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Review: Raekwon Lets Us Into the Mind of a Killer-For-Hire on ‘Fly International Luxurious Art’

SPIN Rating: 7 of 10
Release Date: April 28, 2015
Label: Ice H2O / Caroline

Raekwon is the deadpanning, teeth-gritting Don of Staten Island, who’s long cut one of gangsta rap’s more venal figures: a vanquisher-for-hire who comports himself with the utmost criminal sagacity. The new Fly International Luxurious Art follows Rae and a retinue of choice associates (including Wu-Tang Clan co-patriarch Ghostface Killah) as they cart the purest cocaína in North America. Songs like “Wall to Wall” inveigh against existing trade policy, stumping for an embargo on fuck-shit.

Now in his mid 40s, Rae knows how to occasion bone-rattling fear. He is the type who could clear Little Italy’s most exclusive bistro with the raise of his bejeweled trigger finger. It’s unlikely that F.I.L.A. will mushroom into a revered work of snuff literature, as 1995’s Mafioso epic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx did, but pornographic specificity is still part and parcel of the Chef’s music.

Suede walls, Versace sprinklers and Burgundy town cars are some of the spoils afforded by Rae’s comfort in the racketeering underworld. Still, he’s not ignorant to the more insidious manacles of his life on the take. One track laments the enormity of collateral damage in “F.I.L.A. World,” a war-charred bloodscape where “mothers is so vexed.” “Heated Nights” is even better: Rae thinks back to the evening he wrote his verse on Wu-Tang’s majestically sedated 1993 single “C.R.E.A.M.,” lit blunt in hand, slumped under a streetlight flickering in and out of order.

“4 in the Morning” sounds like RZA — the man who dreamt up Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’s gaseous, mutilated funk — on some scuzz-rock shit. Ghostface assimilates with brutal efficacy, rapping the part of a shorted debt collector. By verse’s end, Ghost is shooting the offending debtor out of his Kango bucket hat.

Unfortunately, F.I.L.A.’s production is for the most part too wooden to credibly excuse. “All About You” and “Soundboy Kill It” mimic Ryan Lewis’ soupy sentimentality. And Rae would have been well-advised to spare us the grayish boom-bap of “I Got Money,” featuring a solemnly monotone A$AP Rocky. Only the peacocking Snoop Dogg collab “1, 2, 1, 2” makes any real impact as just music. But Rae is an absorbing enough writer to keep F.I.L.A. afloat. He does a good job of sizing up an unquantifiable horror: being too embedded to relinquish one’s bloodletting past ways. The Raekwon you hear is a rugged career killer, with lungs full of sherm smoke and Timberlands full of loam from the makeshift potter’s field where he buries noncompliants.