Twenty years later, Raekwon continues to challenge himself musically

SHARE Twenty years later, Raekwon continues to challenge himself musically

By Moira McCormick | For the Sun-Times

“Twenty years is half the time that I’ve lived,” said Wu-Tang Clan MC Raekwon, reflecting on the 20th anniversary of his breakthrough solo album, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” “So it’s a good moment for me to go back, have fun with the fans and reminisce on classic material.”

Raekwon and Wu-Tang cohort Ghostface Killah – who guest-rapped all over “Cuban Linx” and remains Raekwon’s frequent collaborator – headline House of Blues July 14. It’s the seventh show on the pair’s summer tour, which spans 30-plus U.S. concerts as it celebrates a double-decade since “OB4CL” was released.

Raekwon & Ghostface Killah When: 8:00 p.m. July 14 Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Tickets: $15 general admission, $29.50 (17+over) Info: www.houseofblues.com

“We want to go back down memory lane,” Raekwon continued, phoning from home as he engaged in tour preparation, “due to the fact that 20 years is a long time for people to still be talkin’ about it.”

“Cuban Linx,” which has appeared on innumerable best-of lists, “translates the epic themes and narratives of a Mafia movie into a startlingly accomplished hip-hop album” – and, as such, “had an enormous influence on the new New York hardcore scene,” proclaims its five-star review on AllMusic.com. “‘Cuban Linx’’s first-person narratives are filled with paranoia, ambition, excess and betrayal, fast rises and faster falls.”

Raekown | Photo by Aderon Mothersill

Raekown | Photo by Aderon Mothersill

When “OB4CL” bowed in August 1995, Raekwon was active as one of the original nine MCs of the Wu-Tang Clan, which had emerged three years earlier from the harsh environs of New York City’s most outer borough, Staten Island. “My life was rough,” he said simply. “I was living in Park Hill Projects, a place where gangs walk down the street, and you gotta either go out and chase ’em, or ….” He trailed off. “You know: The Life. I was trying to escape that world.

“They always say [about] the lifespan of cats in the ghetto that you’d be lucky if you could get out by 25,” Raekwon continued, grateful that his sprawling crew was “blessed with opportunity to have that door open for us – and when we walked through, we inspired a lot of people to believe that they could do it.” By the time the Clan dropped only their second full-group album, “Wu-Tang Forever,” in 1997, it promptly went gold.

Now, two decades and multimillions of record sales later, the former Corey Woods pronounces himself financially “satisfied – I’m already a platinum artist,” if artistically restive: “I’m constantly wanting to make better music and try things and not put myself in a box.”

Enter solo album No. 6, released in April. “Fly International Luxurious Art” (“F.I.L.A.”) is something of a departure; as he described, it’s “not just talking about the streets and guns and drugs every five minutes.” Then Raekwon, famously nicknamed The Chef, proceeded to serve up a vivid food analogy.

“I always like to go to a restaurant,” he detailed, “and say, ‘I’ve tried the chicken Parmesan; that’s dope, I could eat that every time I come. But let me try this shrimp fettucine, and if that’s as good as the chicken parmesan, then I know why I come here.’”

Asked to identify the shrimp fettucine on “F.I.L.A.”, Raekwon ventured, “Just being able to mesh with some of my favorite artists in the game” – A-listers including old pros Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and [of course] Ghostface, plus new blood like A$AP Rocky and 2Chainz. “They were the shrimp, the fettucine, the sauce. And I just cooked it.”

The Chef has also recently indulged his taste for sport couture, designing (in concert with his company CL95 Inc.) a “Cuban Linx” 20th-anniversary commemorative jacket called Linx Beach. It’s inspired by the boldly color-blocked Polo pullover emblazoned with “Snow Beach” that Raekwon rocked in “Cuban Linx” vidclip “Can It Be So Simple,” which Complex magazine dubbed the second-greatest fashion moment in rap video history.

“I felt like the flyest dude wearin’ that jacket,” Raekwon recollected fondly. “I need to shout out Polo for turning fashion up to the level it is now.”

Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.

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