However, let’s start with some history first: If you don’t know, Raekwon, a.k.a. Corey Woods, a.k.a. the Chef, came on the hip-hop scene in the early 90’s as one of the founding members of the fabled hip-hop collective, Wu-Tang Clan.
He was present on the critically acclaimed and historic album, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. In the mid-90’s, he began to take off as a solo artist as well, releasing one of the most revered hip-hop albums of all time, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, in 1994. As the Clan started to break down in the late 90’s, Chef continued on as a solo artist releasing tapes such as Immobilarity (1999), The Lex Diamond Story (2003), and, often described as his return to the spotlight, Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt II (2009). With the latter album, we also see the return of former Wu-Tang mega-producer, RZA.
Chef’s next album, Fly International Luxurious Art, is set to release in September 2013, with the album’s first single, “All About You” ft. Estelle being released to mild reviews.
Raekwon is joined on stage by new-age throwback MC, D-RISHA; party rap duo, Noon and Rhyno; reggae/hip-hop fusion duo, Harkore; and lastly, technically proficient Houston legend, Zilla.
When I first got to legendary Houston venue, Fitzgerald’s, in the Heights, I was unsure of what to expect. I got there a little early cause I brought a photographer friend with me to take shots, and we wanted to make sure we captured all of the artists performing. This did have the benefit of getting us a spot in front of the stage, so it wasn’t all bad. However, when we arrived not many people were there yet, which seemed odd considering how big of a deal Chef is to a lot of people (which was also somewhat worrying as we thought he may not get the crowd he deserved). We didn’t care though, we were right up to the stage, the between set DJs were killing it, and Coog Radio gave us these tickets.
Our concerns were quickly mitigated because when D-RISHA took the stage the crowd began to take shape. A reason for that could be the energy that Risha was bringing to the stage, or it could have just been people starting to arrive. Nonetheless, it was short-lived because Risha’s set was extremely short and largely uneventful (but he didn’t leave without starting a classic “FUCK D-RISHA” chant).
After D-RISHA’s set, we were back to the house DJs. It wasn’t that bad though, as both of them really knew what they were doing both in terms of song selection and technical skill. It was really reminiscent of hip-hop’s origins, when the DJ ran the stage, ran the club, ran the sound. Back then, MCs and fans would revere the DJ, now it seems like to most people they are just a time suck, but I digress.
Next on stage were a duo I had never heard of before, Noon and Rhyno. I can’t really explain why, but some part of me really enjoyed their set. It began with a dedication of the set to their friend who recently passed away of oral cancer, and all proceeds from their ticket sales would go to fighting the disease. Typically this seems like something that seem cliche or exploitative, but for some reason the whole thing experience seemed oddly authentic. I don’t know if it was the carefree nature of their lyricism, the fact that the two rappers were brothers-in-law (with one’s father on the guitar and cousin on the 1’s and 2’s), or combination of this and their general demeanor and stage presence. I suppose what I’m saying is I was surprisingly impressed by their performance in a variety of ways.
Next up we had one of the craziest sets of the night: Harkore. I really don’t know how to describe the experience that was their set, but it was interesting. Their style is interesting, first and foremost, simply because of the combination of MC Harkore’s gritty-street style reminiscent of Ghostface Killah and Infamus’ old fashioned reggae vocals reminiscent of Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley. I guess what I am trying to say is that it was like a neo-Distant Relatives set that was a lot of fun. Not to mention that once their set started it was if all oxygen in the room was replaced by kush smoke. Their set was long but soon ended, and I thought we had seen the last of Harkore — until they brought Bun B out.
What would a Houston hip-hop showcase be without this man? You might say that this is somewhat expected (considering all Bun B does now is show up and do a verse at other people’s shows), but I could hardly believe it was happening.
They announced they had a surprise, and instinctively, I told my friend to ready his camera, with my anticipation instantly turning into child-like giddy-ness at the sight of Bun. He of course did his verse from “Draped Up” for the fans followed by his guest verse on Harkore’s track “Speakers Knock.” After that ordeal, we had a fairly long delay before Zilla’s set, which was a little frustrating considering the length of the entire show, but nonetheless Zilla came out with a lot of energy and really showcasing his very technical rap style, but he was in a really tough position. Most of the crowd was starting to get tired because of the length of all of the other performances and many may have been slightly bothered by the delay of Raekwon’s set. Nonetheless, Zilla delivered a decent set that was worthy of note, with a phenomenal verse off the dome about his place in hip-hop. Yet soon enough he was gone, and after another (somewhat longer) delay, the time finally came for the man we came to see: Raekwon.
Chef came on stage somewhat anticlimactically, but he jumped right into his first track, which instantly got the crown behind him, the Clan Classic, “Protect Ya Neck.” At this point, I instantly became aware of the awesomeness of this experience. Simply looking around, both on stage and in the crowd, you could see so many different types of people spitting right along with Chef, line for line.
The stage was completely clear for Rae (even the DJ was off to the side), but right on the edge you could see this jam-packed group of people with massive amounts of elation at even being able to see Raekwon perform.Throughout the crowd there were kids, grown adults, men, women, all immersing themselves in this experience. Hell, even the photographers and videographers on stage were rapping along without fail (at the expense of missing a lot of shots).
This made me enormously happy because I had worried before about how many people would come to the show because of recognizing Raekwon’s name and how many would come because this is an experience they wouldn’t miss for the world. That’s not to say that the former isn’t equally as valuable as the latter (people opening up their horizons in anyway possible is beautiful), but it felt much more fulfilling being able to share such a cathartic experience with other like-minded people.
I mean, come on, this is RAEKWON! Wu-tang killah! The Chef himself! God of Mafioso! Rae of course went through all the hits, from “C.R.E.A.M.” to “Shame on a Nigga,” from “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin ta F’ With” to “Triumph,” from singles like “Criminology” to his newer joints like “All About You” at the end. All the while mixed with constant “WU TANG” chants and W’s made with crossed fingers in solidarity with the Wu. It was nothing short of spectacular.
I’ll leave you with two final notes about Chef’s performance that stuck with me. The first was Rae’s tribute to fallen Wu-Tang member, Ol Dirty Bastard, with a rendition of his song “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” with one spotlight on him, followed immediately by “ODB” chants. The second, and more personal and general of the two, was Raekwon’s profound respect for the origins of hip-hop. Not only in lyricism and general style, but also in the way he conducts himself. Chef was out there alone, no hype man, no crew, nothing. Even Rae acknowledged this respect for hip-hop, recollecting on a time when all this genre was, was a “young man and a microphone, on a stage trying to prove himself.”
Not only this, but another of Chef’s mannerisms was admirable to me, and that was his profound respect for the DJ. Like I wrote earlier in this article, at the beginning it was the DJ who ran the show. They controlled the beats, the tempos, the cadence, the feel. If you didn’t have respect for the DJ, you weren’t gonna make it in the game. You could tell Chef respected this core principle with all of the control being handed to his DJ — from song choice to how everything sounded coming through the speakers. This may be something that’s lost on most people these days, and whose to say whether that even matters in the end, but it wasn’t lost on me.
If nothing else, I am at the very least thankful that for a brief moment: Raekwon took me back to those days when hip-hop really became itself. Just a dude with a mic, a spotlight (if that), and a dope beat behind him to spit over. It reminded me why I love hip-hop. Hip-hop forever. Wu-Tang forever.
By Hunter Lewis