There are certain rappers whose legacy is debatable… Raekwon The Chef is not one of them. Rae’s spot in the hip hop mural has been etched in stone since 36 Chambers and his unforgettable verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” After the buzz of Wu-Tang’s debut album, Rza stuck Rae 3rd in the line-up behind Method Man’s “Tical” and Gza’s “Liquid Swords.” In 1995, when it was Raekwon’s turn to release his debut solo album, he unleashed arguably the best Wu-Tang solo album to date (in my opinion), “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.” That shit right there is in the exclusive, penthouse, luxury suite of classic albums. Rae’s been trying to capture that critical acclaim and commercial success ever since. “Fly International Luxurious Art” is Raekwon’s latest offering.
It’s no secret that Raekwon and Wu-Tang point guard, mastermind, Rza have not seen eye to eye for some time now as to the direction of the current Wu-Tang sound. Rae urging Rza to produce a sound that embodied the vintage Wu sound of the 90’s, while Rza stating he’s nowhere near that space anymore, having evolved as a beat maker by scoring major motion pictures and implementing more live instruments as he’s aged. This rift led to a disgruntled, and frankly, half ass effort by a number of Wu members on their last…I guess…album…??…..”A Better Tomorrow.” The irony here is that “F.I.L.A.” sounds nothing like Wu-Tang. That being said in Rae’s defense, he was vocal about wanting to have this album sound different than any of his previous efforts…opting to reach a different audience and capture the attention of new listeners.
After seeing the names 2 Chainz and French Montana on F.I.L.A., and only the realization that my 11 month old daughter should not grow up without her father was the only reason I didn’t stick a knife in my eye the moment I saw those two names on a Raekwon album. Having already been convinced this album would be trash, I gave myself an inspirational speech to keep an open mind when listening to this album to give it an honest chance. Producer Scram Jones laces the opening track “4 in the morning” while Rae and Ghost recount mafioso adventures with their trademark slang and secret language. Decent start, not spectacular, but not terrible. A$AP Rocky lends some bars on track 2 with “I Got Money”, and I gotta say, the Harlem MC steals the show on this track. Color me surprised. As the third track starts I close my eyes in order to brace myself for the nonsense about to be injected to my ear, with this French Montana and Busta Rhymes featured track. Sure enough French delivers with his usual slurring, monotone, too cool for school delivery on the hook for “Wall to Wall.” I’m sure he’s a great man with ethics and morals you could only dream of teaching your son, but he’s just not good at hip hop. I don’t know how he continues to…nevermind. Rae salvages the track with lines like “Frozen fishscale, you better go to Ishmael/Tiger skin hammer sittin by the Benz grille.” Never change Rae. Raekwon and Ghost have mastered adjectives.
“1,2 1,2” features none other than the Doggfather himself. At this point when I think of Snoop Dogg in 2015, I think of him as like 13 other things before I get to MC. Scoop Deville handles the production and Rae and Snoop spit 2 verses each and it’s a weird final product. The overwhelming theme of this project to ME felt like producers gave Rae throw away beats. There’s not one beat that comes on that demands your stink face. Both Cuban Linx projects had them, “Immobilarity” had them, “Shaolin vs Wu-Tang” had them. I just couldn’t fux with these beats.
“Live To Die” has an ill hook, Rae spits “Kill niggas, let it die, live with the feelings. We don’t know no other way just get millions.” “Soundboy Kill It” is the highlight of the album; it’s a compact, 3 minute track that features Melanie Fiona and Reggae artist Assassin. Hype beat, the chorus has soul, and Rae delivers a poisonous dart.
The intricate word play is still there. The money and riches in foreign countries is still there. The coke connect is still there. There are some poor beat selections and ill advised features throughout the album but Raekwon still can deliver verse after verse. He’s a pro’s pro who looked to focus more on the fruits of his labor rather than his trademark street tales with this project. I can’t really blame him with more than 20 years in the game. This won’t get mad airplay in my ride but in all honesty it sounded better the third time than the first. Regardless, Shallah Raekwon can stop rapping tomorrow and he’s a first ballot hall of famer. 6/10
Basketball Equivalent = Paul Pierce aka “The Truth”. Consistently a notch under superstar status but amongst his peers he couldn’t be more respected. Has gone head to head with the greats and his peaks are some of the best peaks hip hop has ever seen. Always productive. True professional. People will look back at both of their careers and realize they didn’t appreciate them enough when they were active.
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