So why did Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II take 14 years to appear on shelves?
Well, the record took a minute to come out because, at first, it wasn’t even in the protocol. The fans really made me get on top of this album. We did the first one, and that album was so influential. When we did decide to make Pt II, I wanted to take my time. I didn’t want to rush anything.
The lifestyle on ‘Baggin Crack’ and ‘Mean Streets’ seems like a throwback to the old days.
I’ve been retired from them streets, and my life is in a positive direction. All of them elements right there are everyday ’hood talk, from people getting killed in the streets to people locked away forever. We wanted to describe the lifestyle of an urban kid with so many different obstacles in his way. When you think of the streets, you gotta think of Raekwon as being one of those dudes who really survived it and became an author.
What does it say about the state of hip-hop that one of the best records from the end of 2009 sounds like it could have come out in 1996?
I grew up on the real hip-hop. I grew up when skills was important, topics were important, everything counted. It wasn’t paper-thin. The game has changed so much; it’s more commercial. I think the world gotta know that hip-hop isn’t about fashion and simple hooks. It’s about being creative and really being authentic – I didn’t become legendary for nothing. I became legendary because of the elements that we didn’t forget. If you don’t know where it came from, you ain’t gonna know where it’s going.
Right, like on ‘Surgical Gloves’, you say, ‘This ain’t no Wizard of Oz s***’ – is that about Auto-Tune?
[Laughs] You’re a dissector; you look at everything, huh? You killed it. I mean, you said it; I don’t have to tell you that. When I say ‘Wizard of Oz s***’, it’s like this is real street s***. This is what we grew up on. When you think of ‘Can It All Be So Simple’ and ‘Cream’ [from Wu-Tang’s debut], we were telling you about our lifestyle. We were telling you about reality. This is not a friendly, walk-in-the-park rhyme right here.
The Wu-Massacre record is coming up, with you, Ghostface and Method Man. What’s the difference between a solo Wu effort and a collective one?
When you think of us all coming together as a whole to do a project, that’s us all putting our input on the direction that we want that music to go. When you’re doing the individual thing, that’s you being creative within your own self. Anybody will tell you that Meth, when he gets to rhyming fast and [producer] RZA gives him the crazy up-tempo beats, Meth is gonna give you style and different flows. With Rae, you’re gonna get that street side of it, that mafioso style. At the end of the day, people are just gonna be excited to see us three get together and do our thing. We’re like the Lakers; we’re like the Yankees – the top players.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt II is available online.