Raekwon's thoughts on storytelling in hip-hop
This Friday, Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan is teaming up with DJ Premier to celebrate 4/20 at the 420 Extravaganja this Friday, April 19, at HoodLab. This show marks the first time Raekwon and DJ Premier share a bill. We spoke with Raekwon about the prospect of performing with one of hip-hop's iconic producers, new projects in the works for the Wu and the importance of storytelling in hip-hop and poetry in general.
Westword: Last time you were here was Rock the Vote. Why do you think it's important to do shows like that?
Raekwon: I think it's important to do shows like that because I care about my country, and I care about the welfare of my country, and, you know, we have to sit there and pay attention to these things and be a part of it. And hip-hop is definitely a voice, so it is my duty and my job to be at events like this and spread the word in hip-hop and say, "Yo, it ain't just about the music, you know? It's about the culture, the politics, the energy of who we want to put in the seat as a nation."
I think that's imperative to us to talk about. So going to events like that, it can only just put me in a greater seat as far as being a responsible artist. You know, I think artists have responsibilities. And I think just being involved with social networking of what's going on in the world is important, so that's why I wanted to be a part of that.
Have you ever done a show with DJ Premier before?
Nah, I haven't, and this is one of my favorite, favorite producers and a good friend of mind, and nah, this will be the first time that we really get together and dance. But we've definitely been in places before where I've seen him in there. So this one will be a little bit different because now it's all about me and him. I have been to place where I've seen him rep out and do what he do, you know, and there have been times where we haven't done anything personally yet, but this will be the first time.
There have been mentions of a new Wu-Tang project. I was wondering if you had any details on that.
All I can say is the paperwork is still drying off, and there's a lot of creativity being thought about. I would say that everything is working itself out. It has to work itself out. As far as the creative factor, yeah, things have already started brewing up.
We did a list of the great storytellers in rap, and you and Ghostface were on it, and I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about storytelling as a poetic tool for you.
What I would say about storytelling -- it's definitely a part of my MC to tell stories because a real poet, he's telling the story anyway. And I think that me watching a lot of the older artists ahead of my time that did it before [I did,] I've seen a lot of versatility in it. But I've also seen a lot of them talking about what's going on in the world today, just painting pictures to put people in that situation.
So being a storyteller, for me, is being a real MC, because not only do you freestyle and you tackle certain rhymes certain ways, but you become conceptual to the world and you paint pictures. It's almost like being a filmmaker. I don't feel that my job is any different when I'm an MC, you know, wanting to touch that ground of film on wax.
I love telling stories because, you know what, even if they may not respect the song and say they can dance to it, at least they say that there was something that was interesting about it -- because some people don't dance, some people just want to listen. So you give them something that they can absorb and say, "Wow, he got creative with that." When I first heard "Children's Story" by Slick Rick, I didn't have to dance to that record to feel good about it, but it was a story, and I felt that that was a creative move.
What do you think it is about you and Ghostface together that creates such good chemistry?
I think people just understand our story and know that we're MCs from that community that everything we speak about is relatable. You know, me and Ghost, we pretty much are like brothers, and not only just brothers, but we share a lot of the things that go on in life. We like to express it in our music, you know. We like to challenge ourselves when we're writing that shit and come up with things that we talk about things, and that's just a chamber within the Wu-Tang Clan that me and him love to do.
So we'll sit there and... we'll listen to the beat, and next thing you know, whatever the first line that's being said, that'll direct us which way to go because if there's something that feels like a story, the beat'll tell us that. Me and Ghost, we have them kinda ears to know, "Alright, this is a beat you rhyme to. This is a beat you freestyle to. But this one right here; this is a story."
And that's how we made Cuban Linx be successful because it had a storyline feeling to it. It wasn't just part of the music. One thing people know the Wu-Tang for is a lot of energy, a lot of lyrics, a lot of, you know, entertainment out of it, but, more importantly, we're known for our conceptual ideas. We attack emotions, you know?
When you get a record like "All [That] I Got is You," that kind of beat -- you heard that beat? It was the perfect beat for Ghost and them to do at that time was to create a song about the struggle and family being close and "all I got is you." So it's always about the vision of the producer that's making us going into the story world, but we love telling stories. We love it.