Raekwon's "Fly Internation Luxurious Art" may not be so "artsy."
It’s tough to get 100 percent behind the Wu-Tang Clan these days. No one can deny their influence and run of classic records in the 90s, but drama, stylistic confusion, and album delays have plagued the crew for the past half-decade.
No one expected another 36 Chambers, but A Better Tomorrow was an utter disappointment. Raekwon was vocal about his distaste for the project, saying, "I would be the first one to say that we cannot leave everything in RZA's hand no more" It’s tough to see one of the greatest rap groups of all time incapable of producing top-tier material, but it's even worse that they can hardly stand to be in the same room anymore.
For his sixth studio album, Fly International Luxurious Art, Raekwon trades Wu-Tang stylistics for an attempt at luxury rap. It’s clear right from the "Intro," where Rae name-drops brands and vacation spots while chatting with a customs agent, that this album is going to be a lyrical samurai's foray into material-world content.
It's appealing to see the likes of French Montana, Busta Rhymes, A$AP Rocky, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, and Rick Ross on paper, but the features don't play out naturally. A Wu album usually boasts as many features, but it's within the Clan and feels cohesive. There's little chemistry with the collaborations here, and you don’t get the sense these artists really wanted to make "Fly Art" with Rae.
The 1-2 punch of "4 In The Morning" and "I Got Money" is a solid offering thanks to features by Ghostface and A$AP Rocky, but neither track is particularly memorable. There's no wow-factor in hearing A$AP over a boom-bap beat.
"Wall to Wall" falls short aside from its radio-ready French Montana hook. Raekwon may think Busta brings out the best in him, but we've heard better out of both MCs.
Rick Ross, the undisputed king of luxury rap, makes a solid contribution to the album on "Revory (Wraith)": "Twice a day I change watches, chains and the charms / Tatted on my back, chest and my palms / Then it's me and Diddy, dice games at the Palms / Blew a mil' in cash just to let the bitches watch / Take her down to the lobby, get the bitch a watch."
The two lead singles, "All About You" and "Soundboy Kill It" were released in 2013, which is a testament to exactly what's wrong with the album: It's outdated. A French Montana feature, a line about molly, and these beats just don’t sound exciting in 2015. It’s too reliant on features and too scatterbrained as the listener is never given a chance to settle in--one of the factors that made the OB4CL series so epic.
The three songs without features could be the finest tracks on the album. "Heated Nights" has a hook that implores ghetto youth to stay out of trouble: "Every kid caught in the zone, let's hope he make it home / And sleep right, instead of churnin' the heat night." However, Rae also glorifies the gangster life throughout the track, so it comes out slightly confused.
"Live To Die" revisits that style Rae ran with on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt II, backed by a lush beat from S1 and with some added luxurious braggadocio from The Chef.
Raekwon told Now Toronto, "When you think of Cuban Linx, you think of a drug dealer's album, but I'm no longer that," and went on to say, "I'm a grown man now. I'm not a young dude and it's not just me I've got to worry about. I got to look at my family, my overhead, my livelihood, my comfortability, the benefits to me as an artist - everything. You gotta have your t's crossed and your i's dotted."
Yet, on F.I.L.A., he's still rapping about moving drugs and involving himself in gang violence. Look no further than the chorus of "Nautilus," on which he repeats, "Murder you / Bring the head, leave the body." We enjoyed these murder stories as part of the OB4CL storyline, but, here, it doesn't corroborate his case that he's switched lanes.
The album ultimately sounds as frazzled and awkward as A Better Tomorrow without sounding as ambitious. At least RZA was trying to reach outside his comfort zone. All in all, too many features and self-absorbent rhymes make F.I.L.A. a mediocre effort with a handful of decent tracks.