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If the past is any key to the present in the Wu Chronicles, though, the members tend to shine best when RZA is at the production helm. For the new records, the triumvirate of Ghost, Raekwon and RZA ensures a certain chemistry that will translate well on wax -- and should make the Cuban Linxsequels worthy listens. When Ghostface Killah and Raekwon trade raps, there's a kind of telepathy between the two.
"It's just natural. We sit there and write together," says Raekwon. "It ain't like he write his thing and I write my thing. We help each other. It makes it more fun, and it makes it more of an initiative. When I see him, I see a reflection of me, and he sees a reflection in himself because we walk as one."
This time around, the duo tried to avoid an overreliance on slang and obscure references. You'll still get the innovative wordplay that marks both rappers' work, but it's likely to be cloaked in a more direct, straightforward style.
"I'm slanged out automatically," says Raekwon. "You're definitely always going to hear some new shit coming out of my mouth. People say, 'Raekwon and Ghost, they say shit we really can't understand.' So we went a little easy this time, made the words a little bit clearer. At the same time, we still used the chemistry that got us where we at."
As a writer, Raekwon says he sees himself "as a Robert DeNiro type of brother. I can make visual things happen on paper, such as movies like Once Upon a Time in America. And I can do simple shit like Meet the Parents,just cosmetic shit. I'm more like a versatile author. I'm a teacher, because I'm teaching you. Our albums travel from wherever we at to all over the world -- to inside schools, prisons. I'm just a brother that will be a motivator to others. I'm going to show you that as long as you feel like you believe in something, you can achieve it."
Raekwon and Ghostface Killah have definitely come a long way from spitting in the ciphers in the stairways of the projects in Staten Island. But in rap, there's always someone out there trying to take out the top dogs. Raekwon realizes that now, more than ever, the competition is fierce.
"The competition is like sports," he says. "Every team ain't going to like the other team. They come in and win, and that's that: 'We don't care about the next man's team.' But you got to deal with sportsmanship at the end of the day, and that determines whether you're a real man or not. If not, you're going to hate, and to me hating is a part of striving. I've been hated on all my life. I thrive on hate. I love when you hate me, because when you hate me that means you got love for me, too."
The Wu still get plenty of love, but with disappointing sales of sophomore releases from Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and GZA -- as well as relatively meager numbers for the Clan's third disc -- one has to wonder if the rap world has grown Wu weary. These days, when it seems like every rap artist from Staten Island -- including groups like Killarmy and Sunz of Man -- are displaying the Wu icon on their albums, original members like Ghost and Raekwon are faced with the very real possibility that the excitement over their own offerings has been diluted by too much product.
"[There are] nine members that came from the W: Anything else is a duplicate," says Raekwon. "We're a brand name. We're like Pepperidge Farm. You got Pepperidge Farm bread, and you got white bread. It's the brand itself that people are coming up under. It's just affiliation. You could be affiliated to your neighbor down the block, but that doesn't make you family, it makes you just business partners."
Few groups have been as prolific as the Wu-Tang Clan. In the early '90s, the Clan helped resurrect New York hip-hop when Dr. Dre's California G-Funk ruled the airwaves. The group brought the street-brotherhood mentality back to rap. With ruminations on topics like numerology, Five Percenter Islamic philosophies and Kung Fu, the group elevated the lyrical game and set it amidst sinister, sparse backdrops. The Wu-Tang Clan has established a legacy that undeniably will live on in the annals of hip-hop.
"I want to be in one of them rap social-studies books as one of the most influential groups that was ever made," says Raekwon. "Let the music live and stimulate others and help them. I'd know then that I did my job."
With any group that's been together for close to a decade, there's a struggle to keep the unit tight. The Wu-Tang Clan has had to deal with the temporary loss of its clown prince, Ol' Dirty Bastard, who's been in and out of correctional and rehab facilities for the past couple of years. The group has also seen its share of squabbling amongst its inner circle -- something well documented in the Russell Simmons-produced film The Show. Currently, the group is trying to map out a strategy on when to release its next joint, though individual members can't seem to agree on a timetable. RZA has stated in the press that Wu-Tang will drop another album by the end of the year, but Method Man claims the group needs to get the family in order before that happens.