On the surface, this should be a great time for Wu-Tang Clan. The group is prepping the release of their comeback album A Better Tomorrow, their first since 2007's 8 Diagrams, while simultaneously upending industry conventions by selling one copy of a different 31-track album titled The Wu - Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.
But the revered hip-hop crew seems more divided than ever, at least among certain members. Earlier this week, RZA claimed that Raekwon has essentially disappeared from the recording of A Better Tomorrow, and that creatively, the two were on "different paths." Rolling Stone got on the phone with an angry, passionate Raekwon, who rebutted RZA's charges, accused him of lying and lobbied harsh charges against the Wu-Tang producer.
RZA told Vlad TV, "I haven’t had a chance to really talk to him about why [you're not involved with the album]. But I would say that maybe creatively we on different paths." What's your response to that?
I don’t know why he said he didn’t speak to me, because he did speak to me. We spoke about two weeks ago. It was me, him, his brother and business partner Devine and we talked about why I’m not there right now. They know where I’m at and at the end of the day, him saying he didn’t speak to me is a bold-faced lie. [A spokesperson for RZA told XXL that VladTV’s interview was conducted prior to RZA and Raekwon speaking, but aired afterwards, thus causing the misunderstanding.]
And yeah, we are at creative differences because at the end of the day, I want to win. I’m used to being a winner. Being that I feel the team is being compromised by his so-called "logic" of making music, I have a problem with that because I love my fans. I would never want to give my fans anything other than the best. So when we’re sitting there discussing the creative process of making a great album for the fans, I’m not going to never settle for less. I’m not the only one [in the group] that feels this way too.
What do you mean specifically when you say the team is compromised?
This shit is not right. It’s not making us give the fans the best that we can give them. So of course we have a problem with that. It’s like coming out with some music that you’re not feeling. Therefore, it’s being compromised by RZA and his brother Devine, Mitchell Diggs. My thing is, yeah, he’s right, we’re on different pages when it comes to being creative because RZA, you’re not in the field no more. I’m still paying attention to what’s going on and an amazing group that’s got so much potential to be bigger than what they are if they just focus and come out with great music. On "Keep Watch," you put this new young kid [Nathaniel] on there who nobody knows who he is – and I’m not taking shots at the kid – but I don’t even know who he is. That song is something that the crew didn’t have knowledge of, from what I’m being told. Dudes ain’t feeling good about it.
What do you think of "Keep Watch"?
I hate it. I hate it. I don’t hate shit, but I hate that fuckin’ record. It ain’t the gunpowder that my brothers are spitting; it’s the production. And I ain’t shitting on the producer because he’s one of our soldiers. But if it ain’t where it need to be… It’s 20 years later. We talkin 'bout a whole new generation is sitting here representin' and making fiery shit and you telling me that we comin out with some mediocre shit? That ain’t part of our plan.
How much of A Better Tomorrow have you heard?
The bottom line: I’m not happy with that. I’m not happy with the direction of the music and I’m not happy with how dudes is treating dudes’ business. What are we giving the fans? What are we giving the people that help us be here? If it don’t feel right, I can’t be fake. And I’m not the only one who feels like that. Fans want the best and I have to sit here and work that hard to give them the best. Period.
You say you're not the only one who feels like this, but is this a majority of the Clan or a few members?
I can't speak for brothers. If they're going to sit there and allow themselves to be comfortable with what's being made, I don't know that part. The so-called "organization," – the business dudes – they made that decision to come out with that record. That’s where I have a problem. That’s not how it works. As a team, we make these decisions. My thing is this: For every problem, we try to find a solution. But the first thing is, we have to make sure that we’re all comfortable doing business. For me, I don’t mind doing whatever it takes to make sure Wu-Tang Clan has the greatest album that they could ever make. But first things first: Business is business and you gotta respect that.
Where specifically do you feel slighted, businesswise?
In order for Chef to work, the Chef contract has to be correct. It has to be a situation where I can say, "You know what? This is the best situation for me and my family." That’s who I work for. I work for my family.
It almost sounds like you’re on strike.
It’s the same as being an athlete. I don’t give a fuck if it’s Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant. They will not touch the floor if their managers or lawyers are saying, "Listen, shit ain’t right." So therefore, I’m in a limbo situation. So yeah, you’re right. I am on strike. It ain’t the fact that I don’t want to be there. Because of course I want to be there. But if we’re there, we gotta do the best everything. We gotta work 10 times harder, because that’s what I’m signing in for. I’m not about listening to somebody that’s not an artist telling me what the fuck they think is hot.
As far as the RZA, I respect him, I love him – the love ain’t gonna go anywhere – but you’re not in the music world no more. So to me, you need to take a backseat and respect the n---as that is playing the game. I’m always out in the field and finding out what’s going on with the new. Period.
Do you think it's him or other people getting into his ear?
RZA’s the type of dude where, in the Nineties, he ruled. Now it’s a new day. You’re not attached no more. It’s like being a coach and you won rings back in the day, but now your team is in ninth place. It’s time for a new fucking game plan. I sit here with integrity all the time. When it comes to my music. When it comes to my business. When it comes to the fans. I’m always going to give them the best of me. And I know the Wu-Tang Clan is built like that, but if they’re sitting there listening to one man, ain’t no "I" in "Team."
So what’s the solution that makes you happy and ready to work?
It ain’t about making me happy; it’s about doing business and negotiating the best terms and making me feel like, "You’re not lying to me." But before anything, everybody else’s business might be taken care of correctly where they can move forward, but Chef is not! My shit ain’t together! I have to deal with that first.
Second, RZA’s saying this is Wu-Tang’s last album? OK. Cool. That’s what it is? You the Abbot? It’s the Abbot show? Aiight, then it’s the last fuckin’ album. I’m cool with that. But at the same time, you’re not going to have me be attached to something that’s broke. Because if it’s already broke, why fix it?
Do you think part of it is the expectations put upon the group after 20 years?
We created something that wound up being so big, it has to sit on a certain kind of podium. It has to be sitting up there shining. It can’t be sitting up there with bullet holes and all this bullshit on it. I love my fans. I would never give them something that I feel is not a hit or a win. We made decisions together when it came to making great music. Today, I don’t know where RZA’s mind is at. I don’t know if he looks at himself as being a top producer. But you’re not the top producer no more. You’re definitely one of the best, but you’re not one of the best today.
We said with this album right here, let’s go use some of the relationships with the producers and artists that we know and let’s make something that the fans can be like, "Goddamn." You don’t go out there and put somebody on the fucking record that nobody never heard of. That’s an insult to us. I’m just sitting back in the bleachers just watching shit. There’s no animosity with me and my brothers. My issue is with fuckin’ management. And whoever sits in that chair, RZA and Devine, that’s they shit that they have to deal with. You’re not going to bury my career with your dumb moves.
Was there talk about working with other producers?
There definitely were conversations about this like, "Let's make this a colorful album with some of the hottest producers in the game." Motherfuckers love and respect us enough where it's like, "If you call me, it would be an honor to be involved with it." But RZA, you're the guy that can do that and I don't understand why he's not doing that. We want to continue to hold that belt the way it’s supposed to be held.
Did you ever think about leaving the group?
[Pauses] I would never leave the group. Before, I would say to myself, "It can be fixed." We’ve done so much work together as a family that I would never turn my back on that. But if my business ain’t right, then it’s causing me to do what my heart is telling me to do.
On a scale of 0-10, what are the odds that you end up on A Better Tomorrow?
We at a two right now. It’s like climbing up a fuckin' mountain if you got on slippers.
It’s sad. It hurts. It’s all about the fans. It’s all about them saying, "This is my favorite fuckin' hip-hop group in the world." I have a job to do for them. And I would never let my fans down and make something I feel is mediocre just to say I made it. That’s not Raekwon.