There’s a half-smoked joint on an American passport at the Yonge Street headquarters of Raekwon the Chef’s new Canadian office. Raekwon, one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, hip hop pioneers from rap’s golden age, is launching Ice H20 Records, and he’s smoking to christen the new digs.
“We grew up thinking about Canada like there’s bears up there, log cabins, but it’s not like that. Toronto’s a real city and they respect people who understand the streets and understand the business,” says Raekwon (a.k.a. Corey Woods), an artist whose combined record sales near 10 million albums. “This isn’t just about Toronto, but everywhere in Canada. It’s another industry up here and we want to be the ones to say we’re part of building that s–t. I’m planting the flag.”
Wu-Tang first burst onto the music scene in 1993 with their groundbreaking album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Arranged by RZA, a producer who has worked with everyone from Kanye West to Quentin Tarantino, the nine-member group was designed to spark individual solo careers for its artists. Today, one of its most popular members is Ghostface Killah, a musician currently playing 20 dates across Canada, from Toronto to Victoria.
“On the way in, they hit me up real quick – they got me out of the car, frisked me … they didn’t handcuff me, though, they just searched me, put me in a room and did all that dumb s–t,” says Ghostface, who we reached immediately after crossing the Canadian border. The artist, whose criminal record kept him out of the country on previous Wu-Tang tours, says he supports Raekwon’s new label, and misses touring with his band.
“One time me and Rae had a fire extinguisher and we went to Meth’s room and smoked him out,” he says, adding that Method Man was promoting his first album Tical at the time, and wearing his hair in a giant Afro. “He came out; he had his hair snow white, his face snow white and he says, ‘You all play too much.’ We had a lot of good times.”
Of course, there’s no talk of the good times without mention of the bad, and Ghostface says he still misses the deceased Wu-Tang rapper Ol’ Dirty Bastard. “He was a real key element to what we had — it’s like if you lose your leg, you don’t stand the same,” Ghostface says. “I miss the realness about him. Sometimes I feel like a boxer losing one of his hands.”
Currently, the members of Wu-Tang are involved in a variety of projects. In addition to music, RZA recently released a line of headphones and will act opposite Leonardo DiCaprio and Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained, the new Tarantino film, while GZA will lecture on creativity at Harvard Dec. 1.
Sitting in his Yonge Street corner office, his eyes as glassy as the condominiums spotting Toronto’s downtown skyline, Raekwon says the Wu-Tang design is unfurling exactly according to plan.
“You can be thirsty and take whatever you see on top or you can be a real cool G and do it better on your own, and that’s Wu-Tang,” says Raekwon, who envisions a big commemorative tour next year to celebrate the group’s 20 years. “Don’t get it twisted, we still form like Voltron. You see the rings on these fingers? You don’t get that from taking a walk in the park.”
Ghostface Killah plays Toronto Dec. 2, Calgary Dec. 8 and Edmonton Dec. 9. For the latest on Raekwon the Chef’s label Ice H20, visit nohandouts.net.