The Wild (released March 24, 2017)
Although my love for hip-hop is boundless, I’ve always been frustrated by one of the culture’s biggest flaws – its reluctance to pay homage to pioneers.
I certainly understand why. Hip-hop always has been fluid, constantly evolving and reinventing itself. And in our constant search for the next hot sound, some fans close their ears to the very sounds that laid the foundation.
Rock bands like The Eagles can pack tours until they put tennis balls on the bottom of their walkers but oh no, not rappers – once they hit 30 we’re ready to send them to the retirement home.
It’s a really short-sighted move. With age comes wisdom, and many of rap’s greatest voices still have strong stories to tell.
Just ask The Chef. He’s setting the table for another feast.
There’s no denying Raekwon’s King Kong-sized footprints in the rap game. His contributions to the Wu-Tang Clan’s legacy and his classic debut album make him a first-ballot rap hall of famer. Easily. But it’s his more recent work – 2009’s Only Built For Cuban Linx … Pt. II and 2011’s Shaolin vs Wu-Tang specifically – that prove that Rae didn’t just ride the wave of glory in hip-hop’s golden era.
Decades later, he’s still grinding. And his flow is ageless.
Rae’s seventh solo LP, The Wild, positions him as the king of the urban jungle, and though he’s a just a couple of years shy of 50, there’s not a hint of weariness in his flow.
“This Is What It Comes Too” (yes, with two oos, grammar nerds) set the Internet ablaze a few months back because it returned Rae to a familiar setting. Some critics (me included) knocked Rae’s previous album for being a bit too contemporary, so a return to the gritty boom-bap sound that made him a legend was a welcome surprise.
But let’s face it, as awesome as “This Is What It Comes Too” is, it’s the kind of track a Wu member can make in his sleep. The Wild’s most exciting moments place Rae in unfamiliar territory. Tracks like “Can’t You See,” “Crown of Thorns” and especially the biting “The Reign” are as lush as the production from Rick Ross’ most recent release. But instead of dumbing down his flows and letting the beats do the heavy lifting, Rae rhymes with ferocity. He’s really feeling himself by the time the second verse of “The Reign” kicks in: “Glorious wine deliverer, giving y’all something so fruitful/truthful, heartfelt, celebrating his legacy/longevity, I definite it/garments, they all designers/jewels that be the brightest, my women that be the finest/dining 5-star restaurants, exotic shellfish/ Prominent gifts, kush, cologne, I smell rich.”
It’s not just empty rap boasts, though. Rae has plenty of time to speak on more weighty issues. “Marvin” is storytelling at its finest as the Chef relays the tragic tale of a broken family. Cee-Lo Green’s sorrowful vocals add so much to the setting. Meanwhile, “Visiting Hour” is a powerful take on America’s prison system: “That 25 to life is real, so is the casket once it close on you/word to the youth, it’s not a game cuz life will swerve on you.” Rae’s bars are delivered with the sincerity of a man who has walked that road, not from a place of judgement.
The Wild has a relatively short running time, which turns out to be a plus. There are few flaws here; only “My Corner” with Lil Wayne falls a bit short. It’s not a bad track, it just feels a bit dated, like it was plucked from a 2008 mixtape. It’s not nearly as imaginative as the haunting chants and dusty organ keys of “M&N” or even “Nothing,” with a soul sample grimier than a Waffle House toilet bowl.
But the album’s biggest surprise is the closer “You Hear Me,” where Rae switches up his flow to manhandle a trap beat and absolutely NAILS it, proving you don’t have to sound like a toothless 4-year-old to make a decent trap song.
It’s more proof that you need to ride with your elders. Rae’s still got a lot of gas in his tank.
Best tracks: “The Reign,” “This Is What It Comes Too,” “Marvin”
4 stars out of 5