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LOS ANGELES >> Outside Staten Island, it tough to imagine meeting Raekwon in any more appropriate place than the Renaissance Hotel adjacent to the Los Angeles International Airport. Where else would the Wu Tang Clan general stay but in an upscale chain named after an Italian arts rebirth and within walking distance of a smooth jet getaway?
You half expect to see Raekwon strut through the lobby bar rocking all velour and a matching purple chef hat studded with diamonds and amethysts. Instead, he lying low on a languid April afternoon, scarfing down a Taco Bell quesadilla under mercury blue mood lighting. Built like a bullet, he shows a style that is fresh but not flamboyant: a Wildstyle T shirt, cherry red and black New Balance sneakers, and a New Era hat sticker still on. A solitary ring shines like a strobe light.
A career that started in New York Park Hill Projects has taken him around the world for the past two decades. To burnish the mythology as a jet setting syndicate boss, his new album, International Luxurious Art, opens with an interaction between Raekwon and a bewildered customs official who is unable to find room on his passport for more stamps.
He on the West Coast for a pair of shows at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival with his longtime co conspirator, Ghostface Killah. Rehearsal starts as soon as this conversation ends. In 48 hours, they play before tens of thousands of rabid Clan cultists still throwing up their hands in the shape of a to pledge allegiance. But nerves are nonexistent. He a veteran veteran, a 45 year old icon in a young man game, aging gracefully in a genre where that was once considered next to impossible.
an artist, you have to be out there. You have to be a marketing piece. I stayed in the streets but was always in a place where I needed to be seen. Once you stop letting yourself be seen, that when the bulls happens, Raekwon says, encapsulating the wild pendulum swings of the past 20 years that led to this latest plateau.
The presumably alludes to the nearly 15 years that he wandered the rap Sinai between the release of his indelible debut, 1995 Built 4 Cuban Linx and its ballyhooed 2009 sequel. Of course, there were triumphs, both literal and figurative. His group released multiple gold and platinum projects. He also signed to Dr. Dre Aftermath Entertainment label, which promised salvation but instead offered more purgatory.
Only after returning to his it ain raw, it worthless roots did Raekwon resurrect his solo career. His style endured like a taut noir thriller: a rap Raymond Chandler full of obscure villains and obscene slang. His underworld sagas encompass store owners named Mike Lavogna, enemies with heads and Mafia dons disposing of the uncooperative.
do recognize that my fan base is made up of people who love me for that kind of music, Raekwon says with a thick Gambino like accent. I constantly listening to that kind of music and saying to myself, been inspired by the best, now you looked at as one of the best, so write like it means something. During their Coachella performances, Ghostface and Raekwon hewed almost exclusively to the canonized album.
It partially a celebration of its 20th anniversary in August, but it also reflects that both artists are at the point in their careers in which the fans want to hear the hits that they memorized as teenagers. A decade ago, the market was barren for rappers on the wrong side of 40. Maybe they would play small clubs, or several faded stars would band together to play 500 person venues. But hip hop partially graying demographics have helped the genre expand in unexpected ways.
Rather than give up the ghost and graduate to smooth jazz, adult hip hop fans are still buying tickets to Ghostface and Raekwon concerts, as are teenagers and 20 somethings who first discovered hip hop on the Internet. The exponential rise of the classic hip hop radio format in markets across America has helped only to shore up the ability of legacy artists to tour constantly. Golden Age rap is essentially the new classic rock.
has a lot to do with the fans getting older. Generation X grew up on hip hop as a major part of pop culture, and you don just grow out of being a fan of the music that speaks to you most, says Paul Iannacchino Jr., the director of the new documentary, Rappers, which examines the perils often faced by aging rappers who are struggling to remain relevant.
at the point on the historical timeline where there a big group of people who crave new hip hop but aren necessarily looking for the new Tyler, the Creator, album, says Iannacchino, who was a DJ in Definitive Jux label rap group Hangar 18.
is a perfect example of how the Internet allows rappers to be independent entrepreneurs, he says. knows where he comes from and made a decision to stay in his lane and turn himself into a money making brand. And although he still the only elder statesman who can approach the sales of younger superstars such as Drake and Kendrick Lamar, plenty of his peers have thrived.
There 40 year old Juicy J, who earned a 2015 Nickelodeon Kid Choice nomination for his collaboration with Katy Perry. The last Nas album sold more copies than the most recent efforts from Wale and Kid Cudi. Snoop Dogg fulfilled his natural destiny and became rap George Clinton. E 40 turns 48 in November and remains as technically dazzling as anyone half his age. The waxen and ageless Pharrell Williams, 42, remains arguably a bigger pop force than ever before.
But the most prime example of shifting tides might be Run the Jewels. The duo of Killer Mike and El P celebrated their recent 40th birthdays by selling out every show and sparking festival mosh pits full of teenagers. Though both experienced significant success during their previous two decades of recording, they are reaping the greatest rewards at an age once considered a rap graveyard.
going to keep going. If anyone is going to Las Vegas, it going to be acts like Jay Z or a Snoop Dogg revue where he comes out in a tuxedo, Killer Mike says. isn athletics where your joints slow down it about your mind. Musicians like Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters got better with age. As long as my mind stays young, alert and active, I going to attack. It the hurdle that trips up most stalwarts who are rhyming over outmoded dubstep or trap beats in a feeble effort to stay current.
Those who succeed are the ones who evolve, expand or refine their original ideas. For Raekwon, the epiphany was as simple as realizing that he just needed to be Raekwon. He retrenched and realized the importance of social media and how releasing uncompromised mixtapes could help build buzz. The modern media environment prizes the constant stream of content over the sporadic album drop. The brand has subsumed the body of the work.
album is basically a lifestyle project that lets me stay in the mix with everything that moves, Raekwon says.
He proud of the new album and is in full promo mode, but ultimately he is aware that he long past the days when album sales and reviews could make or break him. As long as he raps well and preserves his legacy, his renaissance could extend indefinitely.