Sunday evening, while most of North America was entrenched in the continuing legends of Game of Thrones (and Rick and Morty), one man furthered his own legacy in Miami.
Wu-Tang Clan member and “mafia rap” veteran Raekwon the Chef brought the Wild Tour to Churchill’s Pub. The Wild is the title of his latest studio album, seventh overall, which features appearances by CeeLo Green and Lil Wayne. However, this show was always going to be about what came before, namely Raekwon’s work in the '90s and his solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... which established him as a force separate from his famous group.
Though it is true the internet, his fans, and music critics in general are still obsessed with Raekwon’s 1995 release, it isn’t because he hasn't done anything since then. In fact, he's been perpetually busy with his own projects. He has also lent his voice to established acts and ushered in new talent, such as his stage partner last night, P.U.R.E.
The issue is that when one creates such a highly regarded work of art, it becomes both a blessing and a curse. He admitted as much in a recent interview with GQ: “It kind of boxes you in, and sometimes people don’t want to hear anything else outside of what they know you for. In a way, it’s not a good thing but it’s also not a bad thing. It’s just you did something for the culture that people respected to the fullest. I take that with pride.”
All that being said, though it was very cool for longtime fans to get an intimate experience with one of their idols at a small venue like Churchill’s, it’s somewhat disheartening to see a master, 20-odd years into the game, playing joints of this size.
Worse still, like most rap shows in Miami, it was advertised one way and manifested in another. Concert flyers promised doors would open at 8 and the performance would begin at 9. Anyone who’s ever been to a rock concert knows that’s never the case. Rap is even worse at being punctual.
Though Churchill’s was open all night, Raekwon didn’t set foot onstage (along with 14 other men, only three or four of whom were doing anything useful) until 12:30 a.m. He did a 45-minute set and then let his protégé, P.U.R.E., knock out a few solo verses before saying goodnight.
As far as those 45 minutes go, Raekwon did his damnedest to squeeze in two decades' worth of material and give shout-outs to friends who have passed away. It’s a fact that Raekwon is almost as well known for his collaborations as he is for his solo work. A number of albums feature a verse or two from the legendary MC.
French Montana, DJ Khaled, Kanye West, Outkast, and of course Wu-Tang Clan (including several tracks with his rap soulmate, Ghostface Killah) have all asked Raekwon to lend his storytelling chops to their songs. However, on Sunday night, he honored two men, and one in particular: Ol' Dirty Bastard (by performing a bit of “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) and the recently deceased Prodigy, who died in June due to complications with sickle cell anemia.
Raekwon was able to pull from so many sources in his nearly hourlong hip-hop medley because he is not only a welcome guest but also a respected presence on any rap song. He dropped verse after verse on this rap carousel of instantly recognizable songs (“C.R.E.A.M.” and Mobb Deep’s “Eye for an Eye,” for instance) dating back to his roots with Wu-Tang and, of course, Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx... with “Ice Cream.” Though the song makes dated references to singer Adina Howard and diminutive NBA star Spud Webb, the impact of the lyrics remains as fresh as a frosty treat.
Although he has never been a radio mainstay, unconcerned with the hottest beat or a shelf full of Grammys, Raekwon has many admirers. He has his acolytes in Action Bronson, Pusha-T, Sage Francis, and G-Eazy, the last of whom appears on The Wild for the track “Purple Brick Road.”
The reason Raekwon is so beloved is simple. He delivers the purest form of rap energy: storytelling. He is a modern-day bard from the projects.
So how much does he care about performing in a small rock club late on a Sunday night? Probably not that much considering the positive vibes flowing back and forth between him and the crowd.
On the opener of Cuban Lynx, "Striving for Perfection," Raekwon lays out certain goals and aspirations, including taking care of his family. Over the past 22 years, has he achieved them all? It’s hard to say, but at one point he referenced the Rolling Stones, who are still bringing it in their 70s. He said that like them, “I want to get old. Older!” and maybe he meant older and better.
The truth is, though this was a fine show and pretty much what rap fans could expect in this setting, Raekwon isn’t just another rapper. He’s fucking Raekwon of the Wu-Tang Clan, and his skills live and in person should be and can be more impressive than any fiction on TV.