Raekwon, ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’ [ALBUM REVIEW]
After years in the kitchen, Raekwon has finally cooked up his sixth studio LP, Fly International Luxurious Art (F.I.L.A.), for mass consumption. He took time away from his solo career to work on Wu-Tang’s A Better Tomorrow album, but now four years later the illustrious storyteller delivers street tales replete with a cinematic sound.
Rae transcends on the 44-minute narrative, painting an elaborate picture of a veteran lyricist humbled, yet grandstanding on the Utopia-like throne he’s built for himself. After more than two decades in the game as a solo artist, he's torn between maintaining his past and falling in line with contemporary hip-hop.
In true Raekwon fashion, F.I.L.A. kicks off with a Mafioso welcoming setting the tone for money, menace and mental mayhem. The first official track, “4 in the Morning” featuring his closest Wu alliance Ghostface Killah, shows Rae’s uncanny ability to create a life-like experience with his use of lyrical imagery. Sirens, horns and surprisingly non-aggressive drums riffs.
The showboating continues on “I Got Money” with rookie rhymer A$AP Rocky. Raekwon plays OG, connecting New York's old school with the new school on the Symbolic One-produced track. “Brawler face, meat loaf, your man up in the back of the wagon / Drugs equal money, money equals sunny days / Timbs, cut off shorts and gorgeous with a ton of haze," Rae raps.
There's a rather catchy but ultimately lackluster hook from French Montana on “Wall to Wall,” which also features Busta Rhymes, followed by an interesting appearance from 2 Chainz on “F.I.L.A. Word." The latter track is a nostalgic reminder of the Wu and the chambers of Shaolin, with its Japanese influence ringing out with each stroke of the Shamisen. Ultimately, this is the perfect canvas for the Chef’s latest tale while 2 Chainz, although no match for Rae, gives his best weed-induced narrative paired with unique punchlines.
Without warning, Rae is back in the '90s on “1,2 1,2” with fellow OG Snoop Dogg. The Scoop DeVille production with a sample of Isaac Hayes' "Ike's Mood I" finds Raekwon giving another reminder that just because times have changed, his gully, poetic flow has not. “Two shots of Cisco, let's slip / Post like Scarface and Sosa with my mimosa / All that motion, see my billions posted and roastin' / See my villains most of them roastin' / Freshmen chickens get close in 'em / Make one move, she buyin' me the Ghost in it,” he delivers.
“Live to Die,” the second of only four solo efforts on the album, is reminiscent of a throwback beat perfect for dice-rolling in the stairwell. This effort comes off as the closest to that vintage-sounding Raekwon yet. He’s back to being the “pryrex king” and reliving his days running the streets of Staten Island. This is an ode to his roots and he leaps into another realm on the next track.
It’s clear that throughout the album, Rae is more than just the artist and adopts an A&R hat as he confirmed that he selected all of the features on the album. However, his vision fails to fully translate on the Jerry Wonda-produced “Soundboy Kill It” with Melanie Fiona and Assassin. The snare-heav,y pop-reggae infusion has potential to be a party starter but could do without all of the builds and transitions from a sing-songy party joint to gyrating bashment tune.
One of the best songs of the project arrives at the end. “Revory (Wraith)," with an assist from Rick Ross and Ghostface, features all three rappers attacking the beat in king-like fashion. “Young God, bowling with thunder / Betting bricks at the Knick game with Cubans from Biscayne / Burning Castro cigars with a big flame," is just a snippet of the tale Ghost tells.
If you're expecting Rae to deliver a product similar to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, F.I.L.A. is the culmination of talents 20 years in the making, which means the foundation here is quite different. The Wu-Tang Kung-Fu chops and other trademark adibs featured on his 2009 LP Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II and 2011’s Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang are also buried in new age production.
Raekwon is obviously Wu-Tang Forever, but Fly International Luxurious Art showcases him broadening his palate. The rapper welcomes a host of new jack rhymers to accompany the lyrical rawness he's been perfecting for over two decades, which produces a project fit for fans who love both old school hip-hop and the new. After digesting F.I.L.A., satisfaction is guaranteed.
Listen to Raekwon’s Fly International Luxurious Art Album
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