Interview: Raekwon Stays True To His Roots On ‘F.I.L.A.’: “I Will Always Represent That ’90s Era”

Features

Raekwon can shut down an Iron Chef with the flick of his wrist. The Wu’s most skilled culinary expert has been in the kitchen with his sous chefs and created the Fly International Luxurious Art album, which landed on iTunes today (Apr 28).

The Chef picked master recipes from other masters of the pots and pans — including Ghostface, Rick Ross, Melanie Fiona, Estelle, Snoop Dogg, French Montana, Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz and more. While in his hometown of New York City, Rae talked to VIBE after his performance at Milk River in Brooklyn — and let us in on his journey leading up to F.I.L.A.

“When I think of the dudes that came up from the ’90s, there aren’t too many of us left. I will always represent that ’90s era of hip hop because its already embedded in me, but I’m still going to stand on what’s going on today as well,” Raekwon tells VIBE. “My thing is, as long as you feel good about your music, that’s when you’ll see the real shine come out of you.”

VIBE: We’ve been hearing about F.I.L.A. since early 2013. How does it feel to finally have the album out?
Raekwon: I’m just happy that my fans can actually hear what I’ve been working on because when you work on a project, it’s blood, sweat and tears, for real. Being away from your family, being up all hours of the night, not sleeping right, not eating right — just trying to make something that ya’ll could love. And, now that we’re able to have that platform to give you that, I m excited and overwhelmed! I feel like it’s a remarkable album based on who I am and where I come from.

What was the final “ah-ha” moment for you in terms of finishing the album. When did you realize it was complete?
When I realized the album was really done, it was back in November 2014, and at that time the Wu-Tang album was around too… and it just ironically happened to collide. You know of course that I would never want to disrespect my family, and drop a project at the same time. That’s one thing we’re never going to do, and that’s be in competition with each other at the same time. So, I took the bigger role and said ‘yo push that back for the crew.’ My business was handled correctly, and I believed in everything that I felt… and I got in line with the team. To be honest with you, I always felt like it was a summer album anyway, so by it happening like this, it worked out better.

Estelle, Melanie Fiona and Liz Rodrigues are all featured on this album. How did you go about picking the female artists?
The reason why I picked these beautiful women on these records is because I felt like they had voices that really stood out. Estelle is a good friend of mine, and we’ve worked together many times before. I love her voice. When I get in the studio, not only am I the writer, but I am also the A&R. I start picturing who I feel fits the track. They came in, and everyone delivered. The Melanie Fiona record is a stadium record. I wanted it to be like, if I were able to perform in front of 20,000 people, I’d want to hear that. I sat around some of the best producers and we just came down to these women.

Walk us through your routine when you release a big project like this. Do you check the Internet a lot to see what people are saying about it? Do you isolate yourself until you’re ready for the criticism?
Shit, I get up in the morning and I’m reading shit! [Laughs]. I’m on it, because to me, it gives me an opportunity to go in that universe of other people’s thoughts and questions and answers. When I have an album out, I wanna hear people’s opinions. It’s constructive criticism, and I love it. Around this time when the album is out, I wake up, I get something to eat, sit down, the computer is out on the counter top, I start going on my favorite sites, favorite magazines, and I start listening.

The Internet and Social media weren’t around in hip-hop during the beginning of your career. How much of an impact do you think it has on your music?
There are more doors to maneuver, but you still have to work hard. Social media is used to get more awareness. You still have to be creative, though, You have to have that attitude as if ‘You know what, there are 10 million other rappers that are trying to do what I do, so how can I do more?’ When I think of guys like J Cole, and Kendrick Lamar, they never really done features with dudes before. They built their own fork in the road.

My thing is, as long as you feel good about your music, that’s when you’ll see the real shine come out of you. Look at Lil Wayne, he’s an OG for real, but he still comes off as an up-to-date artist, and I think that is powerful because they are the face of it now. I just happen to be right in between. When I think of the dudes that came up from the ’90s, there are not too many of us left. I will always represent that era of hip hop because its already embedded in me, but I’m still going to stand on what’s going on today as well.

What are your expectations for F.I.L.A. ?
At the end of the day it could sell five hundred units, and I’m happy. As long as you know that it was a quality album, I have nothing to prove when it comes to worrying about sales. I’m not in it for that. I already reached a certain level of success in my legacy.

What is the overall message that you want your fans to receive from this album?
It’s a gift that I always want to give back to my fans. That’s what it’s all about to me, and I’m just having fun. I come from the bottom, so for me to have this opportunity to be passionate about something that I love and saved my life is what it’s about. I look at myself as one of the artists that is an old timer that just makes great music. That’s why I named the album Fly International Luxurious Arts because if it ain’t rich then I ain’t serving it to you.