Raekwon Reveals the Key to Achieving Longevity in Rap

Wu-Tang Clan's Raekwon talks about why he's been able to have such a long career, smoothing things over with Ralph Lauren, his new album coming out, Craig Mack passing away, and his love for New Balance sneakers.

Raekwon Snow Beach
Raekwon performing in New York City in January. Image via Getty
Raekwon Snow Beach

It’s 3 p.m. in Austin, Texas, and Raekwon is huddled in a private room next to a rooftop pool, eating kale salad and grilled chicken and pouring red wine from a decanter. He’s been flown in for SXSW weekend by New Balance to promote the brand’s re-launch of the grey 574 sneaker, which he has on his feet.

We’re there to have a cookout with Raekwon Da Chef and actual chef Teddy Bricker to try some of the 48-year-old Wu-Tang MC’s favorite food and talk about sneakers.

Raekwon’s been quite visible lately, thanks to the campaign with New Balance and his role in Complex’s Polo documentary,Horse Power: Hip-Hop's Impact on Polo Ralph Lauren. But Raekwon has always been in the mix for the past 25 years. He’s been viewed as one of the most important artists in hip-hop history, but not everyone in the world has given him just due.

In a previous interview, I was able to ask him about his relationship, or lack thereof, with Ralph Lauren and how he felt about the brand re-launching the Snow Beach collection, which he’s credited for popularizing in the “Can It Be All So Simple” music video. He said, “They shoulda called me. I felt a little bit insulted that I didn’t get a personal call. But, like I said, I want to talk to Ralph Lauren personally and tell him, ‘Yo, you know the boy who did those for you. Just call me. Say, ‘What up?’”

This time we got the chance to talk to him about his keys to staying in the game so long, whether him and Polo have smoothed things out, Craig Mack passing away, New Balance, and his thoughts on New York hip-hop right now and that he has another album on the way.

What do you think of Brooklyn nowadays?
Brooklyn is the new food capital of New York. It’s where all the eateries are at. That’s what I call New Brooklyn. There’s still some areas, but there’s a lot of white people living there nowadays.

Did you see the “Brooklyn BBQ” story that went viral a few weeks ago?
Nah. I didn’t see it.

[Shows him the photo]

What would you say if someone gave you that as BBQ?
I would feel insulted. I would be offended. [Laughs]. I’d be like, “Where’s the food?”

You’re in the South right now. New York hip-hop is definitely influenced by the South right now. Is that weird to you?
Every day of the week, we got to represent our flagship style of music. Every place has their own identity, and their music is where they come from. You always got to have that diverse energy in different places New York. We always got to be on our New York state of mind stuff. [You don’t want to come] to New York and not hear a lyrical artist. That's something we always feel is an obligation.

Raekwon 2015

Does it frustrate it sometimes when you hear the new New York artists who are mumble rap?
It don't frustrate me, they’re just trying to follow what they feel is winning at the time. You know they want to emulate that to be on that level. But to each his own. A real artist is going to do what he loves to do first. I look at it as a joke. It's party music, everybody is in they party world right now.

Craig Mack recently passed away, do you have any thoughts on him?
That shit blew my heart away, man. He's a good dude. It's just sad, I had a friend who passed away recently with a heart failure situation as well. We just got to realize that we got to take care of ourselves a little bit more, watch what we putting in our bodies, and exercise a little more. It’s just fucked up, man. I feel bad for his babies, his mom, and his family in general. He's a decorated MC in the game, and he's going to be here regardless of what.

Does it kind of blow your mind being from the same generation of artists that are passing from natural causes?
They're perishing, man. We think we could live forever, and, really, it’s just sad. It’s always a wake-up call to watch what we’re putting in our bodies, treat our temples and everything the same.

You’re eating healthy right now as we speak. Is that something you’re into now?
I'm forced to do it, but I want to do it, too. It's more from a passion and perspective now. I'm just trying to be happy, man, and take everything day by day.

Speaking of longevity, there are a lot of artists from your generation that have come and gone. If they try to record again, they sound like someone from 1994 trying to record in 2018. What is it about you and your career where you make new music and people still fuck with it?
I think it’s the fact that people have seen me make a classic, but also seen me do it a couple of times. Right now out of my catalog of solo albums, I think I'm about three classics up. That’s what the critics and the people saying about me. I think what keeps me around is that they are able to see me in my element. They say, “'Yo, he come from something legendary, and he still here. He didn't tilt his music to be something that it’s not. He stayed true to himself, you know. I’m visible. There's a lot of dudes that want to work with me, and I work with them. I do features all the time. I was able to keep myself above sea level and shit, you know. I always thought that people would not respect you after a certain period of time in the game, only because they felt like, “Yo, [your career has] passed. I started to realize, “Yo, it ain't that somebody falls off because they are not making music, it’s because they eliminate themselves from what they used to be around.” That's what makes you fall off. But if you’re constantly in the mix, you’re going to events, you’re staying involved, you’re knowing what's going around, you’re here to participate, you’re passionate about what you do, you move on and it don't matter.

How long do you think you can go on for?
You got dudes that's still in the game today that's 75, 80 years old, still performing on stage, concerts. Some of my favorites, from the Rolling Stones, whatever.

Frankie Valli.
They still out there, turning they shit into plays and doing all kinds of stuff. This is a gift that God gave us to do this at the level that we are doing it. We’re just gonna ride it out.

You’re heavy on New Balance and other ‘80s and ‘90s running shoes, what is it about those sneakers that you love?
What I love about those kicks is that it fits your foot good, some people got different arches in their foot. For me, I always like the shoe that kind of felt like a running shoe, like a shoe that you put on, and it just makes everything straight. Everybody love Adidas, but when you first get them, they hurt in the front. so to me and to New Balance and that particular style of shoe I always like that athleticism you know running style. It's quick, quick to break out it’s not a flat foot shoe so if you had to run somewhere.

new balance raekwon

Run from the law?
Run from the police, shit that we used to do. You always wanted a nice track shoe, and it had the right grips on it. You see athletes rocking them from baseball players to football players. We was always active, so that shoe became one of my favorite style shoes.

New Balance and Polo were originally for upper crust white folks and they got adopted through hip-hop,  is that what drew you to New Balance, because it was an expensive sort of shoe?
For me, what drew me to the shoe was the fact, how it looked you know, you know as kids we didn't think about where it came from or how it was made or who would influence, we just liked what we thought was dope. It was the same with Polo. You know it was dope to have a horse up there, but it wasn't too much over the top. People want to wear stuff that feels good and looks good. That was it for us. It wasn't even about the nostalgia of where it came from.

Ralph hadn’t reach out to you for Snow Beach stuff, has he reached out to you, is  everything good now?
Well, let me put it like this: The Polo crew definitely embraced me, of course. At the end of the day, these guys you're dealing with are traditional people. When the new guys come in they got to learn how to adapt. So I think we're on a great page, though.

Were you happy with how Complex’s Polo doc came out?
Oh absolutely, listen of course, of course I wouldn't expect nothing less, it was definitely put together correctly.

New Balance 574 Grey

Speaking of new shit, it came up this week that you guys are doing that thing with StockX, where they’re selling Method Man’s Adidas Forums and other classic Wu-Tang stuff. How did that come about?
StockX is definitely something that is a credible team of people who...nah, nah, nah you know it was more about the cause than anything. They know what they’re doing, and they’re for the people. So the Wu-Tang Foundation came along. We thought it was something that would be dope to give back. It would be dope to just see one person with it, like, “Yo, I got all that shit.” You put it in a glass case and show it to the next generation and say that these guys did everything.

Can we expect a New Balance sneaker from you? We know you won’t put your name on some fake shit.
Listen, whenever you see Da Chef jumping on something, you know it's real. You know I'm a quality fella. People look at me like, “Yo, I like how Rae does his thing on the footwear.” I get a lot of compliments. There's a possibility.

Do you keep up with what the kids are into? What do your kids wear?
Yeah I mean, I got kids so you know I'm watching. My son likes New Balance. I always kept him in those, because it’s a comfortable shoe, it’s a wide shoe, and it works good.

When can we expect the next Rae classic?
I would say maybe in time for next year, top of next year, get ready for top of next year. It's going to be something fire. I've been really in my zone, and I've been getting great. Like I said, I just want to be the guy that continues to refurbish his career, his way of thinking, and give y'all always the best music. So look for something at the end of the year, top of the year probably.

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