I’ve talked about artist growth in the past and how fans have become a hindrance to it this century. On one hand you want to please your faithful supporters, the ones who have made you into a rich celebrity. The other side of that coin is a creative risk that may steer those day one supporters away from your work but it also has the potential to bring in new fans. Playing it safe will get you killed by critics as will experimenting with sounds that possibly don’t fit your audience. Just two years ago, Raekwon was in this predicament with his Fly International Luxurious Art album. Rae didn’t change his style but to some it appeared as him selling out. That project had features from A$AP Rocky, French Montana, and 2 Chainz that didn’t seem to fit.
Two years can make a difference for many artists. Taking time off helps you get the creative juices flowing and helps you see things in ways you may not have seen them while making your art. Raekwon used that time to go back to his roots, giving us gritty rhymes, exceptional storytelling, and head nodding beats for 2017’s The Wild. It used to feel weird when Rae wasn’t rhyming over beats from RZA but with this album it feels natural, as production from Frank G., Dame Grease, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and more help get Raekwon back to his sparring weight.
Raekwon has always been one of the best storytellers in Hip-Hop and he gets back in that mode, most notably with the Cee-Lo Green featured ‘Marvin’. This song captures Rae at his best; he gives us what feels like the documentary that Marvin Gaye deserved from beginning to end. Raekwon uses the Frank G. beat as his landscape to paint his master portrait, using each line as the brush stroke to help you see what he’s wanting to convey. Cee-Lo’s voice is magical on this chorus and the song’s replay value is high as this feels like a movie that you can’t help but watch over and over again. Where the features felt out of place on F.I.L.A., they make sense with every song on The Wild. Newcomer P.U.R.E fits well on ‘M&N’, Lil’ Wayne sounds rejuvenated on ‘My Corner’, and Andra Day pours out her soul on ‘Visiting Hour’. Even G-Eazy steps his lyrics up on “Purple Brick Road”, showing that he has more potential than the suburban rap tunes many critics and internet users have accused him of creating.
The Wild is strong lyrically with such records as ‘The Reign’ and ‘Crown Of Thorns’, giving you a vintage Raekwon feeling. However this album lacks in the skit department. They don’t fit the overall narrative of the album and serve as filler to pass the time between songs, which can become a painful 90 seconds if you don’t skip over them. Skits can still be fun if executed the right way but these come off more as inside jokes that we just don’t understand. Take those away and this is an amazing album from an artist who has been one of the best at his craft in three consecutive decades. The Wild sees Raekwon getting back to his natural roots, creating visual pictures that appear cinematic in your head upon hearing the songs. If bars are your favorite thing about Hip-Hop then you’ll be giving this one a spin over and over again.
Repeatable: ‘Marvin’, ‘The Reign’, ‘Crown Of Thorns’
Skippable: The Skits
By Joe Coad