how do you rank the different collectives out there?
Griselda did something that was special because they keeping alive what [Wu-Tang] created. Not taking away from other guys that are superstars… But I just felt closer to what they were doing, because I knew they were a reflection of us. It clicked. It’s like when me and Ghost said, “Yo, we the new EPMD.” EPMD is one of the illest duos alive. For us it was like, “This is what we want to give y’all.”
When I met [Griselda], they were so humble and so real at the same time. I could feel that they really want this. They really love hip-hop. And when you be around people who really love it, you can feel it. All those guys are dope to me, man. Griselda just came with a sound that was more relatable to me and to my crew. There would be days when I'd be sitting around with the Wu and talk to them [about Griselda]. And Deck would be like, “I already knew about them.” They been on their way. This wasn’t nothing that just happened overnight.
And for Eminem to be able to snatch them and give them a platform, that made me respect him in a whole different manner, too. It was like somebody was watching them the way we was watching them.
Have you ever felt that urge to mentor a young rapper or young group yourself?
Every day. But it’s all about how far they’re willing to go. How far are you willing to take it? I’ve done it plenty of times. Without even thinking about doing it, I've done it. I just love to see dudes work hard and be confident and believe in [themselves]. That’s what I get out of [Griselda]. Those my little cousins right there.
Earlier, you mentioned this EP is 'a starter.' What can fans expect from your next entrée?
Another classic. Throughout the years, when I’m passionate about something, I show it. And I’m keeping it to the grain of what y’all expect from me. I’ve tried things before and got the feedback I was supposed to get. But for me, now, it’s all about giving y’all something that you don’t even have to touch the stop button [on]. You know what the chef do. The food is always good. You could eat the whole plate. Veggies and all that. It’s all about cleaning your plate.
(Photo: Evans Alexandre)