Complex | The Process

Raekwon: The Making of Wu-Tang Classics

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Peter Rosenberg:

Welcome to The Process, I'm Peter Rosenberg, and today is going to be special. How does it all come together? How do these masterpieces get made? What is the process? And today, we have a very special artist- Raekwon the chef, from the legendary Wu Tang Clan. This is The Process. Raekwon the Chef.

Raekwon:

How you do?

Peter Rosenberg:

How are you, brother? The reason that I'm super excited to have you on The Process, is because when it comes to MC-ing you do things a little bit differently, man, actually a lot different.

Raekwon:

You tell me that every time you see me.

Peter Rosenberg:

Well the way you paint pictures is just different man it's completely unique. So we're going to figure out a little bit about how this process works. I want to start back in the day. How do you first remember putting lyrics to paper?

Raekwon:

It go way back, when I was young, young G, 13. Coming outside, like, old sheepskin on toe-up pro keds. Listening to Ralph McDaniels or Barbedo and Stretch, we always stayed in tune with the music, being street kids. Niggas around my way was nice, too. You had the local cats that were older than us, who called the avenue crew. Which was basically the old G's of the block. So, you know, they would be rhyming and we was fans of them. We'd be like, "Yo, Scotty Watty is nasty." As a kid, you know, he had ill name, but he had word play. Automatically we were magnetized by that. We would sit around, and we would act like we were celebrities. You know what I mean? We would be in the hallways like this, and hittin' on the bottles, and you know, just coming up with words. But it was freestyle. Nothing wasn't on paper. We didn't care about paper. It was just like, yeah, yeah, that was nice, that was nice. You know, we kind of shine each other's lyrics up at the time, but we was always infatuated by the culture and infatuated by the guys in the neighborhood.

Peter Rosenberg:

So when did you start taking it to the next level, where you went "alright, I freestyle with my guys, I like something, I'm going to go work on this?"

Raekwon:

Even when we went into the thirty-six chambers, I didn't consider myself being a great, great, MC. I was a good one because I was able to fill in the gaps. You know what I mean? But I was still finding myself as a writer, because, like I said, I always did it as fun. You know what I mean? So when we started poppin' with that first record, it was like "okay, ow you're going to have to start writing some things" because you don't want to be the class clown out of the crew. That ain't saying, what he supposed to be sayin'.

Peter Rosenberg:

When you guys got together for Thirty-Six Chambers, one thing that is special about that album is it really does feel collaborative. It feels like everyone is in the lab. It's almost you could hear the sound of people yelling like... Everyone is really working together.

Raekwon:

The energy was always cool because we came in, we got our little drink on, we, you know roll us a smoke, they playin' chess in the other room. RZA is coming up with some sounds, we're watching him while he's making his beats. So a lot of things is organically made in our face. Everything was starting in RZA's basement, you know, we didn't have money for studios like that.

Peter Rosenberg:

Ghostface told me that one part of the process as a crew that can be a little bit brutal is when someone else in the clan says that someone's verse isn't hot.

Raekwon:

It's hard, but you got to do it sometimes. I think that's what's so exciting about Wu Tang is because, you know, when you got to get eight people to co-sign, that's more than enough to say it's a good rhyme. So now, the transition from an MC starts turning itself and starts turning into now being a lyricist. Lyricism, you'll have to sit down for a minute. That beat always reminds me of like a fiesta...

Peter Rosenberg:

But with guns out.

Raekwon:

With guns out. A party of gun shooters. That's where my mind was at when I heard that beat. Oh my god, it sounds just like back in the days, yesterday.

Peter Rosenberg:

What would you say is the first moment back then that you said "I just crafted something special"? Take us through that song.

Raekwon:

It was the cream record that really touched me because that was, you know, based on a true story. Coming from out of Brooklyn, moving to Staten Island, and seeing my moms being a single mother.

Peter Rosenberg:

Turn it off on the crime side... just take us right from the beginning.

Raekwon:

Yeah. The beat, it wasn't a beat you could brag on, it was a beat that I felt- it deserved a story. I'm looking at it from a little kid in slow motion eating a hundred thousand dollar bar. I just hear that beat, so automatically it made me write about my life. I didn't write about my life at first, this was a true story for the real people. I came writing a story, brought it back to the table. Everybody was like this. . . "alright." There was one particular dude that was like "I don't want to hear no stories right now, I need you to hit this on the head. Let's talk about the life now. Let's talk about where we come from with it." So I'm looking at him, and I see he's really serious about me changing this verse. It was almost eight to one, because everybody else wasn't going to question it. He questioned it, so now, there is one versus eight. Who do I listen to? So now I'm like, this nigga mean something to me, these niggas might be scared to keep it a honey with me, "fuck it, let me write it over." So that's when I wrote CREAM, I grew up on the crime side, because that was real life, everything around me was crime. When we finished with CREAM, niggas was in the studio like a touchdown was scored with a minute on the clock.

Peter Rosenberg:

Between the first album and Cuban Linx, you changed a little bit, you got more advanced, you got a little deeper, and quick imagery throughout the verse. Stylistically, how did you end up in that place?

Raekwon:

See, I didn't know I was doing it like that when I was writing, because when I started doing it, dudes would say "your shit is choppy" but to me it was my style, it was The Chef. I grew up under Rah Kim, he said a lot of shit that to this day that I'm still dissecting, like "oh shit" because anyone can give you an average line, but somebody might give you something to think about that's totally different.So I always wanted to be one of them type MC's, where its like, if you want to know my bars, you gotta fucking read them, or you gotta live like me with them.

Peter Rosenberg:

Glaciers of Ice comes out, which, I love that record. Stand on the block, Reebok, gun cocked.

Raekwon:

Big stupid joints, avalanches, you know where to call.

Peter Rosenberg:

Get paid off.

Raekwon:

Get paid off, mass murderers, Services.

Peter Rosenberg:

Alright, that's pretty straight forward for Raekwon.

Raekwon:

That's pretty much right to the point if you've been where I've been. These are some of the tales that are going on in the neighborhood. Niggas gettin' high, niggas gettin busted. Some people are getting caught with their drugs on them. You know how it is for the police to come around "open your mouth, open your mouth" they ain't even worried about their gun, they say open your mouth. So automatically, swallow. . . I ain't got nothing. You know what I mean? So watch the alley cats break them. Whatever I was saying at that time, I was just describing the whole world of that block.

Raekwon:

Back in the days, I used come and have all my rhymes ready and say that. To me that was like an early stage of being an MC, was to sit down and do the normal flow. Once you start dealing with authenticity, it's a different box to be in now. It's like science and literature now, rap is fundamental now to me. So when I get in there, and I start challenging words, I'm always going to make them make sense, but I do want you to figure out what I say.

Peter Rosenberg:

But there is some slang that you used. . .

Raekwon:

We invent slang. We inventors.

Peter Rosenberg:

Exactly so, that takes years.

Raekwon:

That takes years, years of experience.

Peter Rosenberg:

It's learning the language. Listening to Wu Tang is learning the language.

Raekwon:

Yeah, but its universal.

Peter Rosenberg:

There's a lot of rappers, they connect words like sentences, and they use every words of the sentence. You don't do that? You just drop words together?

Raekwon:

On some joints I don't do that, on some joints.

Peter Rosenberg:

But right here, it's basically. . .

Raekwon:

. . .because that was that particular night, that's what I was feeling. But that is what makes the Chef the Chef. Because I'm always going to give you something that tastes good, or something that you might be like "I can eat it." On that night I was feeling like higgle-iggle, a good meal. Like I said, I always rhyme according to the velocity of the track. I was taught from the best man. When you think of a crew of old lyricists, how well do you think it ought to be.

Peter Rosenberg:

You know he's seen it.

Raekwon:

He's seen it, like a 27 inch Zenith.

Peter Rosenberg:

Which, by the way, if you came out with a 27 inch Zenith now you are a cornball. Back in the day though, the 27!

Raekwon:

That was a big TV for us.

Peter Rosenberg:

Raekwon the chef, thank you for letting us understand the process, bro.

Raekwon:

No doubt, no doubt, you got it.


In the premiere episode of The Process with Peter Rosenberg, Raekwon talks about the making of all his Wu-Tang classics. Renowned for his off-kilter rhyme style, The Chef talks about coming from the slums of Shaolin to rising to the top of the rap game.

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