All brown-nosing aside, it’s about time Chef Raekwon step out of the mafia-rap box he willingly occupied for the last twenty plus years, since the Wu-Tang burst onto the scene in 1993 opening the door for his legendary “Purple Tape” of ’95 (a.k.a. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx). He’s been in that niche since the beginning and he’s rarely left. And it’s not like he can’t go back. He just doesn’t go to other artistic spaces enough lately. For his seventh solo LP, The Wild (Ice H2O Records/Empire), Rae’s retreated back to the jungle for yet another gangsta rap album very lightly peppered with intelligence and original substance.
Rae lets us know almost immediately that he’s not gonna change his stance in the hip-hop area of underworld mystique. The first four tracks offer only standard gangsterism over hard beats, but at least there is the short bio of and tribute to Marvin Gaye with guest Cee-Lo Green (“Marvin”) right after. The highlights continue to arrive in intermittent blips. In the next two songs (“Can’t You See” and “My Corner”), some nice advice from Rae and a tight Wayne verse emerge but only around more tough guy street talk and romanticism of rising within the established hood hierarchy. Some fine rhyme interplay between Shallah and P.U.R.E comes via “M&N,” and that’s pretty much the end of Wild’s act one.
Raekwon actually has a great attitude in a few spots on this project, taking turns being hopeful, resilient, wise, firm and persistent, but there is a lack of unique concepts to display these traits and Rae’s moneyed vanity just hides them from sight too often. Fly rhymes are activated in service of capo wealth status, brand names and uninventive aggression-raps, and Rae has let it all happen without trying much that is new or fresh.
If it helps, the bang of the beats and the soul of the samples restore some value to the album though with not a lot of musical breadth. That’s pretty much all there is to say about The Wild. Rae is still ensconced in the thick of his brambly mafioso origins and only starts to claw himself free here. He hasn’t gotten very far in that pursuit at this point. Frankly, he’s philosophically and intellectually lazy at times in these jungly whereabouts, more concerned with his flashy image and adherence to the status quo than his inner integrity, and caring more about looking rich than being mentally rich. Raekwon needs to reevaluate.