You heard the Talib Kweli version… Now hear this!
“I suppose your security is your success and the key to your success is a fine palate…” (Gordon Ramsay)
I am a big fan of cooking programmes, Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef, and particularly Nigella Lawson (for the wrong reason….) But these programmes and others I could mention have one thing in common: The cooks involved know how to cook a wide range of food around the world. You can’t call yourself a ‘Chef’ if you know how to cook just one dish. You gotta study, travel the world, understand different ways of how food is prepared.
This is what Raekwon the Chef has done. From 1993, he has come from cooking ‘fish’ in his Staten Island projects, to making his specialities only built for certain people in ’95, to becoming head chef in 2009, to becoming the boss in 2011. Now in 2015, he has mastered his craft… or has he??
Close your eyes. Imagine that Raekwon was but another MC in the game, and he was never in the Wu-Tang Clan. In fact imagine an alternate world where Wu-Tang didn’t exist. Not even the Chinese dynasty way back when. This is what this new album is: F.I.L.A. Fly International Luxurious Art is Rae’s reflection of loving life, travelling to so many places around the world that the airport cannot stamp his passport because there is no room on it.
The album kicks off at 4 In The Morning, with his long time partner Ghostface Killah up to their usual tales, then Rae goes ‘Mayweather mode’ with A$AP Rocky in ‘I Got Money’… both emcees coming through with street rhymes. Not exactly ‘Trillmatic’ but Rocky came through and stepped up his game.
Could Wall To Wall have been over saturated with French Montana’s presence? Perhaps…but thankfully Rae & Busta Rhymes recover the track well. Putting Busta on a track last always works. Proven since Scenario.
Heads will gladly skip Wall To Wall but will find it difficult to skip this one. Heated Nights is a standout track and is one of the few that features Rae going for dolo. This is that chill out on vacation – zoning out enjoying the night air music…the album flows nicely into F.I.L.A World, which has that Ludacris ‘Lovers Than Friends’ syndrome, or the Q-Tip Renaissance Remix syndrome. By that I mean it’s a great dreamy track until you wake up from the horror that is 2Chainz coming through for the third verse. This is one that might find heads hitting the skip button after Rae’s two verses.
1,2 1,2 sees Raekwon and Snoop Dogg going Tag Team Assault on the mic over an amped up sample of Issac Hayes ‘Ike’s Mood’. Expect a remix of this sure-fire single. Whereas Live To Die continues Rae’s stories from the real: “He was drunk spazzin’ on a young n!**@ with cash/They did the best to him, whooped his @$$/Bloody out, his ear was ripped, they know he loved his music/They poked him twice, his gear was ripped/Ninja style, n!&&@$ whipped him with a Benz belt, broke his arm…”
F.I.L.A. was an album in development that even began before the Clan’s A Better Tomorrow… two singles were released back then, this is one of them. Raekwon, Melanie Fiona and Assassin take the dancehall to the block party with ‘Soundboy Kill It’, sure to set fire in carnivals in the summer. Then in Revory (Wraith), Rick Ross puts in another stellar performance that even Rae almost adopts a style similar to Rosay. Finally Ghostface brings his vicious flow to the Bluerock production.
This was actually the first single to be released from the album. All About You Ft Estelle is a feel good track that sees Estelle on the hook admitting defeat and knowing her ‘man’ is making it big, yet she gives him the full support whatever the situation. Rae switches gears and goes Murder Spree mode in the epic ‘Nautilus’. By this time the dreamy vocals of Liz Rodriguez let’s Rae know that he well be his own Worst Enemy by the way he walks. The iTunes version has a bonus track entitled ‘Internationalism’ is his attempt to bring his 1995 hit – incarcerated Scarfaces into 2015. Rebuilding a classic like that is not easy and Rae struggled with that one and he knew it.
“See, it’s like, ok, where I come from, In my neighborhood, my people know me, youknowhatimsaying? See, if I try to come any different, they ain’t gon’ respect me no more…Youknowhatimsaying, but if you try to like jump and crossover to the other side, people won’t understand that, and they don’t like that…” (Ol’Dirty Bastard, sample taken from Raekwon’s Ason Jones, 2009)
Usually, the chef will tell their customers, what is in the dish that they prepared for them in detail. Raekwon has done no different in many interviews prior to this album coming out months in advance. So why didn’t Rae’s loyal heads not take heed? While this album has been received well by casual hip hop fans, the hardcore fan base are not so pleased, especially in a time where Raekwon most notably trashed the Wu album – A Better Tomorrow, saying it needed better production but FILA almost contradicts Rae’s statements in terms of guest appearances and production… which actually isn’t bad, but not the traditional Wu-Tang sound that loyal fans expected, and if they expected that…
Raekwon had already stated he wasn’t using that sound, that he was catering to a wider audience. So much so that not even the mighty Wu emblem is emblazoned on the album back cover. Has Rae done anything wrong? Should he be crucified? The answer is No. Rae already proved his point with the Shaolin Vs Wu-Tang album. After all, he’s a chef, he’s gonna try new dishes. He’s not gonna cook the same old dish … that would show no progress and growth in an artist. Raekwon has shown more versatility and current frame of mind than anything else in this album and try to open people’s minds. It may not work with the more hardcore fans because they remember that one line…
“Cuban Linx III coming, don’t know when, but the time is running…” (Raekwon, Silver Rings, 2011)