Raekwon isn’t quite the same verbal assassin posted up in the streets of Shaolin. Sure he’s still got rhymes as sharp as guillotine swords, but The Wu-Tang legend’s priorities have changed. “Now it’s all about good living, raising my children,” he rhymes on “Can’t You See.”
The Wild finds Rae in his element—telling vivid stories and kicking fly-ass luxury raps over classic Chef instrumentals. With the likes of Lil Wayne and Andra Day joining for a new chapter in Shallah Raekwon’s canon. How does his new album stack up to the rest of his catalog? Peep the breakdown below.
The first thing Shaolin stans will notice about The Wild is the lack of Wu-Tang Clan features—it’s the first of Raekwon’s seven solo albums to not include a single member of his Wu family.
He throws fans a bone, though, with a non-album remix to “This Is What It Comes Too” that adds a fire emoji verse from partner-in-rhyme Ghostface. The original is great, but the bonus Ghostdini verse takes it to the next level.
Perhaps Rae is trying to be efficient with his features. After the bloated guest list of 2015’s Fly International Luxurious Art, which included at least one collaborator on nine of 13 tracks, Rae includes only four credited cameos.
Cee-Lo Green is one of those all-star guests. The Goodie Mob member lends his voice to the rousing hook of the excellent “Marvin,” a biography-in-song that tells the story of music icon Marvin Gaye. On it, Raekwon details everything from the Motown artist’s upbringing in church choir to his tumultuous relationship with his father, which eventually led to his shooting death in 1984. It’s a fitting tribute from one music great to another, recalling Nas’ 2004 track “U.B.R. (Unauthorized Biography of Rakim).”
Speaking of Nas, there’s no reunion between the longtime lyrical buddies here, but the Queensbridge legend has a vocal doppelgänger in Raekwon’s new artist P.U.R.E. The Ice H20 Records signee goes back and forth with Rae on the alliterative “M&N,” which finds both artists primarily spitting words that begin with the eponymous letters. “Meet the master, massive, y’all monkeys no match, make a mistake and get mauled by this mamba, moving with the mobsters,” the neophyte rhymes in a manner that recalls Saigon and Kool G Rap’s “Letter P” and Papoose’s “Alphabetical Slaughter.”
Raekwon recruits a team of little-known producers—names like RoadsArt, Frank G., Mally The Martian & Dan The Band—to create a cohesive sound that’s heavy on chopped-up soul samples (the gorgeous “Can’t You See”) and head-nodding boom-bap.
The production on “My Corner” falls on the latter end of the spectrum, with synths that feel like a Great Value™ Scott Storch beat from 2004. It’s a shame too, because Raekwon and Lil Wayne rip G Sparkz’s archaic production to shreds. In a Rolling Stone interview, Rae precisely described Weezy’s flow as “dumb delightful”; here’s a standout snippet: “Bullet ain’t got no name but the nigga that it hit does / Come through in my bitch’s car, shoot you with my bitch’s gun / She asked where I’ve been, I just had to make a quick run.”
Taking a wise OG stance on tracks like “Visiting Hour,” on which the 47-year-old lyricist advises young guns to consider the consequences of living the trife life: “That 25-to-life is real, plus the casket once it close on you / Word to the youth it’s not a game ’cause life will swerve on you.”
The menacing “Nothing” sends threats in every direction—Sean Price would’ve floated all over this one, God rest his soul—while “This What It Comes Too” touts Raekwon’s Don status and belittles enemies (“I’m a star, you a Starburst,” he jabs).
There are four skits on the album. The spoken “Skit (F**k You Up Card)” lists prices for beatdowns of varying severity (“I need $90 for slaps, heavy face slaps… a buck for broken jaws”). Elsewhere, a trio of interludes by a guy name Bang break up the music with seemingly drunken serenades that are more awkward than funny.
The album’s dips on the back half, beginning with the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League-produced “Purple Brick Road,” a track that resembles a late-career Eminem pop ballad and features a starstruck G-Eazy guest verse that twice alludes to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx….
The album’s final song, “You Hear Me,” feels tacked on for diversity points, as Raekwon speeds up his flow to double-time with only moderate results. It might’ve fit better hidden in the middle of the track list, swapped with the wistful “Can’t You See” in its place.
Raekwon never really lost a step lyrically. But it’s incredible to hear one of hip-hop’s nicest wordsmiths still effortlessly bobbing and weaving his way through drum patterns and soul cuts more than two decades after his debut. Despite a few blemishes, The Wild serves up nostalgia for longtime fans without rehashing old series or leaning on RZA for beats, proving The Chef can still cook alongside the best.