The Chef cooks up one of the year's best records.

Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon is having a landmark year. He released the much-acclaimed Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, a sequel to his 1995 solo debut, and also recently took his Shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. “They say if you love yourself, you’ve got to go through hell to come out right,” he says of his conversion to Islam. Phoning TONY from Atlanta, the Chef talks about much of that past, as well as the present and future.

So why did Cuban Linx...Pt. II take so long to appear?
Well, the record took a minute to come out because, at first, it wasn’t even in the protocol. The fans really made me get on top of this album. We did the first one, and that album was so influential. When we did decide to make Pt. II, I wanted to take my time. I didn’t want to rush anything.

Are you comfortable calling it a throwback record?
Absolutely, because that’s whatit is. It’s definitely a throwback to that era. It’s like going to see anything that meant a lot to you: Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street. Every time they did a sequel, they always stepped it up and put a little twist on it.

The lifestyle on tracks like “Baggin Crack” and “Mean Streets” is a throwback, too.
I’ve been retired from them streets, and my life is in a positive direction. All of them elements right there are everyday ’hood talk, from people getting killed in the streets to people locked away forever. We wanted to describe the lifestyle of an urban kid with so many different obstacles in his way. When you think of the streets, you gotta think of Raekwon as being one of those dudes who really survived it and became an author.

How did you get the J Dilla beats?
Busta [Rhymes] and J Dilla were good friends for a long time. Busta had told me that he had some material from Dilla that fit Wu-Tang’s rapport, and when he started playing things, I knew that he knew what he was talking about. A couple of months later, [Dilla] passed away.

What does it say about the state of hip-hop that one of the best records of 2009 sounds like it could have come out in 1996?
I grew up on the real hip-hop. I grew up when skills was important, topics were important, everything counted. It wasn’t paper-thin. The game has changed so much; it’s more commercial. I think the world gotta know that hip-hop isn’t about fashion and simple hooks. It’s about being creative and really being authentic— I didn’t become legendary for nothing. I became legendary because of the elements that we didn’t forget about. If a person don’t know where it came from, they ain’t gonna know where it’s going.

Right, like on “Surgical Gloves” where you say, “This ain’t no Wizard of Oz shit”—is that about Auto-Tune?
[Laughs] You’re a dissector; you look at everything, huh? You killed it. I mean, you said it; I don’t have to tell you that. When I say “Wizard of Oz shit,” it’s like this is real street shit. This is what we grew up on. When you think of “Can It All Be So Simple” and “C.R.E.A.M.” [from Wu-Tang’s debut], we were telling you about our lifestyle. We were telling you about reality. This is not a friendly, walk-in-the-path rhyme right here.

The Wu-Massacre record is coming up with Ghostface and Method Man. What’s the difference between a solo Wu effort and a collective one?
When you think of us all coming together as a whole to do a project, that’s us all putting our input on the direction that we want that music to go. When you’re doing the individual thing, that’s you being creative within your own self. Anybody will tell you that Meth, when he gets to rhyming fast and RZA gives him the crazy up-tempo beats, Meth is gonna give you style and different flows. With Rae, you’re gonna get that street side of it, that mafioso style. At the end of the day, people are just gonna be excited to see us three get together and do our thing. We’re like the Lakers; we’re like the Yankees—the top players.

About your show here, are any of the Wu guys gonna be there?
Well, I’m hoping. I know a lot of the guys is runnin’ around the world, right? You never know. It may be one. It may be five. It may be all of them. At the end of the day, I’m blessed to just be able to have one of them show up. Get ready for the heat.

Raekwon plays Fillmore New York at Irving Plaza Wed 16.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt....

See more recommended shows