Raekwon the Chef knows a thing or two about Shaolin and Wu-Tang. The title of the MC’s fifth solo album, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang, represents the New York City borough he hails from, Staten Island — whose street name in rap circles is Shaolin — and, of course, the MC has been a key member of the iconic Wu-Tang Clan since its founding in the early ’90s.
Ultimately, though, Rae’s album, which dropped on Tuesday (March 8), is inspired (like many things Wu-Tang) by the classic 1981 Gordon Liu film of the same name, about a rivalry between two schools of ancient martial arts.
“[The film is about] basically two schools fighting with one another,” Raekwon told MTV News recently about the movie’s plot. “But they all come from the same school, and it was an outsider who actually tried to get the Shaolin style and the Wu-Tang style and have them go at one another. On this album, it’s the same thing: It’s two schools and, you know, I’m part of that school. I’m Shaolin but at the same time, I’m Wu-Tang. So really, it’s ego versus discipline, dealing in my mind and everything that I been through, and dealing with the crew.”
It’s no coincidence that the concept behind Raekwon’s album focuses on two forces in opposition. Rae began working on Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang back in late 2007, after expressing disappointment with the creative direction Wu-Tang’s nominal leader, the RZA, had taken with the group’s ’07 LP, 8 Diagrams. (Fellow Wu member Ghostface Killah went so far as to call the album “bullsh–“ in an interview with MTV’s “Sucker Free” at the time.)
In an interview the same year with Miss Info, Raekwon remarked: “RZA’s trying to create too much of an orchestra, piano, you know …he’s trying to do too much of this guitar sh– and we don’t want that and the fans don’t want that. I’m not having that. … Realistically, what’s gonna happen is … if [8 Diagrams] comes out, we comin’ out with another album.”
Rae went on to release his critically acclaimed solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Part 2 in 2009, followed by 2010’s Wu-Massacre, a collaboration album with fellow Wu members Ghostface and Method Man. The sonic direction of both projects returned to the gritty production style that Wu-Tang Clan had become known for.
But in that time, RZA and Rae also buried the hatchet. So while Rae’s latest solo album was concieved during a feud, and uses that theme as its core, Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang may turn out to be the album that shows Wu-Tang really is forever.
“You gonna hear a lot of loving songs in there, you gonna hear betrayal songs, you gonna hear action that takes place on some of the records,” Rae explained. “But it all revolves around that world, that Shaolin/Wu-Tang world. They just battling one another, and at the end of the day, we all come to find out that we’re one and the same. We fighting each other but we’re the same.”
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