Monday, 4 August 2008

Raekwon goes to the cinema (erm, in a time machine)

...after a quick stop at the bodega.

Raekwon has always been one of the Wu's most perverse characters - sullen and belligerent where most of his fellow MCs are playful and nerdy, insular and defensive where his long-time foil, Ghostface, plays the ebullient, effusive, eccentric extrovert.

Raekwon's debut album, Only Built For Cuban Linx, is an undisputed classic - groundbreaking and sumptuous, consistently ambitious in its widescreen mafia fantasies, yet endlessly rich in its vivid details, classy production and impenetrable slang. His decision to follow it by replacing producer RZA with a string of no-name, low-rent New York beat-makers, and to swap Ghostface for his clumsy, embarrassing posses, American Cream Team and Ice Water, resulted in one of the most dramatic creative down-turns in rap history. Can he rescue his career with the long-threatened Cuban Linx II?

Raekwon and his third-favourite producer

Raekwon's performance at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival offered few clues. The rapper recreated his debut song-for-song, assisted by Ghostface and Theodore Unit, adding a few classic Wu verses here and there (mostly the same ones Ghostface had performed the previous evening). There was no new material and little showmanship, beyond some ostentatious cognac-drinking and a rather fetching beard. GMS is partial to the sight of muscular chaps lumbering around a stage, shouting in unison into microphones while a DJ makes gunshot noises, but many people weren't. The crowd thinned, more rapidly than Ghostface's audience, and more rapidly still once Broken Social Scene brought their Fleetwood Mac-style communal indie drivel to the main stage.

Raekwon may not know much about entertaining ambivalent hipsters, employing handy weed-carriers or beat selection, but he sure knows his way around a dense crime narrative. Not content with re-hashing 'Scarface', Scorsese and John Woo, 'Musketeers of Pig Alley', the best track from his middling third album, The Lex Diamond Story, takes inspiration from D.W. Griffith's pioneering 1912 short noir of the same name. If you've got 15 minutes to spare, the whole film is below, and comes highly recommended by yours truly, and, erm, Raekwon.

raekwon (feat. masta killa & inspectah deck) - 'musketeers of pig alley' (from the lex diamond story , 2003)

'musketeers of pig alley' (1912)

More D.W.? 'The Reformers', from the following year, is a priceless skewering of moralising interventionist liberals, as 'Dickensian' in its way as 'Musketeers'. Word to Scott Templeton. The League of Civic Purity - now there's a posse.

'the reformers' (1913)

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