He is a charter member of the Wu-Tang Clan. He is the creator of The Purple Tape and its stellar sequel. His flow is filthy and his wordplay is wicked. He invents slang and dictates fashion trends. He is a New York rap legend with a long history of competition and collaboration with many of the other greats.
But Raekwon’s most underrated aspect is his ability to craft a hook.
Intricate and often packed with words, many of his hooks are actually closer to short verses. His most famous chorus is probably from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… on the classic track “Incarcerated Scarfaces.”
“Now, yo, yo, what up? Your time is running out/It’s for real though, let’s connect, politic, ditto/We could trade places, get lifted in the staircases/Word up, peace, incarcerated scarfaces”
It’s pretty basic, but it still is conveying a message while being catchy and repeatable and is a major reason for the song’s lasting endurance.
And while Method Man is often named as the man with the Clan’s greatest choruses – “Ice Cream,” “Wu-Gambinos,” “New Wu,” “C.R.E.A.M.” – Rae has supplied his own share of memorable hooks. One of his best came on the Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood soundtrack (and later on Ghostface Killah’s debut, Ironman) on “Winter Warz.”
“Yes, the shit is raw coming at your door/Start to scream out loud, ‘Wu-Tang’s back for more!’/Yes the hour’s four, I told you before/Prepare for mic fights (and plus the Cold War)”
Again, not the most intricate in the world, but it’s a great one and sets up the rest of the track beautifully.
Even his disappointing second album, Immobilarity had some gems, most notably “100 Rounds.”
“Rollin’ like ten at a time/Begin/Love revolves around a thin line, go against this, send mine/Lace you chase you down, let a hundred rounds race you/Now you went from brolic to a facial”
This is a hook that only the Chef could deliver, full of internal rhymes that skip on-and-off-beat effortlessly at a rapid clip.
As a guest he often contributes more than just a throwaway verse. On Fat Joe’s “Fire Water,” one of the first appearances of Big Punisher, Rae slows it down but still keeps it sinister.
“We get knots, like stockbrokers who own Marriotts/Blast shots for all my n—s who splash cops/The rich Corleone camp is here, thousand and one/Corner son, fake a jack, you be a goner….”
To me, though, Raekwon delivered his greatest hook as a guest for a non-Wu member, though a longtime collaborator, on the stellar remix to AZ’s “Doe or Die.”
“Yo, yo, I roll wit brothers who puff dust lust plus/A-plus, conniving cats you can’t trust/Yo, these avalanche rock throwers, granola holders/Style is steady ready like a military soldier/Wu Killa Bee plus Sosa, AZ/Two SC’s, Doe or Die style, let’s see/Yo, the track’s banging like an amaretto shake, son/Take some, 50 on whatever we make, son”
Since it kicks off the song, it’s technically neither a hook or a bridge, but we’ll let it slide because it would have fit at the end as well. And, besides, it’s fantastic.
Over his two-decade-plus career, Raekwon has been known for a lot of things, but his ability to craft a classic hook is one of the best – and most underrated – skills.
Christopher Pierznik’s nine books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.