By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
Has the Wu-Tang dynasty fallen off? Rumors of strife within the group, along with Old Dirty Bastard's legal troubles and declining record sales, all suggest the kings of Shaolin may have lost the power that they once wielded over the rap industry like a mighty sword. With so many Wu-affiliated projects flooding the marketplace, has the public's taste for Clan product reached the saturation point?
Charter Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Ghostface Killah don't think so. To challenge the naysayers, the "Chef" -- Raekwon -- and Ghostface have teamed up for two sequel records to their 1995 collaborative classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.
"Me and Ghost are doing two albums this year," says Raekwon. "One's called Ragu; one's called Bulletproof Wallets. You know it's the Cuban Linx-era right here, so we considered both of these as Cuban Linx Part II. With both albums we trying to do something real phenomenal."
Considered one of the classics from the Wu canon, the RZA-produced and Raekwon-and-Ghost-penned Only Built 4 Cuban Linx --with its icy samples and Gambino tales of growing up in the Park Hill and Stapleton projects of Staten Island -- helped establish these MCs as street reporters of the highest order. Tracks like "Glaciers of Ice," "Incarcerated Scarfaces" and "Can It All Be So Simple (A Remix)" provided a glimpse of what these guys were doing to make ends meet before they blew up as rap stars with Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Clearly, dope rhymes weren't the only things these cats were slanging in their pre-Wu days on Staten Island: "Stand on the Block/Be-bop gun cocked/Avalanche rock get paid off...Strive for whys/Mad lodged in lies/Max sell and enjoy the highs," Raekwon rapped on "Glaciers of Ice."
Not one to hold back in assessing his mike skills, Raekwon reflects on the impact that Linx had on its listeners.
"Not only was that one of the top records that came out of the Wu-Tang family, it's one of the top records that's ever been made in rap itself," he says. "What makes that record so special is that back in 1994, we was already glorifying the material things that we wanted to be able to have. We told a story about big, major niggers that didn't have no money. In our eyes, you could see a kid on the block, and in his eyes, he's got to get money. He's got blood in his eyes, he's determined to do whatever. At the same time, he knows how to balance certain things in life, as far as the good and the bad. Everybody now is talking the same shit we were talking back then. To me, it was like a road map to what a lot of brothers is making now."
You can expect the new records -- tentatively set for September and October releases, respectively -- to deal with the gritty urban scenarios that might be found in a Donald Goines novel.
"The storyline is basically dealing with reality," Raekwon says. "It's not really about trying to be tough or talk about killing families and kids. It's just about skills. Keeping it where you supposed to be and furthering your knowledge at the same time. That's all Cuban Linx ever was: Brothers that ain't never have nothing that was trying to make something out of nothing into something."
Although Raekwon will not reveal many details of the two upcoming albums, he does drop a few hints.
"It's Batman and Robin behind the mike again," he says. "We're dealing with a lot of samples. It's more of what the streets are really calling for, with a twist of us doing what we gotta do to satisfy the mainstream. We've got various producers, such as RZA -- you know he is going to be the mastermind. I've got a few other guys who I feel got capabilities. We're dealing with a few guys from the industry, my man Pete Rock and newcomers coming up like Alchemist."
The last we heard from Raekwon and Ghost (apart from their appearances on the last Wu album, The W) was each MC's solo effort. While Ghostface prominently featured RZA on 2000's Supreme Clientele, Raekwon introduced a new stable of producers on his 1999 disc, Immobilarity. As a result, many critics panned the disc because of its often flossy production style. Ghostface's record got some major airplay with the surprise hit single, "Cherchez LaGhost" -- a creative reworking of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band's "Cherchez la Femme" -- but Raekwon's record barely registered a blip. Despite lackluster sales, Raekwon remains proud of the disc.
"Immobilarity was me going through a world of maturing and growing up and witnessing a lot of things," he says. "I could of sat there and talked about all of the bad things that happened to me, but I chose to think better and think more positively. I felt good about it, because I never really made an album where I got wreck so much by myself. It's still a classic, regardless of how many units it sold. People still respect my flow. But that was the time it came, that was the time it left. Now we dealing with the present."