Chef Raekwon has been sitting on an alleged classic for years. Or, at least that's how it's been portrayed lately in the media. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 has raised skepticism to new heights for critics holding on to the idea that The Wu-Tang Clan will re-emerge to ‘90s era success. Though tempted by the idea of The RZA and Dr. Dre handling production duties for the Aftermath-pending release, the setbacks the album has gone through in the last year alone has caused even the most die-hard Wu-Tang fans to turn their back on the album's potential. In fact, if you listen to what Rae has to say, you might even say Aftermath turned their back on the album's potential. Though reluctant to say it flat out, he's clearly disappointed with the politicking that hovers around the album.
So, he's taking a quick break to drop a side project on Babygrande Records called Icewater: Polluted Water this week. Comprised of MCs Rae has known since childhood, Ice Water represents the bond of his word to put his people on. As you read further, you sense genuine passion for what he does, and disgust for how Cuban Linx 2 has been portrayed in the media. Unlike 99 percent of rappers who promote themselves, Raekwon really believes he's sitting on a classic album. If the list of producers are any indication-Dr. Dre, The RZA, J. Dilla, Erick Sermon and Marley Marl-the odds are in his favor for being right. The only question is, will it ever see the light of day? We caught up with him in Warsaw, Poland to get an exclusive.
AllHipHop.com: A lot of people don't know that you developed the artists in Icewater from scratch.
Raekwon: These guys been around me for a long time. It's like we practically grew up in the same neighborhood. I gave them an old force, and when things get right, [I told them that] they will be ready to go out there and be the people that they're goin' to be and entertain the world like you are supposed to. [I said] "I'm going to come back for you," and that's what I did.
AllHipHop.com: Are they going to do that whole crossover, commercial bling-bling down South thing? Some people think the East Coast and New York have to bring things back to the original roots. Some people call it garbage, you know what I'm saying?
Raekwon: You know, I feel the way you feel. At the end of the day, there is some talented brothas down in the South. I got a lot of good friends out there that basically supported this record. I understand what you're saying about this, the East gotta keep it the East, and whatever. But me, I'm a universal dude, and I have a lot of good supporters from all over the world, but one thing about these [Icewater] dudes though... I'm not taking them on the mainstream ride. What it is, is, I'm showing them how to deal with the politics, but at the same time, be yourself, you know what I mean? We didn't stay and design a record to sit here and say, "Oh, this is going to be a commercial record." They know that's not how I play.
AllHipHop.com: Right. I mean, the streets are trying to hear more classic beats like "Verbal Intercourse..."
Raekwon: No question, but at the same token, you know what I mean, you gotta have a record that basically is a record that MTV can be able to play. My whole design is to be that record and still be who you are. It's like, yo, sometimes you gotta do certain things you don't want to do, but then it's like you sellin' out. You gotta be comfortable with what you're dealing with. We all made sure that this record basically capitalizes on where the n***as came from and how they do it. The way the game is right now, you gotta politick. You gotta deal with certain things.
AllHipHop.com: Absolutely. But people want to see Wu-Tang come back with it already, you know?
Raekwon: Which is hard. We could sit here and do hardcore records all day, but if we can't get them singing on the radio, or a n***a is saying "n***a" too much and and [rapping about] killin' everybody, yo, that's not gonna sell records, dog. It's about making a strategic album being able to deliver, yet challenge them. You want to satisfy your companies, so they could sit there and support your records....'Cause I'm always right up against that war, you know what I mean? You know, muthaf**kas be killin' me. One minute, if I go hard, nobody's actin' like I got a radio record or that I got something that can be played on a five o'clock free ride. So I gotta make sure [Icewater] understands the politics and say, "You know what, if you do decide to go light, you go hard twice."
I'm dealin' with a bunch of hyenas, man. These n***as automatically talk that talk. We don't sit around and capitalize off of commercial s**t man. We make real music, man. If the beat is something that we says yo, we gotta get in the club and make a muthaf**ka dance, whatever-whatever, we'll deal with that.
AllHipHop.com: Now I want to shift gears and talk about Cuban Linx 2. Can you tell me what the status of the project is for this album?
Raekwon: Cuban Linx 2 album is basically just sittin' on the shelf waiting to for me to unleash it right now. I'm lookin' for the best situation and makin' sure that it gets marketed the way that it needs to be marketed. The record is done, I got an awesome line-up, awesome production squad, it's just that right now I gotta feel comfortable with throwin' it out there and not being misled by all the faggy [music] that is going on in the industry.
I refuse to just step in there and catch a couple of dollars and act like somebody might be gassin' me and throw this sh*t out, no. We goin' to do everything correctly. If it ain't correct, you can't get it yet. I'm in control of this sh*t right here.
AllHipHop.com: Can you tell me more about the production approach, because, if I'm not mistaken, both Dre and RZA are on the album?
Raekwon: Dr. Dre, RZA, Dilla, I got [DJ] Scratch, I got Marley [Marl], I got Erick Sermon, I got legends that sit around the ball with me and basically allow me to demonstrate what I demonstrate on wax and still makes sure it stay where it needs to stay at. It's so important that you want people to know that it's a new thing. I could never sit here and try to act like I'm a duplicate what I've done already. Nobody can duplicate what the f**k they've done when they've done it already. All you can do is sit here and know the elements that it's goin' to take to win. The album is beautiful. I can't even put no value as far as money on top of it 'cause it f**ks my own head up.
I'm not gonna play no games on this record because, like I said, I already know what my fans want and I'm not lettin' my fans down. A lot of people [in the media] are being controversial to me about my production, but with the way production is right now-I don't give a f**k what album is out now. You can't f**k with my s**t. You can't f**k with this album. It's just about building the house on the right stilts, you know what I mean? The way I feel right now, it's well-built.
AllHipHop.com: What impact did Busta Rhymes have on the album?
Raekwon: Busta is basically the liaison in the situation and he's like a good friend, you know what I mean? Busta really sat down and talked about the politics and loyalty about Hip-Hop and that's how we feel about each other. I know a lot of dudes in the business, and that's what I was telling you about earlier, about the politics and you know what I mean? Politics is very important in this game and then at the same time, it's good to have real n***as around me that you want to see win, and always want to see [you] win. As far as everybody said, you know, Busta is the executive producer of the album-and you can call it whatever you want to call it-but at the end of the day, he came in as a real n***a.
AllHipHop.com: Let's talk about the first Cuban Linx album for a minute. It came out in a classic era for a lot of people in Hip-Hop of '95. Nas came out hard. Biggie came out hard. Mobb Deep came out hard. 2Pac came out hard. What was that whole vibe in 1995 like? What was so special about that year, being that you were heavily involved in it?
Raekwon: I mean, we were chillin' with the best of the best at the time. The artists basically had the love for the music. Everybody was being talented and had credibility; nobody was just tryin' to say [something weak]. At the end of the day, we recognized each other's power. We came from the game and it was ours to go gold. You could tell this s**t was fresh from the street and it wasn't no bitter type of s**t. This is real Hip-Hop, this is our coming to the table with a lot of the classic songs and not no commercial s**t. We come in with what we built and that's the big thing around that time, especially to me, you know what I mean?
Yo, when I sit back and think about the B.I.G's and you know the Mobbs at the time, when everybody was flowin' it, especially now, everything is just diluted, using the same chemicals that n***as have already done, you know what I mean? So, now you got muthaf**kas that make a single, to carry your f**kin' album. It's like, I don't know where that s**t came from.
One minute, people wanna downgrade the n***as that paved the way for this s**t, then the next thing you know, muthaf**kas want us to come back. You ain't respectin' the blueprint or what paved the way for you, n***a. So in my eyes, I don't even have words for you, man. When I make my music I don't be listening to everybody's f**kin' music [to sound like everyone else]. I keep my head to the street. I'm a giant, man. I'm a giant for real.
Additional reporting by Manny Ense.