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Comin’ to get busy

A conversation with Raekwon, headliner for Higher Plains festival

Raekwon will perform at Higher Plains Jazz and Hip Hop Festival on Sept. 23 at The Vanguard

The first day of fall is September 22nd—and what better way to usher in the season than with third annual Higher Plains Jazz and Hip Hop Festival? In previous years, the event has hosted acts like Slum Village and Thundercat. The two-day fest will take place at The Vanguard and is organized by venue owner Simon Alemon and guitarist Chris Combs, who will play with local acts Verse & the Vapors and Mike Dee & Stone Trio. Other local acts include Annie Ellicot, Jabee, Branjae, Steph Simon, Henna Roso, We Make Shapes, Oilhouse, and more. (For tickets, visit thevanguardtulsa.com.)

For the main event, Higher Plains will host Erykah Badu’s band RC & The Gritz, Grammy-winning keyboardist Shaun Martin from the world-renowned jazz/funk/fusion band Snarky Puppy, and to top it off, the Raekwon the Chef from legendary rap group Wu-Tang Clan.

Just two years after the 1993 release of 36 Chambers, Raekwon launched his solo career with the instant classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. His fan base and commercial success has been solid since. His latest album, The Wild—released in March this year—was well-received by fans who appreciate Rae’s ability to merge his gritty style with modern production.

I spoke with Raekwon about his new album and staying relevant in the ever-changing hip-hop climate.

Mary Noble: How was The Wild received?

Raekwon: Everything’s been beautiful. The show has been great, the response from the fans with their points and thoughts on the album—everything went real good, so I’m excited about it. To go out there to so many cities and see these people come out and support, it was a beautiful thing.

Noble: What’s the significance of the title?

Raekwon: The Wild—you know that’s how I feel, the music was being made through these processes of a lot of wild things going on in society and just looking at what’s going on. And looking at where I’m at musically, I still feel like an animal in the business when it comes to creating my own lane of excellence. I feel like I’m still a bear at this, you know, a big guy that roams this jungle and continues to walk these lands and get the respect that I deserve from my peers and people in the business. But it’s still a new system of people coming up in it.

Noble: I read that you feel like New York is going through an identity crisis. Do you feel like hip-hop is going through the same thing?

Raekwon: You know, yea and nay, only because what’s going on right now it’s an age gap thing. Some of the new is feeling like they’re not getting respect from the older guys in the business and you know, who am I to say they can’t feel like that? I know when they see me they get a different kind of respect because they respect me as well and I respect the new generation, but some feel like they’re not representing hip-hop right with their new ways of doin’ things. And we can see it, both sides having their points. But me, I stay out it. Of course I’m involved, but as I told you I roam alone in this jungle—so I can only go off how people treat me when they see me. You know when we was comin’ up we had the same heart of the lion as some of the young cats got today, but the difference was we was paying super homage to the ones who did it before us. Sometimes as an old G in the game you feel like these young kids don’t respect shit. It’s not like we hating on ‘em, it’s just we trying to give you some game and make your shit last for the next 20-25 years.

Noble: What has kept you grounded throughout the years?

Raekwon: What has kept me grounded is the fact the music business and the hip-hop culture has been great to me and my boys. They embraced us 20 somethin’ years ago. We reached pinnacles of success we never imagined we could meet. It’s not easy to still have some respect in this business 25 years later and still be critically acclaimed. That’s what keeps me humble. This is something I love, I’m passionate about it, I love my fans whether they criticize me or whatever—that comes with the territory. I knew when I signed up that’s what it was all about, but I’m cool with that. The main thing is I love my job and I love this culture.

Noble: I saw someone named their baby son after you. How does that feel?

Raekwon: It’s an undeniable feeling I get of love. I feel like those are my cousins and it makes you feel like a civil rights leader, you know? Like, I named my kid after you because you was part of a great movement. To me that makes me smile and gives me something to come back home and tell my children and tell my mom. That’s what keeps the
Chef goin’.

Noble: Well I don’t have any kids, but I do have a dog named RZA.

Raekwon: Wow, the RZA. That’s dope right there. What you call her for short? You call her Rizz? (Laughs) ‘Yo Rizz!’

Noble: That’s exactly what I call her.

Raekwon: ‘Yo Rizz what’s good? You tryna go to the park?’ That’s beautiful.

Noble: It can be hard for some young people to see past their circumstances and realize what they’re capable of. Do you have any advice for them?

Raekwon: Oh definitely. Sometimes you have to continue to believe in yourself and believe in the things you want to happen. You got to pray on it. You got to set boundaries for yourself to get there and no matter where you come from, we all share a special talent that’s similar to the next person, and I just believe that as long as you keep focused, anything that you want to do can happen and I’m a product of that. I love hip-hop and had a little bit of talent and a little bit of pizazz, but my heart was in the right place. That’s what you gotta do—you gotta have your heart in the right place and go for it. Don’t let nobody stop you.

Noble: What can Raekwon fans expect from you in the future?

Raekwon: Me coming through to get busy. The Vanguard is gonna be lit I want everybody to come out. I haven’t been out to Oklahoma in a long time. Just expect a dope show. I’m comin’ to get busy, I’m comin’ to get on the sound system guy’s ass—my shit better be clean because I’m gonna play some joints. We gonna do some classics, we gonna do some from the new album, we gonna dance a li’l bit, it’s gonna be a dope show, that’s all I’ll say. I always come to get busy. I don’t play when I get up there—I get involved in the best way.

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