Corey “Raekwon” Woods has put together a rather sturdy career. I wouldn’t say he did it quietly, because members of the illustrious Wu-Tang Clan rarely do anything without making some noise. But somewhat under the radar, Raekwon has created a catalogue of inconspicuous excellence.
Raekwon has been an under-appreciated component of the legendary Staten Island supergroup, since they released their seminal debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) in 1993. From the start, Method Man was the charismatic “front-man.” GZA was the elder statesman and lyrical surgeon. RZA was the musical architect and unofficial leader. Ol’ Dirty Bastard was the wild man whose life came to a tragic end. Ghostface Killah was the dynamic but unorthodox verbal alchemist. But Raekwon has remained the group’s understated workhorse, doing yeomen’s work on all of the Wu’s group albums. He’s also underrated in terms of assuming the guest emcee role on other artists’ songs, leaving an indelible stamp on tracks for artists as diverse as Kanye West to Freddie Gibbs to Ill Bill, just to name a few.
Raekwon’s solo career has also shaped up quite well. His debut solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, released in 1995, is possibly the best solo album by a member of the Wu-Tang Clan; at worst, it’s the second best. His two subsequent follow-ups weren’t nearly as good as their precursor, but 2009’s much-delayed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. 2 was a remarkable return to form. Raekwon has since released two more quality albums in Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang (2011) and Fly International Luxurious Art (2015).
Now with his seventh solo album, The Wild, he continues to play to his strengths. Raekwon embraces what has historically made Wu releases special, while not shying away from keeping the music “current.” The album begins with “This Is What It Comes Too,” which has all the earmarks of a classic Raekwon song, from the off the wall ad-libs leading off the track to the abstract crime rhyme metaphors he utilizes in each verse. The beat, produced by Xtreme, is built around a re-chop of Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” drums and piano, and vocals from Ohio Players’ “Ecstasy.”
The album continues strong with “Nothing,” a similarly soulful track that feels like a vintage Cuban Linx (or Cuban Linx Pt. 2) era jam. Raekwon gets introspective on “Can’t You See,” a melodic track produced by RoadsArt, throughout which he reflects upon his path to success and growth as a person.
One notable facet of The Wild is that no other fellow Wu-Tang Clan members or affiliates appear on the album. That doesn’t mean the album is devoid of guest appearances, as Raekwon works with two-decades-strong hip-hop veterans, established stars, and young up-and comers.
Atlanta’s Cee-Lo Green (of Goodie Mob, Gnarls Barkley, and “Fuck You” fame) appears on one of the album’s best and oddest songs, “Marvin.” The song serves as Raekwon’s detailed biography of the musical icon Marvin Gaye, as it delves into the particulars of his upbringing, the ups and downs of his storied music career, and the tragic circumstances under which he died. Cee-Lo provides the chorus to the track, which harkens back to the early days of his own solo career, before he started recording bad novelty songs and fake viral videos.
“M&N,” featuring P.U.R.E., is another dope, yet brief, contribution. Here Raekwon and P.U.R.E. deliver two verses of back-to-back raps, the first comprised almost entirely of words that start with “M,” then with words starting with “N.” The verbal display is so impressive that it was only after repeated listens that I finally realized that the verses don’t actually rhyme. Dame Grease produced the beat, a keyboard-based track, accompanied by ethereal vocal samples.
Lyrically, much of The Wild concerns Raekwon’s pursuit of success. Many of the songs concern the importance of maintaining a strong work ethic and making the necessary sacrifices to triumph. On “Purple Brick Road,” the album’s first single, he details the long road he’s travelled and the obstacles that he’s navigated to make it to where he is today. Oakland resident G-Eazy closes the song with a solid verse, as he raps about the impact Raekwon’s music has had on his life and how it has inspired him to be a better emcee.
The album has a few minor stumbles, and in most cases it’s when the idea and the execution don’t line up. “Corners,” featuring the still ubiquitous Lil’ Wayne, is a generic track about trying to survive in the crime-infested city. Built around mechanical keys and soft drums, it seems perfunctory. The album’s final track, “You Hear Me,” is decent enough, but seems fairly dated, with Raekwon rapping with a double-time flow over a beat by RoadsArt that comes across as a DJ Mustard leftover.
Overall, The Wild is another winner for Raekwon, a worthy entry into his discography. Whether as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan or as a solo rapper, Raekwon’s hard work has paid off as he’s achieved success in building a career that often isn’t flashy, but is solid at its core. This album only strengthens his legacy even further.
Notable Tracks: “M&N” | “Marvin” | “Nothing”