Raekwon The Chef is one of hip-hop's most vivid lyricists of all time. Few can rival his ability to bring his environment to life, his stories alive with sensory detail and beautifully rendered violence. A veteran of the Wu-Tang movement with two solo classics under his belt, Rae has consistently moved with integrity to his craft. His path ultimately led him to Red Bull Music, who have proven themselves a friend to creators and their visions. Together, they linked up to concoct The Appetitionthe product of a seventy-two-hour studio marathon at Red Bull Music's New York studio. 

Boasting three songs, all of which find Rae deftly exploring new sonic territory, the project serves as an appetizer for the smorgasbord to come throughout 2020. If you haven't already checked it out, do yourself a favor and listen closely to Rae's latest drop; despite clocking in at under ten minutes, there remains plenty of lyrical gems to unpack.

Not long ago, I had the chance to catch up with Raekwon prior to The Appetition's release. Our conversation has been transcribed below.

Image via Red Bull Music Content Pool

Hey Rae, what’s up? Thank you so much for taking the time.

You got it, happy New Year! 

You too. Hows your 2020 going so far?

Excellent. A little tired from all the festivities I’ve been dealing with the last week and half or so. I’m cool though.

So you recently connected with Red Bull Music for a new EP. How did that come to pass?

That was a 72-hour project. I got a chance to work with some super dope artists and producers. We came together and made a little grab-bag for people to check out a new sound from Rae. This is a teaser, an appetizer for what I’m about to give you guys in the future.

 You know I’m a big Red Bull head, I love what they’re doing and what they stand for in the culture. We just did a little couple of songs to get people’s mouths watering about what I’ve got going on. I thought it was a dope project to be involved with. I call it hitting the bag. It’s like practice. Jumping back into shit. 

Did the 72-hour time period impact your writing and creative process?

I mean, I’m pretty much an athlete with it. You gotta get in there and pass the ball. Communicate with the team and make a score. Make a win, you know? That’s what we did. We put our minds together in one spot and we came up with some quality shit. I’m proud of these guys for really stepping up to the bar and giving me something I can feel comfortable with. It was dope though. My process is I listen to something to love. My creative juices start flowing. We off to the races. I’ve been doing it like that for years. It’s all about hearing what you like. 

Christopher Polk/Getty Image

I consider you to be one of the best lyricists of all time, to be honest. The way you build a world around you, you’re such a keen observer. The way your storytelling mixes stream-of-consciousness, abstract imagery, slang. When you were coming up in Park Hill, were you an observant person? 

Oh, definitely. Definitely. That’s what the neighborhood is always about. Looking and watching. Seeing who’s winning, who’s losing, the gains and the setbacks. All that type of stuff, that’s what the neighborhood gives us. I’ve always been an analyst when it comes to pretty much anything. I’m looking out for me, trying to protect me, if I see villains around. 

They say a good listener is a good learner - able to understand more from seeing things how they really are. That’s always been me. Since I was a kid, from playing sports to music. You watch the best, you become the best. You learn from people’s mistakes and you learn from your mistakes. That’s what gives you the opportunity to be greater. 

When did you first start realizing you wanted to be a lyricist and putting these experiences to the page?

My shit goes back to hanging on the staircase with some of my homeboys from the Wu. We all came up from staircase rap, going out to a couple of clubs as we got older. Seeing some of the legendary artists of that time doing their thing. We’re talking about early eighties, mid-eighties cats. Rakim to KRS One, Kane, all these dudes were an inspiration to us. They pretty much wrote the bible of rap for us, and we just followed it. We followed what we seen them do and try to do it on the same magnitude.

When you think back to those early days, has anything stayed consistent in your rapping technique from then to now? 

Passion. I’m passionate about music. Good production, good energy, good people. I couldn’t do a lot of the things I do without having that instilled in me. Everything for me always been about a team effort. Paying attention to the talented ones. I think that’s why this is so dope for me to do a couple of records with the Red Bull team. 

I’m always looking at the future, the new kids coming up, new producers. Guys that can inspire me! I’ve been inspiring people for decades. It feels good to be inspired now. All of that plays a role in my passion. You got something that’s dope and it gets me in the mood, makes me feel good about wanting to be a part of it. That’s what I’m down for. That’s how we make history. With those vibes.
 

Christopher Polk/Getty Images 

When you were coming up in the New York golden era of production, you had so many great producers -- the work RZA did was incredible. With the landscape having changed so much, what are some of the things you enjoy about this era of beat-making?

The ones that’s super talented will come out when it’s time. You always gotta be prepared for talent when it comes in front of you. I’ve been around the world, I’ve seen so many dope dudes do their thing and not really get the shine they wanted at the time. I’m like ‘damn these dudes are talented but nobody knows them yet.’ I’ve always been a big advocate of wanting to see new guys do they thing -- I listen to all kinds of music. Not just hardcore lyrics, but everything. From reggae to EDM. Dope is dope. You feel it, you hear it, it sounds like a winner, you sign off. 

That’s how I look at music in general. It’s an energy you feel when you hear talented muthafuckas do they thing. I just feed off of that. If I could give a guy some great advice or inspire him in any type of way, it feels good to know  I inspired people who are really into it. It makes me feel good to know that I’m giving them some life, and they’re giving me some life. That’s the same way we were inspired when we came up! From watching people be great at what they was great at. It’s about passing the torch. You gotta pass the torch and give them the opportunity to be great at what they do.

You’ve become The General now. I recently saw you pass the torch to the Griselda movement. How did you connect with them?

Yeah! Those are my good friends. They put something in me. They gave me that surge we had back in the day and I love it. That’s why I give them credit. I told them when I met them, 

‘Y’all get it in. Ya’ll doing what you’re supposed to do.’ That’s one style of hip-hop, but that particular style is one of my favorites. That’s what made us be great. 

It reminds me of you and Ghost. I’ve been listening to so much Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and Wu-Tang music lately, revisiting my favorite Wu-Tang projects. I have to ask - how did the dynamic between you and Ghost evolve through music? 

It started from Wu-Tang Clan. The energy at home. We’re nine ill emcees and we all got something special that we bring to the table. I guess with me and Ghost, we vibed off each other cause we was linked by what me and him love personally, what was inspiring us. The crew started to see that, and they were like ‘ya’ll need to do a record together.’ Next thing you know, we started doing it, and all of us was like ‘this sounds right.’ That was a great thing. 

After The Appetition, what’s next for Raekwon in 2020? Are we going to get a full-length album?

We definitely got a big entree about to come out. Don’t worry, we going to score again and make another classic. I always keep it genuine to what kind of hip-hop I love and what I’ma give you guys. There’s a lot of things on board. I got a great wine out, it’s called Licata. We got a big documentary we still working on. We got a store in Toronto called The Purple Factory. There’s other endeavors I’m involved in, we’re going to incorporate everything to it. We’re going to bring a whole decade of new shit to the table.