Raekwon and the Wu-Tang Clan became a fixture in hip-hop in the 1990s because of their grittiness and lyrical prowess. Rae, who’s moniker is the Chef, has spent nearly two decades whipping up batches of lyrical masterpieces for all of us to indulge in. By churning out his musical opus, 1995’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, he engraved himself into the land of legends and remains beloved by many today.
After taking a four-year hiatus from his last dope project, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, Raekwon is back to instill some wisdom to not only hip-hop but to the world. His new album FILA boasts a bevy of big name features ranging from Rick Ross, A$AP Rocky, French Montana, Ghostface Killah, and more. With a feature laden album, Rae is hoping to garner love from not only hip-hop purists, but from the masses. In FILA, his storytelling abilities are still impeccable. His production is still top notch. His lyrical sword is sharper than ever. With a brighter sounding album intertwined with his lyrical fervor, F.I.L.A. sounds like an album that the hip-hop gods would smile about.
He sat down with Champs Sports to talk about how Wu-Tang made Timberlands popular, why the younger generation needs to appreciate adidas, his first Jordans, his favorite artists right now, his top three favorite sneakers, and why FILA will be a special album.
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I remember reading an interview that RZA had with GQ. In the interview, he said that the Wu-Tang Clan made Timberlands popular back in the ’90s. Is that true or false?
Hmm, I agree to a degree. I mean, Timberlands were already a working boot. A lot of people didn’t know Timberlands ain’t even cater to the urban community. They didn’t think young boys wearing boots was cool, if you wasn’t a working dude. I see why people can take it like that because we definitely come from that underground era where you know we was into that. But that was like a fashion thing for us. We used to wear boots with shorts. But I could see a little bit of truth to that.
How would you describe the evolution of Timbs, especially from the ’90s up until now?
It grew. I mean, this is a company that is like a McDonald’s now. Every kid will have a pair of boots. They feel proud of wearing them, you know? They don’t take it for being a working boot. They’re made for you to tie up real tight and mess ’em up. Not style ’em and make ’em stay crispy. It’s the opposite. But Timberlands make many different styles of shoes now. But I think they just put themselves in a Rolls Royce class of shoes now.
I know you have a love and affinity for adidas.
Who don’t? What!?
I mean, a lot of the younger kids don’t know about the classic adidas.
Yeah, yeah I can dig it. But you know, we gotta school them though. That was one of the first shoes back in the early days in the ’70s and all that, that athletes and all of them, everybody respected adidas, you know what I mean? Then Run-DMC came out with them on and were rocking it without the laces and all that. They showed you how to make clothes look cool on you. If you didn’t have a pair of adidas, if you didn’t have a pair of shell toes in your life, something is the matter. You gotta get in it. I can’t front, adidas is definitely something you gotta get used to wearing though because it got that shell. See, if you a real sneakerhead and you know at the end of the day you love sneakers so much, your main thing is to keep your sneakers looking crispy and clean and standing up. After a while your sneakers start getting bent to the side. You know, the only thing that really exists and you can just rock them and they look the same though all the time is Chuck Taylor Converses. They were classics too because you ain’t gotta worry about your [kicks] looking all bent with creases and all that. But with adidas shell toes, it’s like your sneakers will stay looking new for like two weeks.
If you had to choose between your classic shell toe adidas and your white-on-white Uptowns, which one are you choosing and why?
The Air Force Ones? Oh you know I’m gonna go with the A’s though (laughs). You know that was my favorite shoe from back in the day because they used to have the straps on it. My favorite color was the white with the green stripe high tops. I haven’t worn Ups since ’86. Real rap. I was rocking them black, white, red and white, white on red, white on green, white on blue, black, all-black. I laugh about it because now you can’t really get me in a pair of Air Force Ones. I’ll wear them, just to mess around. If I see something and I just want to flashback on them, I’m on that. But right now, I’m on some track sneaker ****, man. I’m on my comfortable flow. I wanna be comfortable (laughs).
I know you’re a sneaker connoisseur. If you had to pick your top three favorite sneakers of all time, which ones would you choose and why?
Of all-time? Man, I would say number one, I gotta say the Air Force Ones. I gotta say that because it went with every outfit. You know, you can rock it up, down, sweats, whatever. As long as they’re crispy and brand new, that’s all that counts. That’s one. I gotta go with the Gucci sneaker. The Gucci sneakers are one of my favorite sneakers because I came up in that time when if you had them, you was doing alright for yourself, you know what I mean? One more, huh? I gotta go with the Jordans. The black, all-black with the red bows on them, you know? Not the original one, but the other ones all-black that came with the little things on it. It had the real colorful pieces.
Do you remember your first pair of Jordans?
Yeah, I remember it was them black ones, though. Matter fact, nah, nah, it wasn’t those. It was the original ones, the red, black, and white that they came out with. Yeah, that was the time when I was working at summer youth as a kid. You know clothes is all we wanted. We just wanted to be fresh all the time. I remember ironing my pants. We used to wear slacks and Ballys all of the time back in the day as kids.
Are you normally conscious about what you wear on stage when you’re ready to perform? Do you have go-to kicks?
Nah, like sometimes when I’m stage, I like to be comfortable, you know what I mean? I prefer some sweats, a T-shirt, and definitely some good kicks on. But I prefer whatever, you know like boots or whatever. You won’t catch me in no sandals or nothing, you know what I mean? But, nah, you always gotta have a good foot piece on. That’s just in general. We big on sneakers. Sneakers for me is like a piece of your life that’s always gonna keep you young. You know, after awhile, some people just get tired and don’t even care what they put on their feet anymore. You know we, as youngsters, we loved sneaks and we forever gonna rock them.
Let’s take it over to the music side of things. Because you’re a lyrical beast, who would you say are your top three favorite lyricists right now?
My top three? Top three? It depends though because I like dudes to be versatile. You know, just not being in one box. And then, I like energy, too. So you know, I would definitely say right now…that’s an ill one right there. I never thought about a top three right now.
I don’t know if you caught Fabolous jumping on Wu-Tang’s “Ain’t Nuthin’ To F*** With.” He sort of killed it.
Yeah, Fab is ill, man. I’m so caught up in the ’90s, it’s like these are the dudes that I already expected to be able to do that though. I would say right now [Joey] Bada$$. Who else be saying some slick s***? (Laughs) There’s a lot of dudes, man.
It’s tough. You do have J. Cole.
It’s tough, man. I gotta come back to that. But you know, I like J.Cole. He got a slick little style. He’s hip-hop. So you can see it.
You have the album FILA set to drop April 28. One of the big name features you have on the album is Rick Ross. What made you decide to tap Ross for a verse?
I like Ross. I think he’s a dope emcee coming from Miami. I see his growth. I seen him when he was doing it. He’s just one of those dudes that got that voice, you know? I like voices. I like dudes that got good voices and you know, really take lyrics serious without even sweating it, you know what I mean? He definitely just one of those dudes that knows how to put words together. One thing about me is the track is always talking to me. That may sound crazy but when I’m in the studio and I hear beats, them beats be whispering s*** to me and saying things like, “Yo, get this dude on a track.” So you know, I’m thinking all kind of things in the studio. But, it’s all about how you deliver. Oh, the next one I would say is Future.
I wasn’t expected that. He comes with those hard-hitting hooks.
Yeah, Future, he be saying some slick s***. He also got a different kind of style. He ain’t trying to be what everybody else is trying to be. He do it the way he wanna do it. You know, “F*** Up Some Commas,” just the slang and all that is dope. He really talk like how he rhymes. I just think that it’s authentic.
New York used to be so prideful as far as reaching out to other regions. Why do you think now New York has become so receptive to say that they can work with a Future, or a Rich Homie Quan, or get a beat from DJ Mustard?
Yeah, I think it’s just the fact that they’re paying respect and homage. You know, we’re all fans of each other at the end of the day. A lot of times, dudes wanna be so cool and not acknowledge somebody that they look up to. You can see it. You got a lot of real dudes out there that are amazed by being in your presence. You know, a dude might just walk by and say, “Yo, peace, but I gotta grab your jacket. I just need some of that good energy.” I do things like that. You know, I see somebody that I respect and dap ’em up real quick like, “Yo, I just need some of that good energy that you got real quick. You got good energy.” I think it’s all about just real dudes just really respecting one another. It’s the respect factor.
Who in your class would you say still gives you chills every time you hear a verse from them?
Yo, where do you be getting all these questions from? You got the illest questions man. You be jammin’ me, man (laughs). Who still gives a brother chills when he hears them on that mic? I might have to plead the fifth on that one because I wanna feel proud about it. And be like, “Oh, this dude always gets me.” That’s a tough question because I’m always hard on that, man. You know, I always wanna feel your music when I listen to it. I think music has always been about feelings. There’s a lot of dudes out there that are nice and that make good music, but I like music that puts a chill in you. I’m just gonna fall back on that. I respect dudes, but I don’t be getting chills because I be looking for the body of work, you know what I mean? I wanna listen to it and know that you were really creating and wasn’t just trying to get it done. A lot of times, dudes be giving your burgers and the inside of it still be red. It be too red. You can have a little bit of red, but not a lot of red in your meat. I just wanna be inspired more.
You have Melanie Fiona on the album, who’s voice is amazing. Give us your three favorite R&B artists that give you chills on records.
Oh, that’s easy. You know, Faith [Evans] is dope, Mary [J. Blige] is the queen, and Estelle got a beautiful voice.
Before we let you go, what can fans expect from the album?
The new album is fire. It’s colorful. It’s bright. You know, I got a lot of star-studded dudes on there that really delivered and jumped into my world. We created a new sound together. I had a bunch of extraordinary producers that I really respect in the game that have flawless track records. Shoutout my super executive producers that helped me put this together. Jerry Wonda and Scram Jones are masters at helping build albums and really creating some real music. It’s a dope album, man. If you really like lyrics, beats, and dudes getting busy on the tracks that you don’t really have to touch and let play, then this is your album right here.
Follow Carl on Twitter at @therealcl24