Thankfully, not all the Wu-Tang Clan members we interview are amusingly distracted. Raekwon — who will release the much-anticipated, much-delayed sequel to his classic 1995 debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx on August 11 — was downright chummy! Since we can’t believe this thing is actually coming out, we got Rae on the phone early to talk about recording the original album, the distribution deal he landed with EMI for the sequel, and the reason people are paying attention to his mustache.
You were publicly critical of RZA after 8 Diagrams, but he’s working on OB4CLII. How'd you patch things up?
I mean, we family. Everything that me and RZA were going through, it was controversial and it got out to the air, but we both already knew where we were going with it. It ain’t like I did nothing behind his back. I don’t rock like that. Whatever it is, he already knew my energy, and he knew I had an important project as well. At the end of the day, we brothers.
Can you talk about experience of recording the original Cuban Linx?
That album was more like a street album — it was done in the basement, it was done with straight-up beats and rhymes, it wasn’t about trying to make it anything to sit on a pedestal with commercial hip-hop. It was just coming fresh off the block, like, "Yo, these are the beats that Rae likes and he’s gonna spit that street shit cause that’s all he know." And I definitely picked the production that I felt was good for my chamber. You know, niggas wasn’t rhyming to shit like "Rainy Dayz" or "Criminology," like that kind of sound. Me and RZA knew we was coming across with a new sound.
So you knew at the time you were recording it’d be something special?
Everything was special, ’cause we professionals and we take that hip-hop shit serious. But if you look at the title, it’s called Only Built 4 Cuban Linx because we felt that it was only built for a few people. It could have been just 50,000 people that fell in love with the album: We just wanted to make it for the ones that could relate to the struggle and to my street days and all the shit.
How much of the delay on the sequel was due to your own perfectionism?
I’m the type of artist that I never like to rush everything. It definitely took a process because I wanted to make sure that I had a kind of ill kind of production, ’cause when you talking about doing Cuban Linx, you go back to the classic Wu sound. We wanted to bring that back to life. And if you know like I know, a lot of the radio music today don’t even know how to understand that kind of sound. And we wanted to go back and really create a façade of the early nineties, of when I didn’t have a record deal, and it was just about the beats and the rhymes. But it gave me a lot of time to really stash a lot of good beats.
You’re bringing in a lot of non-Wu performers this time. What is it about guys like Bun B, Jadakiss, and the Game that you can relate to?
I think not only the passion for real hip-hop, but they street niggas as well. They got a certain kind of credibility out there that basically relates to mine. Game, Bun B, Kiss, they been around the life, hands on with it — you can hear it in the music. ’Cause at the end of the day, I’m always going to be underground. I don’t care if I do 20 million in sales, my background is underground. It’s straight drug-dealing music. Straight over the stove again.
What went wrong with the original Aftermath/Dr. Dre/Busta Rhymes Deal?
I mean, it wasn’t really anything that went wrong. It became a big rumor about me going to Aftermath, and somebody leaked it out like it was a go. But we never really put no paperwork together and had no John Hancock when we was basically in bed. It was just a negotiation. Me and Busta have had this brotherly love relationship — to me Busta is a Wu Tang member from the other side. Me and him never worked out no business deal, it was more a friendship.
Have there been various versions of the album, or has it been one continuous evolution?
I mean, you know, people got the philosophy that it’s so many different versions. But anything that I made, I always bottled it up and, you know, threw it in the water so nobody could find it. So anything that I’m releasing now is basically me just letting you know I still got it. But everybody is judging it to be Cuban Linx. That’s a laugh to me. I gotta laugh it off, ’cause I’m like, "Yo, you haven’t even heard shit yet." But I’m glad that people are paying attention to my mustache, you know what I mean? They watching how my shit is shaped up.
How many members of Wu-Tang are on the album?
I could never do another Cuban Linx album without having the family on it. Every member is on there, doing their thing. Even if you don’t hear my brothers really ringing bells right now, I always believe in them.
The original was billed as “Guest-Starring Tony Starks.” Is Ghostface as involved this time around?
I want to keep a few things hidden until it’s time to basically purchase the album, but in this case, Ghost really stepped to the plate and put his best foot forward, ’cause he knew where he came from. You looking at a substantial amount of Ghostface Killah. This is his baby as well.
You’ve mentioned you almost went the independent route. How close of a call was it?
I was having a lot of mixed feelings about the independent world as well as the label world. I feel like I’ve been in the game a long time and you know when it come to labels not seeing a fella being around the last five years, it’s like it's hard to convince them what I can do. They don’t respect the fact that I’m bringing in a collective item, and the labels weren’t really trying to give me the proper support system that I needed and made me feel like, “Yo, if you not gonna respect it, if you not gonna promote it, I might as well do it myself, and capitalize off my decisions.” And that’s when I decided to do another situation where I create my own buzz — Rae’s not an artist on Cuban Linx, Rae’s selling a brand to EMI, and EMI is coming up as a partner.
Last thing. Can we get any collateral over the album really coming out August 11th?
[Laughs]Yo, you crazy. Yo, can we get some collateral?! The only collateral I can give you is my word. I’m a man of my word. I know a lot of people is doubting this project is even existing. Y’all helped me eat for years — I would never play with y’all. That’s why I been giving ya’ll free music. I look at it like you said, "Yo, you got me waiting, can I get a fucking soda? Can I get a juice? Can I get a fucking sandwich?" And that’s my way of giving back. But I do have to make sure that my I’s is dotted and my T’s is crossed. August 11 is official. That’s the final destination for the album. Get ready.