It’s got to the point now where Wu-Tang Clan are so influential that in a lot of ways, it’s not as big an event when one of their members comes out with an album any more. Mostly because a lot of the members sound like a shadow of what they once were. Wu Tang’s recent album ‘A Better Tomorrow’ was a testament to that, with them sounding more stale than ever. Some members – namely Ghostface Killah with his most recent series of albums – have evolved with the times and have come out with albums that have seen them excel themselves, with them pushing their boundaries artistically.
In many ways this is what Raekwon has tried to do on his new album – the oddly titled ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’. The list of guest rappers for this album alone includes fellow Wu Tang member Ghostface Killah, French Montana, 2 Chainz, ASAP Rocky, Snoop Dogg, Rick Ross, Assasin and Busta Rhymes and that’s not to mention the host of guest singers he brings to the table as well, including the likes of Estelle. Raekwon is very much trying to make this an album that will stay true to his routes yet will bring him closer to modern times. In a recent interview with Hit The Floor he spoke of how he’s tried to analyse what Hip-Hop audiences of today are getting excited about and has taken that into account.
The problem is that in the process of trying to adapt to certain sounds, Raekwon has partially suffocated who he is. Technically speaking, Raekwon proves that he is still worthy of his title as one of Gangstar Raps’ godfathers; his flow and wordplay are still pretty much in tact even if the fact that his style of rapping has been so influential that it almost sounds commonplace. But on tracks like ‘Wall To Wall’, not only is French Montana’s hook way too long, but it starts to feel like Raekwon is simply a side note to the song with him not having any presence on the track at all. All the guest verses sound so much more appropriate, and more importantly comfortable on the very flashy production that he’s been given than The Chef himself does.
‘This shit is classy’ Raekwon says at the beginning of the album on the track ‘I Got Money’, in reference to the production on this album that’s amass with plenty of bells and whistles to give the impression that it does indeed have some class to it. The problem is that it just doesn’t feel nearly as organic as what you’d expect from The Chef. The man stated that he wanted this album to become a worldwide success and you can tell that’s his goals when listening to this project because so many of the tracks on here just reek of the desperation to sell more. It leads to some baffling production choices at times as well. The track ‘Fila World’ with 2 Chainz has a really awkward, cheesy beat sounding like it’s taken out of a cheap Japanese daytime show and 2 Chainz doesn’t sound like his animated self over the top of it. Not only that but nearly every single female singer on this album sounds so out of place and like another desperate attempt for commercial success.
The better moments on this album come from the more hard-hitting moments: the moments where it doesn’t sound like Raekwon is pandering to a ‘broader audience’ as he put it, and just going all out. The track ‘1,2 1,2’ with Snoop Dogg has him going over a harder beat and Snoop himself sounds fantastic and compliments Raekwon rather than overwhelming him.
Because of the fact that there’s rarely moments of clarity on this album like this, Raekwon’s lyrics – which are actually very interesting at points – become slightly less impactful. This album’s concept seems to be made in an attempt to appreciate all sorts of art (hence the album title) but also has some personal gems from Raekwon hidden in there. On the track ‘Heated Nights’ The Chef reflects on how he wrote perhaps Wu-Tang Clan’s most iconic song ‘C.R.E.A.M’ when he was slumped underneath a lampshade that was flickering on and off with a blunt in his hand one evening. Raekwon is one of the most talented MCs of all time, yet his talent has been given the opportunity to shine on this album. ‘Fly International Luxourious Art’ isn’t a bad album, just one that solidifies the fact that it becomes harder to get excited for Wu-Tang projects the more that they sink into normality.
Best Tracks: 1,2 1,2, Heated Nights