Twenty years ago, I was dancing around to Barney with my hair in pigtails and wearing tu-tu’s with sneakers around the house. Meanwhile, Corey Woods, more commonly known as Raekwon The Chef, was getting busy with the release of his solo album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (also known as the Purple Tapes.) Following the perpetual success he found with legendary hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon has continuously impacted the music industry – and now, the fashion industry – by paying homage to the inaugural record, with the release of the Linx Jacket under his company CL95 Inc.

It was the middle of the week, I had skipped out on work for an extended lunch break to head down to the local hip-hop emporium, Dipt. for the media preview that was taking place prior to it’s public launch later that evening. Amidst other local journalists, and fans nonetheless, I was bopping around like a kid waiting to meet Santa Clause. Forget about the pandemonium that was to come, I had enough energy for an army combined. I get the nod from his team to come over, and with a quiet internal squeal, I shake the hand of the Chef and sit down.

With the jacket’s all lined up on a rack across from us, we both look over and the conversation starts with an appropriate, “How you doing baby girl?” The Linx Jacket pays clear tribute to the Polo Ralph Lauren “Snow Beach” jacket made famous in the 1994 Wu-Tang video “Can It Be All So Simple.” A jacket that epitomized Raekwon’s style and that of the influence he brought to his legion of fans. “It’s like with this jacket, we know the history of this jacket. There’s no frontin’ man, we know Polo made this jacket but we came back and we made a new and improved Polo jacket. But it’s our style now, so it’s just all about paying the respect. I think as an artist, you have to go through those phases like you can’t just jump all the way up there and have somebody ask you, ‘You know Big Daddy Cane’s album?’ and you’re not familiar, like ‘Who’s Big Daddy Cane?’ You know, I’m saying you might not have been born at that time but it’s important that it’d be known.”

“You see what I’m saying, documentaries, things like that are valuable so these new artists can understand the true importance of that run, that journey that you’re going through. That’s why it’s so important to balance it man.” The importance of history and knowing where you’re from is key to knowing where you are headed.

Having the jacket, and a capsule collection such as this seemed only fitting but I was curious to what made it the right time now as opposed to having done something like this sooner.  “I’ve got fans that really respect my fly-ness. They watch everything I’m about and what I do, and what my lifestyle is about. And this jacket stood out as one of those pieces that Rae wore that was monumental so 20 years later we’re celebrating that with the anniversary of my album. The Purple Tape was a serious album and I wanted to be able to give back within this anniversary and come with something that, you know, I thought that people would really love.”

“[sic] The Jacket [sic] is to pay homage to the Polo times but also you know, a lot of people loved that jacket – they called it the ‘Raekwon jacket.’ So, I wanted to just give back something great and say you know, this is a collectible that not too many people have but the ones who do have it; we’re part of something.”

Raekwon teamed up with John Nunez, and Robert Santana Jr. to create the CL95inc project, and to bring forth the launch of the LINX Beach jacket. The process was like a lightning strike; a fluid and electrifying movement that allowed for them to embody years of history into a single garment. Collectively, they brought forth a functional piece that in turn, also stands as a modern icon for aficionado’s alike.

“It was cool, you know. We had a lot of blood, sweat and tear situations and you know that comes with any territory of doing things with another company. They trusted my word, and I trusted their word. We were looking forward to just making the people happy. It’s just about making sure the quality is there, that the endurance of the jacket is what it’s supposed to be and just giving my fans the opportunity to have something that they can say. This team came together, you know, CL95 is their company and they came to me and said ‘Look, this is what we want to do with you Rae.’ And they stepped up the bar and did what they were supposed to do.” I slowly started envisioning the line growing and expanding into multiple categories and collections, but as though reading my mind, he then says; “It was designed as a one off at first, and we’re still in conversation about where it may go after this.”

To have an accumulation of over 20 years of influence for generations following suit, maintaining a constant flow of inspiration and refining a balance amongst the decades has become an art form that Rae has mastered within the world of hip-hop.

“It’s about just living and just accepting it for what it is, and realizing the opportunities that were given to me to have so many people that love me and love my crew – that keeps me going. You know, to just to be able to travel to many different places in the world and just be accepted. I always was the type to think that if I ever needed any help, I’ve got people all over the world that will help me. [ And that’s the greatest feeling in the world. ] When you can have that kind of love out there. And today, it still exists with me like that. It’s like I don’t walk by people in the club and they don’t acknowledge me, or we don’t talk like normal people. I’m always hands on with my fans, and that’s the greatest thing of keeping it moving. You’re able to still see your love for the people that still respect you.”

At this point, I was itching to divulge into Rae’s perspective on today’s music and be a wallflower in his mind; see what he sees with artist’s today. “What I think about the artists today is that they’re making great music, and it’s important to do the right thing with your music and with your money, and love your craft and stay passionate. But also, we need more authentic’s when it comes to creating music. The artistry level is still at a low balance, and I just feel like we should take time to respect albums now. It seems like people don’t buy albums no more. When you start looking at the Billboard charts, you start to see guys only selling 100,000 records. I mean, normally, we were selling 700,000-800,000 units back then. The ratio is lower now, people aren’t buying albums because they’re not inspired by the artists. Party music is the thing, that’s cool. But in my opinion, I just look for more.”

He goes on to describe the differences between the location and the lifestyle that music comes from. “When you come to New York, we live in a time where we’re trying to make it out of the hole and trying to have something. So, we want music that’s consciously talking to us about the struggle and the survival. What am I gonna do with my money, and how am I going to invest it; this, that and you know, just music of that nature. Then you’ve got other places you go to and they wanna just party and you know, “I wanna get crunk,” “I wanna bounce and do whatever” and that’s cool too, but it’s about the balance that’s needed in the game.”

We went on to talk about his recent collaborations with Kanye (though off topic, my inner fan-girl was dying to know.) They had an iconic performance out in London on Ye’s last tour. “I was already in London when Kanye was having his show and I was doing something else and he actually called me cause he knew I was in town. He was like ‘yo, come through.'” Despite popular belief, and the large persona that follows suit when Kanye’s name is dropped, Rae admits that he’s actually quite introverted. “I’m a big fan of Ye(Kanye), he’s a shy dude though. He makes me laugh because when we talk sometimes it’s like he’s listening but he won’t look at me. You know, I’m the same way. [ When I met Michael Jackson, ] I couldn’t look at him either, I felt like I was insulting him by just staring. Ye is a good dude though, we got on records together and you know, I respect what he do, he respect what I do. It’s just friendship.”

Kanye West poses with Raekwon
Despite having interviewed numerous artists in the past, sitting with Rae and his crew was an experience that had me feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was overcome with such comfort and felt like for a moment; I got to be a part of the coolest club around. The collective was bouncing off each other, laughing and the vibe was the opposite of what you would expect. It wasn’t just a crew hanging out and doing their thing, it was a family that believed in one another and the support was evident. Following our interview, though hesitant, I asked if he would sign my copy of C.R.E.A.M. Without a second thought, he grabs the record, stands up and with a smile looks over at myself, and everyone who was standing around and touches on WuTang and the record – his humility throughout was incredibly admirable.
 
But I’m gonna leave you with one thing too, and I want you to remember this. Today’s music is today’s music. You know, music is always going to change every ten, twenty years later; it’s supposed to. It’s gonna go where they go.
 
“WuTang, we gonna always be an underground iconic group, but also a mainstream success because we became popular. But I’m gonna leave you with one thing too, and I want you to remember this. Today’s music is today’s music. You know, music is always going to change every ten, twenty years later; it’s supposed to. It’s gonna go where they go. But you gotta remember the difference between old and new is that there’s not really a difference; it’s just good music. So, we have to learn to respect good music, respect good artists that really take time to create that craft for you to feel like: “you know what, that’s gonna be around for a long time.” You know, that’s what I’m about. I wanna be able to see guys make timeless music and make something that’s gonna change the world. That’s important you know. But, music is music, whether you’ve been in the game for thirty, forty years – if you’re still around, you were able to do it and people love it – this is what we chose to do. So, I mean it, y’all are gonna keep seeing me too so. You know, word. Thank you.”

“The Chef” has married the recipe of hard work and success through the grace and ease in which he carries himself. The Linx Jacket is a dish perfectly served following years of fine tuning that secret recipe; one of which his years of trial and tribulations result in a piece that tells such a story. What may be a simple jacket to most is a piece of history for those of whom have followed the journey of Raekwon. Nostalgia may take lead, but hey; we all have a little bit of that hopeless romantic within us.

Raekwon sits down with Vancouver based Fashion Stylist and Writer Ghazal Elhaei for The Social Life
 
The CL-95 Linx Beach jacket and the CL-95 x Vancity Original capsule collection is available online at www.vancityoriginal.com and www.cl95inc.comSpecial thanks to De La Cruz PR for hosting us. Thank you to Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for allowing us to shoot on their rooftop.

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Featured Portrait // Andrew Willis