The debate for the “King of New York” in hip hop is an unresolvable, pointless & compeltely subjective argument, but it’s fun none the less. It’s a conversation that’s been going on in barbershops since the days of Krs-One, Rakim & Big Daddy Kane. Nobody is ever going to change their mind whether they believe it’s Nas, Biggie or Jay, when it’s all said and done, opinions will remain unshaken and everyone will stick to their guns. That’s mainly because there are different reasons and standards regarding people’s opinions. My standard for the best in the town is based in longevity, as well as quality penmanship and product, for other’s it may differ. For instance, most people who say Jay owns the crown will support their argument with his accolades, how much he’s done not only for hip hop but on a business level too. For those who go the Biggie route, they’ll speak on him (and Bad Boy records) irrefutable dominance of Hip hop in the 90s, and his ability to crossover to the mainstream, while simultaneously maintaining his credibility on a street level. For those who say Nas, they will most likely bring up how his 1994 debut shook the grounds of hip hop, his uncontested pen game, How he ethered Jay and how he was regarded as the top rapper, lyrically, in the Golden-era of the 90s, when everyone had to be nice to survive. Regardless, it’s a cold case. Since the 90s other’s have been thrown into the discussion, but those 3 remain the top guns even in 2015. 50 cent, who specialized in the destructive competitiveness of New York Hip Hop, made the argument relevant again in a new era when he went on his tirade in the early 2000s going at everyone from Ja Rule, to Dipset, to The Lox, and Fat Joe, pretty much everyone in New York who was even remotely relevant. However, something that always amazes me, is that after the decades of debating and all of these bullshit back-and-forths I’ve been involved in or witnessed, nobody has ever brought Wu-Tang’s top swordsman up, The God, Raekwon.
I won’t even use Rae’s countless amount of contributions on Wu-Tang projects as evidence to why he should be in the argument, I’ll focus solely on his solo career. Off top, the Purple Tape, his solo debut, the 1995 Classic “Only Built For CubanLinx”, widely regarded as one of (if not the) the best hip hop albums to ever bless the culture. It was more than an album, it was a moment, a turning of the tide in hip hop with an impact that is only rivaled by albums like Nas’ “Illmatic” or Dr.Dre’s 1992 masterpiece, “The Chronic”. The album established Raekwon (& Ghostface) as trail blazers, the influence was immediate, from the content to the slang Rae & Ghost were using. The album introduced a new subgenre in hip hop which was labeled mafioso-rap, the black Gambino. It’s the cross between Mob movies such as “The Godfather” and “Good Fellas”, intertwined with inner-city New York street life of the 80s and early 90s. The story-telling was vivid (Slick Rick/Kool G Rap esque) and RZA’s production was vintage. Aside from that, this album spawned a bunch of “A.K.A’s” such as Lex Diamonds for Rae and Tony Starks, for Ghostface, which set another trend in hop hop. Every major hip hop album that came out following OB4CL had traces and elements of Rae’s classic solo-debut. That includes Jay-Z’s “Reasonable Doubt”, Nas’ “It Was Written” and Big’s “Life After Death”. All 3 of those albums, undeniable classics (Stop hating on IWW), had some of Ghost & Rae’s recipe in them. For starters, the street narratives started to become more of the norm, with artists detailing violent, often drug related, tales heavily based in cinematically-influenced imagination (Biggie “Niggas bleed”, Nas’ “The Set Up”). Along with that, the nicknames that started to pop up (Nas “Escobar”, Biggie “Frank White”, Jay’s “Cashmere Brown”), as well as the Gambino talk. The influence didn’t go unnoticed, even Cappadonna stated on Wu-Tang’s “Little Ghetto Boys” (1997):
“You not a real brother you just a fake type
That get on the mic then throw your cliché
Half the East coast sounding just like Rae
If you a Gambino, give credit to the flow”
That’s a shot that could’ve gone in plenty of directions, but, I digress. Some will say, “Well, Okay, that’s one album”, true, and it’s absolutely the stand out of Rae’s 5 album catalog. Every artist has that one album that outshines the rest of their work, regardless of how much quality material they’ve put out . Rae has had his slip-ups, sure, like his second album “Immobilarity”. Though the penmanship was still there, the overall feel and quality wasn’t. The 1999 release had no Ghostface features or RZA production and the story telling wasn’t as sharp or abundant but the album still had it’s moments. His 2003 release “The Lex Diamond story” was another dent in the catalog because of a lack of cohesivness, giving it more of a mixtape feel, and a tracklist which should of been narrowed down. Rae should be granted his 2 mishaps just as Jay was with “Blueprint 2” and pretty much every solo album after “The Black Album” (minus “American Gangster”). Nas was excused of his 1999 fail “Nastradamus” and 2004’s “Streets Disciple”. While on the other hand it’s hard to judge Big on a level of consistency, when he had two releases (both classics, though) and in hinesight we barely had 3 years from him (unfortunately, Rest In Peace). Rae’s 2 most recent releases, the sequel to OB4CL (2009) and “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” (2011) are both high-quality albums in an era when we saw plenty of our favorite rappers from the 90s completely fall off.
Rae’s longevity speaks for itself, he’s still everywhere you look, he’s still relevant, and he’s still dressed dip (Follow him on Instagram). Raekwon has had impressive features on some of the biggest projects in the modern era, such as Kanye’s “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” (“Gorgeous”), French Montana’s “Excuse My French” (“We go wherever we want”), Schoolboy Q’s “Oxy-Moron” (“Blind threats”) and ASAP Mob’s “Lords” mixtape (“Underground Killa”), to name a few. He’s still sharper than his competition, even these days, and he’s more tangible to the younger generation of artists than anyone of the same legendary status. He’s not afraid to step in the box and hang with the new guys, which is testament to his consistency. All this to say, there is no reason why Raekwon should keep getting disregarded in the Mt. Rushmore of New York’s hip hop history, he has the albums, the penmanship, the timeless-influence, and the longevity to back his case up. I’m not saying he doesn’t get credit, because everyone respects Rae’s craft, but he’s not held on the pedestal that he’s supposed to be with the rest of the elite.
Sidebar: Raekwon’s sixth solo album “F.I.L.A (Fly Internation Luxurious Art)” is slated to drop this year, be on the look out.