In the mid-’90s, RZA negotiated the famous “Wu-Tang deal,” where the Clan as a group were signed to Steve Rifkind’s trailblazing Loud Records, but all of their solo albums would be spread out across multiple major labels, ensuring that the industry would be working for the crew, not the other way around.
Raekwon was approached by Puff Daddy about signing to Bad Boy, but he chose to stay in-house with Loud Records to drop his landmark debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. Puffy saw Raekwon as the perfect weapon: smooth enough to glide on R&B features—as he and Ghostface did on Jodeci’s “Freek‘n You” remix—and rugged enough to stomp beats like he did on Mobb Deep’s “Eye for a Eye.” Puffy had perfected this formula with The Notorious B.I.G., and Raekwon was a worthy choice to follow (this was before they became rivals on the infamous “Shark Biters” skit). Instead, Raekwon made the best drug-dealer album of all time, but never found the breakthrough mainstream success of Biggie or Puffy.
Twenty years later, you can hear hints of Puffy’s vision on Raekwon’s recently released seventh solo album, The Wild. G-Eazy, Lil Wayne, CeeLo Green, Andra Day, and J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League all pop up on the record, instead of Method Man, GZA, RZA, and crew, to make sizeable waves with newer audiences. Raekwon can thrive outside of the beloved Wu-Tang sound—his freestyle over Drake’s “Pound Cake” is a perfect example—and his work on recent R&B tracks by Mack Wilds, Ryan Leslie, and Faith Evans proves he’s still a capable voice on lighter fare. His radical slang therapy on albums by Ghostface, Prodigy, and Statik Selektah continues to keep his razor tongue sharp.
The Wild has moments like “Can’t You See,” “Nothing,” and “This Is What It Comes Too” that can hang with anything from Rae’s past work, but a stronger plan of attack might’ve made the album bulletproof instead of a mixed bag. Rick Ross is a good example of a contemporary street rapper who mixes mafia-flick visuals with sax-laden R&B, all while cranking out gothic bangers. And he’s even done a thing or two with Puffy over the years.
Nonetheless, Raekwon is the most active and beloved member of Wu-Tang in the industry, popping up on albums from Kanye West, French Montana, ScHoolboy Q, A$AP Mob, 2 Chainz, and Action Bronson. The Wild fails to match up to his contemporaries, but the abilities that Puffy and RZA saw twenty years ago are still evident when other people call on the Chef. This playlist pulls together the sleek and sinister works of Raekwon: R&B sprinkled with Snow Beach pullovers, crack and weed, Staten Island killers who love Gladys Knight, crushed velour tracksuits, and Moët.