Raekwon is on fire. Since the release of Only Built For Cuban Linx II last September, the sequel to his classic 1995 debut, the Wu-Tang Clan member has been enjoying a late-career resurgence rarely seen in hip-hop. His most recent power-move, a collaborative remix of Justin Bieber’s “Runaway Love” instigated by Kanye West on Twitter, left hardcore Wu-Tang fans and a nation of tweens equally confounded. But with more Kanye-affiliated music, his next solo album, and a feature film on the way, the Chef is just getting warmed up. The rapper spoke with Vulture about all that and more.
You’ve had one hell of a year.
It’s been prosperous, difficult, and definitely refreshing. I say “prosperous” because we’ve gained so many points in so many different ways in the industry, as well as with our fans, and they give you the motivation. I know that the key to really being relevant in the game is just being prosperous. Difficult, meaning it’s a new industry, so you definitely have to see how things work inside the business now, and it took me a minute to really understand how things is working. It’s a whole new system, it’s a whole new generation of kids, a whole new industry that I really had to really adjust to. Being the CEO now of my own company, things wasn’t really easy as I thought it would be, but it kind of gave me both sides to look at, as far as being an artist and being a chief vocalist. It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears situations, and it’s all about balance, and I think I had to really learn that. I’m not gonna act like that was easy. What was the other thing I said?
Yeah, refreshing. Refreshing is like, now I really know where I want to be at, and I’m happy. My family is happy, and it’s all about being new again in the game. That’s the reason we’ve been able to accomplish so much since the album dropped.
What’s up with your next album, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang?
It’s just a typical album. It’s gonna be a great, solid record. It has a good concept to it. It’s self-explanatory — Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang is just alter-egos versus alter-egos. Shaolin is the land, Wu-Tang is one of the schools from Shaolin, so it’s kind of like testing each others’ swords out in many different ways on the album. It’s gonna be a tight album, I’m gonna have a couple of great features on there, and it’s definitely gonna be a classic. So this is for the Wu lovers and whoever just respect good hip-hop music. This is one that you’ll definitely want to have on your shelf. I’m really working hard at it, I feel good about where I’m at with the production. We’re looking forward to next year, just really giving y’all the heat.
In terms of production, why isn’t RZA contributing anything?
It’s not nothing personal, it’s just me having enough respect for him to know that at the end of the day, I didn’t want to make him feel like he had to be a part of it. It’s no animosity, that’s still my brother. I want to go out there and test my skills with other producers as well. But it’s all love. All love. I just more or less said I’ll do this around him. If he chooses to be involved with it, that’s on him though. But RZA’s been very busy at the same time, so it really wasn’t no space where I felt like he would have been able to be there for that.
Is it true that Eminem and Nas are appearing on the album?
We don’t want to start really advocating certain things yet, but it’s a lot of things in the making. We do have a couple of features, but the guys that you said right there, it’s not fully official.
Let’s talk about your remix of Justin Bieber’s “Runaway Love” with Kanye. What kind of response have you gotten since it came out?
I’ve been getting a great response. It’s been a couple of mixed feelings on the net. It’s all good. It makes me laugh to know how people feel about certain things, but for the most part, everybody appreciated it. You almost feel like somebody wants to down you, but then when they hear it, it’s like you can’t really speak bad about it. Me, as somebody that’s an O.G. in the game, an old school legend, however you wanna call it, he gave me an opportunity to reach the young youth. And he’s a newb right now, so if he needs my assistance, of course I’m a be there to show my support.
Everybody stayed in they element. Rae didn’t go away from his element. I gave it to it according to what I felt. I think [Bieber’s] a talented young cat, and I wanted to be a part of that, so really anything else after that is just history being made again. He wasn’t around while we was doing our thing, but at the same token, he acknowledges us, we acknowledge him. We got his back. That’s how I wanted to come at the situation, and I think a lot of people was looking at it like “the collaboration sounds crazy,” but you can’t front on me and Kanye. You can’t front on Justin. We all got great careers, and we’ve been successful through our trials already, you know?
Justin called you “Chef” on Twitter. Were you surprised that he knew about you like that?
I was surprised, more or less, that he was down for the get-down, which is, wanting to make that happen. But everybody calls me “Chef” in the game, and I’m sure that he’s a hip-hopper. He’s up on Wu-Tang. I’m sure that the cats he be around, they let him know what’s real and who’s who, so I wasn’t really shocked on that note, I was more shocked that he would have wanted to do something. That part made me feel good.
Will you be doing more work with Kanye after this?
We’re discussing things, and we definitely agreed to put in some more work together soon, so you’re gonna see something happen real soon. Real, real soon. At the end of the day, we’ve always been in the game as peers and friends. I’ve known Kanye for a while. We never got that opportunity to work together, but now things is happening. Yeah, get ready for it. You’re gonna hear some things.
The remix samples “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’ Wit.” Have you gotten any feedback from the rest of the Clan about it?
Definitely. They’re happy. They see that I’m out there doing what I have to do to keep the flag up. It’s a great situation to be in, where you look at shorty, you look at Justin, he’s a young dude that really is a sparkling artist. For him to acknowledge Raekwon, it’s like he still acknowledges Wu-Tang. Everybody’s like “good move,” you know what I mean? “Good move in your career. You keeping yourself relevant with the youth and the youngsters.” That’s what it’s all about, letting the youngsters know that we got they backs, and let’s make great music.
Speaking of keeping the flag up, what’s going on with GZA’s Wu-Tang documentary?
I guess that’s something that GZA’s been working on for a long time. It’s like the times and the past of Wu-Tang, everything that’s going on, and I guess he’s revealing it. It’s something that’s gonna have you cracking up, laughing. You think of Wu-Tang, you think of a great reality show. He’s just trying to give you a little flavor from the door, on where we was at in that time. Come on, he been working on the shit for the last ten years, so, it should be pretty good.
Having worked with so many different people over the past year, are there any other new collaborations that you’re excited about?
I just did a record with Faith [Evans], I’m a big fan of hers. A nice remix for all the females as well as hardcore lovers or R&B lovers. At the end of the day, it’s just so much going on. I still got my heart in finishing up the Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang album. I’m working on a movie called C.R.E.A.M. that I co-directed with one of my partners. We teamed up with [Damon] Dash. Y’all gonna be hearing more about this movie that we’re putting together called C.R.E.A.M. It’s called Cash Rules Everything Around Me. It’s a lot of things transpiring right now, but I just want to continue to stay in my zone, stay focused, and keep working.
Will you be acting in C.R.E.A.M. as well?
Nah. I’m playing the outskirts on this one because I kind of feel like that’s where I’m at. You know, I don’t know. At this point, I probably won’t be in it, but we don’t know. I want to more or less capture the scenes from the outside looking in, because I want it to be something that people say is a classic, and they respect the storyline of where we went with it. This is something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time, even when we was making Cuban Linx II, I was already making it my business to obligate time to that, to putting the script together. It’s where it needs to be right now. So it’s just a lot going on, man. I’m just trying to be a machine. A roller coaster machine, man.