At 53 years old, Raekwon has this physical status:
Woods first rapped as Sha Raider. In 1992, he joined the Wu-Tang Clan, an originally nine-member rap group drawing mainly from the Staten Island but also from the Brooklyn boroughs of New York City. He rapped as Raekwon The Chef, and also used the aliases Lex Diamonds, Shallah Raekwon, and Louis Rich.
As recording artists, the Wu-Tang Clan debuted by the November 1993 album, later was certified platinum, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Its single "C.R.E.A.M." reached #8 on the Billboard rap chart. Wu-Tang Forever, a double album, followed in 1997, and was certified 4x multi-platinum. Amid other solo albums by its members, the group released The W in 2000, Iron Flag in 2001, and 8 Diagrams in 2007.
In 1994, Raekwon signed a solo deal with Loud Records and released his debut solo single "Heaven & Hell" for the soundtrack to the film Fresh. His first solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., was released on August 1, 1995. Sales lagged his fellow Wu-Tang member Method Man's Tical. Raekwon's album drew rave reviews, however, and it was promptly recognized as a classic.
The album's narrative struggle is set to imagery of criminal activity, largely cocaine trafficking, and emergence from it into the good life. Wu-Tang member and house producer RZA, who produced the entire album, called it "like a crime mafia story." Wu-Tang member Ghostface Killah rapped in over half of the album's tracks, and the two wrote some lyrics in Barbados and Miami.
Raekwon explained the lyrics' context as "trying to get out the hood. We wanted to buy the most expensive cars and jewelry and different things like that." The album, he perceived, "was only built for a certain lifestyle or people that understood that language. But eventually, it would break off to people looking at it as a movie and respecting it saying, 'Yo, wow! This is authentic. This is something that never been done before' " Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... debuted at No. 4 on the popular albums chart the Billboard 200, and at No. 2 on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. It shipped about 130,000 copies in its first week, and was certified gold, at least 500,000 copies shipped, two months later, October 1995.
After Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., Raekwon featured on R&B group Allure's debut or 1997 album. He also featured alongside rappers Nas, Jadakiss, and Big Pun in rapper Fat Joe's song "John Blaze." Raekwon's next album, Immobilarity, lacking RZA's record production and Ghostface Killa features, was issued in 1999 to mixed reviews. The Lex Diamond Story, released in 2003 under major label Universal Records, also drew mixed reviews, most critics unimpressed while user reviews widely varied. Raekwon cited a low promotional budget.
Raekwon planned to release Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II through record producer Dr. Dre's label Aftermath Entertainment in 2007. Raekwon credited the executive producer Busta Rhymes with restoring his "Cuban Linx mindset," while most tracks were produced by RZA, who likened collaboration with Dr. Dre to "yin and yang" styles.
Amid many delays, as for sample clearance, the Only Built For Cuban Linx... Pt. II track "Surgical Gloves" had been leaked already when the album was released by Raekwon's label, Ice H20, under major label EMI's distribution on September 8, 2009. The album features Wu-Tang members and affiliates as well as Slick Rick, Jadakiss, Busta Rhymes, Beanie Sigel, and others.
Also in September 2009, MTV ranked Raekwon tenth among "hottest" rappers. In December, HipHopDx's 2009 awards name Only Built For Cuban Linx... Pt. II album of the year, and described called it "the Hip Hop equivalent to The Godfather 2, with Rae as revitalized as Marlon was". Raekwon won Emcee of the Year—the prior year, Nas won—while HipHopDX staff explained,
After the critical and relative commercial success of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, Raekwon collaborated with Method Man and Ghostface Killah for Wu-Massacre, a short trio album designed to showcase unity within the group. Following this release, Raekwon resurrected talk of Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, a project announced in 2007, originally planned as a Wu-Tang album, minus RZA, due to his response to the previous group album 8 Diagrams. Raekwon forwarded his projects continuously through his growing label Icewater. He both worked on his own project while signing other underground artists.
Although not a Wu-Tang Clan project, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang was released in March 2011, serving as Raekwon's fifth solo LP. As originally planned, RZA did not participate on the project, however, several other Wu-Tang members made appearances, as well as Black Thought, Nas and Rick Ross, among others. Raekwon revealed that he intends on eventually releasing a third installment to the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... albums.
In 2012, Raekwon launched his own record label, Ice H20 Records. Raekwon announced on November 30, 2012, that he would soon release an EP entitled Lost Jewlry. On December 20, he released "Never Can Say Goodbye", which did not end up on the EP. Lost Jewlry was released on January 15, 2013. It featured guest appearances from Maino and Freddie Gibbs, as well as production from Scram Jones, among others.
On January 1, 2013, Raekwon announced that the title of his next album would be F.I.L.A., an acronym for Fly International Luxurious Art, and that it would be released during the second quarter of 2013. He would later specify a release month of September 2013. Following the release of the first single "All About You", Raekwon intimated that the album would be released in January 2014; it finally saw release on April 28, 2015. In November 2016, Raekwon announced that a new album was complete.
On March 24, 2017, Raekwon released a studio album, The Wild, his first not to feature collaborations with fellow members of the Wu-Tang Clan. Critical reception was positive, with Pitchfork saying the album was stronger than Fly, which it alleged had a "bloated roster". Consequence of Sound agreed, saying The Wild was largely understood as a return to form by Raekwon, with fewer guest appearances by other artists than usual and more focus on Raekwon's long-established style, albeit with the "maximalist modern production" he had employed on Fly.
As of 2020, Raekwon's most recent appearance was as a featured guest on the intro to the WWCD compilation by Griselda. On August 1, 2020, Elliot Wilson, of Tidal and Rap Radar, announced Raekwon will be releasing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 3 soon.
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