If you blinked at some point in the last eight years, you may have missed when Raekwon recaptured his mantle as one of the rap's greats. His debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (a.k.a. The Purple Tape) is a classic, but even for many Wu-Tang Clan fans, that's where his solo career ends. The RZA-absent Immobilarity suffered from sophomore slump status and The Lex Diamond Story failed to make a blip on the radar.
I f 2015's disjointed Fly International Luxury Art groaned under the weight of its big-name guest spots, Raekwon's seventh solo album finds him operating a more selective door policy. While Cee-Lo Green (on a heartfelt tribute to Marvin Gaye) and Lil Wayne both feature, tellingly there isn't a single cameo from any of his Wu-Tang colleagues. The more direct style works well, the Chef's own slick flow getting far greater prominence.
Raekwon the Chef has always been the type to craft incredibly focused bodies of work as opposed to singles. He demonstrated as much right off the bat, with his cinematic debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, which gave birth to a new age of mafioso rap and catapulted the Clan to a whole new level. Now, 22 years later, Raekwon is releasing his seventh album, The Wild.
If there was any question as to where Raekwon stands with the Wu-Tang Clan in 2017, consider this: In the 23 years since he burst onto the scene with his brethren on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the Chef has released seven solo LPs. His latest, The Wild, is the first to feature zero Clan members. His understandable frustration with the way the RZA has guided the Clan in the past has left him searching for a new voice, and the music industry's rapid release cycle paradigm led him to make a few awkward attempts at reinvention.
The Wild nearly lives up to the Dan Lish illustration that covers it. Leaner and sharper than the preceding Fly International Luxurious Art, Raekwon's seventh solo album has the rapper acknowledging his responsible adult reality ("Now it's all about good livin', raisin' my children"), looking back at his conflicted past (on highlight "Visiting Hour," featuring well-matched throwback belter Andra Day), and narrating a gripping Marvin Gaye bio ("Marvin," with CeeLo Green). The majority of the verses are, however, devoted to street survivalism.
25 years after the tightly-knit nine-man cell broke out of their Staten Island confines to become the all-conquering juggernaut that steamrollered its way to the pinnacle of rap, the Wu-Tang Clan is a much more disparate and scattered constellation today. Beyond the festival circuit and the odd Record Store Day reissue, it seems the Clan as a collective unit really only stir the social media news feed when they're trading shots with the odious Martin Shkreli. A reflection, perhaps, of their diminished influence within the genre.