One of Wu-Tang Clan‘s original founding members, Raekwon has long been regarded one of the single most talented lyricists in hip-hop, although he nevertheless remains criminally underrated in the mainstream consciousness. This may well be as a result of fellow Wu-Tang members RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and even the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard stealing away the bulk of the limelight through various means. Be it in films (RZA, Method Man), in music (RZA, Ghostface Killah) or in remembrance (Ol’ Dirty Bastard), there has always been some reason and some excuse for the general public to allow Raekwon to slip under the radar as one of the Clan’s most talented, if not the most talented.
Today we’re taking a moment to grasp the true extent of Raekwon’s extraordinary talent. Let’s break down his most recent feature: a masterful guest verse on You Know, the eleventh track of Flume‘s brand new album Skin.
“I can’t believe it,
Word on the street’s one of my soldiers talking to them alphabet boys,
My first reaction is to find out who, where and why.”
Never one to miss an opportunity to relay a tale, Raekwon begins with a concept verse, putting himself in the shoes of a man running a crew on the street, who has recently discovered that a member of his crew has begun to speak to ‘the alphabet boys’. For those unaware, ‘the alphabet boys’ is a slang term for the American Federal forces (eg. ATF, FBI, etc) for their use of abbreviations. Of course, discovering that one of his ‘soldiers’ is snitching to the Feds, the crew boss needs to find out who it is.
“Put the word out and bring ‘em to me now, but keep ‘em alive,
Put some bread on his head and make sure he’ll rot,
Cause this is something I ain’t tolerating”
So Raekwon, as the boss, puts the word out: he wants the snitch, and he wants him breathing. He sweetens the deal by offering a price for his head.
“My phone rung it’s at the seven o’clock sharp,
They said they had ‘em in one o’ my warehouses by the dock”
The boss receives word that his soldiers are holding the snitch captive at a warehouse he owns.
“When I got there DD was already tied up,
Pillow case on his head and the blood stains dried up,
The moment I been waiting for is finally here,
I get to see who done betrayed me,
Snatched the pillow case off this wigger”
Presumably, the initials DD refer to ‘Dirty Diana’, referencing the Michael Jackson single of the same name while reinforcing why the snitch is getting punished. He enters the warehouse to find the guilty party already tied up with a pillow case over his head. Incensed and angry, he rips the pillow case up to discover a white crew member.
“Who I see, my little niece boyfriend I seen,
He begging me not to kill him,
I told ‘em I got him,
As I poured the gasoline, I thought about my little niece”
The snitch turns out to be his niece’s boyfriend, who proceeds to beg for his life. The boss is hearing none of it, but he does spare a thought for his niece.
“I know she love him, but he a snail,
He tryna push love(?) in jail,
Take me from my wife and kids”
Snail is a clever way to describe him as slippery, slimy and dirty. The boss explain exactly why he’s showing no mercy; after all, the snitch was planning take the boss from his wife and kids by getting him thrown in jail.
“Why should I spare this maggot life and limb,
Man, it is what it is,
He chose to play this game,
I lit the match and watched this friend go up in flames”
Just like that, in a single verse Raekwon has created an entire, gritty story, smack back in the middle of a dazzling electronic album predominantly championing experimental production and electro-pop. It’s a perfect example how how he’s one of the best lyricists in the game, certainly one of the best in Wu-Tang, which is a considerable accolade given the immense lyrical talent of his fellow members. With respect to the rest of the Clan, if this is what he can do in a single verse on a non-hip-hop album, it’s easy to see why he’s among the greatest.