With a languid voice that glides from one sentence to the next, Raekwon “the Chef” oozes slicked-back cool even outside the recording studio. Known within the Wu-Tang Clan for his smooth and precise lyrical imagery, Rae will shed his Wu-Tang lineage for a solo job tomorrow night at the Blind Pig.
At the Blind Pig
Tomorrow, 9:30 p.m.
Rae’s 1995 album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx helped popularize “mafioso rap,” a genre in which romanticized depictions of a glammed-up gangsta lifestyle recall Italian mobster culture.
“Cinematic street shit is my chamber,” he explained in a phone interview with the Daily. “Street life, drug tales, that was my world.”
Rae himself is the picture of a mafia underboss. Even while doing his own thing, he still looks out for the rest of the Clan — most of the songs on his 2009 release Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II feature Wu-Tang affiliates.
Over the years, the Wu-Tang Clan has attracted a huge cult following, with five group albums released over roughly 15 years, numerous solo albums from its members and even an official print guide to the group (“The Wu-Tang Manual”). An entire mythology has been built around Wu-Tang’s nine members, beginning with their enigmatic nicknames.
Popular legend has Raekwon the Chef getting his moniker from an alleged knack for cooking up cocaine, but the Chef himself begs to differ.
“When we actually got together and said ‘Yo, we gonna become a crew and this is my name, this is your name’ … (the other members) gave me ‘The Chef’ because they felt like I was the marvelous flavor, like, ’nuff said,” said Rae, born Corey Woods.
“‘Raekwon’ came from part of the Nation of Islam — The ‘Five Percent Nation’— when I was a young kid.”
Though he’s not connected with the Nation of Islam, Raekwon recently became a Muslim. He described his conversion to Islam as more influential on his world view than his music.
“Allah has given me the power to do what I do … but at the same token, I’ve been doing this for a long time, it’s my artistry,” he said. And Rae isn’t going to change his bragging, swaggering lines just because he’s “pure now.”
As the conversation turned to Cuban Linx Pt. II, Raekwon asserted that, in the face of a morphing hip-hop scene, he’s “still the same dude.”
“I started working on (Pt. II) almost four years ago … I knew that this one had to be classic so I didn’t want to rush it.” Rae was right to take his time — most critics agree that the new Cuban Linx fondly recaptures its predecessor’s classic gangsta-poetic appeal.
Despite having released four solo albums, Raekwon seemed nostalgic for the Clan’s golden days.
“When I’m with (Wu-Tang),” he admitted, “I don’t really have to think too hard because I know they’re already thinking for me … I had to really realize (while making Cuban Linx Pt. II) that I gotta please the fans and I gotta please Wu-Tang, because I know how they think … we all think the same way, (and) they gonna tell me if I’m not in the right direction.”
The group mentality is unsurprising considering that a large part of the Wu-Tang Clan grew up together in Staten Island, New York, including Raekwon and producer-leader RZA.
“I was just around him in my leisure time or whatever, but I seen how he wanted it and he actually really made me want it even more,” Raekwon said of RZA’s “crazy passion” for making music in their youth.
Cuban Linx Pt. II is a big step for Rae, who dispersed production duties for the album instead of relying wholly on RZA as usual.
As the interview came to a close, Raekwon confirmed that the Wu-Tang Clan will release another group album soon, though he couldn’t say when. Like any good mafioso, Rae puts family first. Cuban Linx Pt. II ends with a champagne toast to his Cosa Nostra: “It’s the Wu-Tang, it’s our thing, kiss the ring.”