For “Studios Sessions,” we delve into the stories behind the long hours in the studio and all that goes into making an album by talking with artists, producers, engineers, photographers, and more who are intimately connected to the recording process with some of the biggest artists in the world. These are the stories that rarely leave the booth.
Raekwon doesn’t make music. He assembles poisonous darts with a subtle alchemy of the beat and images in his mind when recording. For more than 25 years, that process has produced unforgettable tracks and some of them, we’ll never forget including music caught in the flood of RZA’s basement in the mid-1990s.
“Around the time we had done a song with SWV (‘Anything’), there was a serious beat that was dope before the classic one we did. To this day, I still ask RZA, ‘Yo, whatever happened to that beat?’ A lot of shit got caught up in the flood,” Raekwon told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” Raekwon recollects on resharpening his skills to record new The Appetition EP, scrapping his original verse on Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M,” and the “mental calisthenics” he does in the studio. Read the interview below.
How did The Appetition come about?
They wanted to do a little baby project. It was presented to me through my business team and I was down for it. I was like, ‘You know what? The future of music in the eyes of the dudes still out there working hard.’ At that time, I felt I was away from the studio for a minute because I was celebrating Wu-Tang Clan’s 25th anniversary. Sometimes, when you’re away from the studio, it’s like practice. It probably took about three days to finish those couple of songs.
What was it like working with the songwriters and producers?
It was dope. These are guys that are really passionate about what they do. They’re looking at me like the O.G. I liked them and they really believe in what they do. It was more of just doing a few songs. I call it ‘hitting the bag.’ When I got there I was like, ‘Oh shit. These niggas are nice.’ I’ve always been an artist who loved to see new guys come through and help them become great. Some of these dudes had worked with artists before, which I was impressed with. One of the producers, Twhy Xclusive, worked with an artist I worked with before, DJ Paul from Three 6 Mafia.
How long were you out of the studio before that?
I wasn’t in the studio for about four months. I’m so used to being in the studio. When I work on projects, I’m in the studio for at least three or four months straight trying to create something. I was away from the studio for a second and needed to have those juices flowing again. I wanted to see if they could step up to the bar and do what other producers could do. I’ve helped a lot of dudes who didn’t do their things on a big scale, but I turned them into stars by just giving them a shot.
What’s a typical studio session like for Raekwon?
It’s just beats. There’s a little bit of cheeba (cannabis), something to drink like Jameson to get my little buzz on. Then, I just listen to see where my mind goes. It’s very basic, but still very detailed when it comes to painting a picture. One thing about me is the beat drives everything, so I didn’t come in with a notepad or any of that. I just come in ready to hear it and wherever my mind takes it is where I’m going to go with it.
Do you normally opt to not write down lyrics before you record?
I write, but at first, I’m listening. I’m listening to the production and seeing where it makes sense to throw in my two cents. It’s really about getting in there, seeing what they got, and seeing if it meshes.
Going back to Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), what were those sessions like for you since you were really starting to learn how to record?
It was more sitting down and listening first. I took advice from dudes who knew what they were doing. I was a young cat at that time. To this day, that’s been my mystique when it comes to making music. I just come in and vibe. We’ve been making music like that for years. Wu-Tang comes in the room and there might be one person who’ll have us all lit based on his energy, and it creates a snowball. The next thing you know, we’re off to the races. I’ve been the guy who has ignited a bunch of records.
We finally saw the footage of you recording your ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ verse on the Of Mics and Men docuseries. Was filming in the studio common for the Wu?
Nah, I wasn’t paying attention to that. I was like, ‘This is our first swing at the game.’ So, for me, I know things are happening, but I wasn’t really worried about the cameras. I was worried about how I’m going to go up there and do what I do. I think that day, we were doing an interview for somebody and they had came out to be a fly on the wall. You saw RZA was on the phone doing what he do. It was a normal studio session that day. Even when I saw it I was like, ‘Aight. That’s dope.’
That ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ verse is one of the most iconic verses ever.
When I wrote that, I wasn’t in the studio. RZA had his own studio in his house and then, we were stepping out to go to another studio, which was Firehouse [Studio] at that time. I had a couple of lines, but that verse wasn’t the first rhyme I had wrote for that. I had written a story. After I played it, I started asking everyone’s opinion. They were all like, ‘Yo, it’s dope. It’s official.’ But, it was a story on another level where I was kicking some of my drug raps, but making it more exquisite. One of my brothers was like, ‘It’s aight.’ I looked at him like, ‘It’s aight?’ It’s not that I didn’t respect his opinion. I felt like he didn’t really like it. So, I was like, ‘Nah, it ain’t cool. Talk to me. This is serious.’
He was like, ‘I want you to really talk about us and everything we’ve been through in our struggles.’ I thought about that. It took one strong man out of 10 strong men to be like, ‘Change it.’ I happened to respect his gun based on the fact of what he said because I know he said it from the heart and was super genuine. I went back, wrote [the ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ verse] on the stove in the crib and I came back with new lines ready the next day. When I did it, everybody was just like… cookies and milk right there (laughs).
RZA’s basement famously flooded in the ‘90s shortly after Wu’s debut. Do you remember any songs that were lost in it?
A lot of shit. Meth[od Man] had a lot of shit that was lost. There were a few. It was different tracks that we all did. Ol’ Dirty [Bastard]’s stuff. Back then, RZA was making stuff for everybody. I remember Meth had this beat that had the cartoon ‘The Underdog’ [theme song] in it. I loved that beat. Around the time we had done a song with SWV (‘Anything’), there was a serious beat that was dope before the classic one we did. To this day, I still ask RZA, ‘Yo, whatever happened to that beat?’ A lot of shit got caught up in the flood. Luckily, it wasn’t the shit that we were really counting on. A lot of the stuff lost were B-sides…
You’re one of the most vivid lyricists of all time with your storytelling. How do you create songs to be so intricate?
It’s just energy. We get up there and listen to beats. We let our minds go to work. We’ve always been top-tier lyricists because we’ve always been surrounded by lyrical dudes. So, you have to step your shit up. It was like mental calisthenics. It was like, ‘You did your work, right? You ready, right?’ We never lined up these records where it’s like, ‘You go first. You go last.’ It was a free-for-all.
Besides the EP, what’s coming up in 2020 and beyond?
This right here The Appetition is fun. The next one is going to be even more fun. We were just having fun with the EP… I’m going to give you guys some shit.