Album Review: Raekwon - The Wild

Before sitting down to write a review of the latest opus from Raekwon, The Wild, I went back and re-read the review I had written less than two years ago about its predecessor, Fly Luxurious International Art.

This was an album that I had to listen to in order to make some kind of informed opinion to write a review, but two years down the line, I can’t recall anything from it musically speaking. And it was an album that must have been impressive—since it would seem that I promptly removed it from my hard drive shortly after submitting a draft of the review to Bearded Gentlemen Music.

In re-reading what I had written about FILA, the things that stuck with me the most were not the music at all, but rather: a) the awful cover art, and b) that in 2015, there were skits on a hip-hop album.

Some things haven’t changed for Raekwon.

The cover art for The Wild looks like one of those awful Marvel Comics “hip hop variant” covers the company seems so hell bent on generating, and believe it or not, in 2017, there are still skits on this album.

Despite his best efforts, Raekwon will always be a mid-tier Wu Tang Clan member. He is better known than folks like U-God and Masta Killa (sorry guys), but he is by no means a marquee name like Method Man, a god damn legend like Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or as clever as The GZA.

Raekwon, born Corey Woods, is a bit of a workhorse, meaning he shows up and does the job that is expected of him, but don’t ask for anything more because he is either incapable or unwilling of giving that. Like many of his fellow Clan mates, he put out one incredibly popular solo album during the group’s golden age (1993 to 1996), but unlike many of his fellow Clan mates, he has, to his credit, continued to generate solo material.

The Wild is his seventh, properly released solo LP—at first glance, it looks like a rather staggering affair, clocking in at 16 tracks (including the obligatory intro and outro tracks, as well as the motherfucking skits); however, many of the songs themselves are mercifully short, with the longest clocking in at less than five minutes, which is a stark contrast to the sprawling lengths that Raekwon used to spit for in his heyday.

The issue with The Wild that one notices right out of the gate is the issue that many Wu Tang solo albums (post-1997) suffer from, and that is the lack of oversight and production from The RZA. Yes, The RZA’s production techniques have changed over time, and you can’t expect everything to sound like it was created in a basement in 1993, but his vision lent a cohesion to all the solo projects recorded in those original years, and subsequent solo outings have suffered from that.

Working with 11 different producers, The Wild, as one could expect, winds up sounding incredibly generic and lacks any real kind of cohesion. You put it on and the first thing you think is, “Yup, this is a rap record made by Raekwon in 2017,” but there’s nothing on it, musically or lyrically, that will demand your attention or stick with you after you’ve finished listening. It’s unfortunate that it seems like it was made to be forgotten almost immediately after the outro track concludes.

Lyrically, Raekwon has a predisposition for receiving oral sex—he makes at least three noticeable references to it throughout The Wild, at one point describing the act as “swallowing my children.” When he’s not dabbling in casual misogyny, he also splits his lyrical content between gritty street tales (which he has always done) as well for his taste for finer things in life—at the beginning of “Can’t You See,” he chides his maid for not folding his socks.

Truly, Raekwon lives a difficult life.

While he used to be a better storyteller in his early days, Rae is not necessarily a technically gifted performer; but here is where that workhorse mentality comes in. Throughout the duration of The Wild, he is unrelenting. He raps and raps and raps like there is no tomorrow. So, I mean, he’s got the energy, and that’s one thing, but sadly, he’s just not saying anything. There is nothing profound or clever or interesting happening here.

The same can be said for the music. While the somber tone of the Marvin Gaye tribute (?) “Marvin” stands out early on, the rest of this album is pretty obnoxious and bloated sounding; and as it careens toward its conclusion, becomes chintzy in its production values.

Arriving 22 years after his breakout solo LP Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, The Wild is not, like, a career killer or anything, but it is certainly not the kind of latter day album that impresses nor is it the creative shot in the arm the way the Cuban Linx sequel was in 2009.

It is simply yet another hip-hop album in an overcrowded landscape. Certainly, somewhere in the world, there are die hard Raekwon fans. This is an album that is probably just for them. For everyone else, go back and listen to your copies of Only Built or Enter The 36 Chambers and try to remember better and more fruitful times.

The Wild is out now via Rae's own Ice H20 imprint.