It’s intriguing in the sense that it’s interesting to see what they were able to get promotional copies of to send out for possible a review, and then of course the jokes about trying to set up interviews with some of the larger names in each list.
It’s terrifying (for me anyway) because I have crippling anxiety and depression, and since I have a day job where I write for a newspaper, I’ve kind of let my own music blog—I stop short of saying that I’ve let it “fall by the wayside,” but let’s just admit that 2015, thus far, has not been my prolific year.
Anyway, so it’s terrifying, you see, because I feel the pressure that I should, like, volunteer to review one of these albums. Because even though B.G.M. now has a rather large and very capable stable of staff writers—what if nobody signs up for it?
But if I’m struggling to maintain content on my own stupid website, how can I be expected to contribute to somebody else’s?
I actually forgot all about this new Raekwon album, Fly International Luxurious Art (get it? It stands for FILA.) Like, when I saw it in the list of albums that were up for grabs, I thought, “Holy shit is that really coming out?” I honestly didn’t believe that it would ever happen. So I threw caution to the wind and volunteered to subject myself to Fly International Luxurious Art.
Fly International Luxurious Art’s been gestating in one-way or another since the beginning of 2013, when Raekwon released a grab bag of odds and ends called Lost Jewelry. But that was, you know, well over two years ago, and since then, the projected release date continued to be pushed back more and more to the point where I figured it would just not happen at all.
Then there was his famous debacle with the other seven living members of the Wu-Tang Clan, where he kind of refused to participate in the group’s “20th anniversary album,” which subsequently was delayed until late 2014 (with Raekwon eventually coming around and appearing on some of the material.)
The thing about Fly International Luxurious Art is this—and I’ll say this now, because with these B.G.M. reviews, it seems like we’ve all come to realize you put some kind of two-line pithy summary as your very last sentence, and that’s what ends up as the text that accompanies the preview of the URL when it’s shared on social media. So with that being said, I’m going to get this out of the way now, and please, continue to reading to the end, but Fly International Luxurious Art, when compared to both the Wu-Tang Clan album A Better Tomorrow, and Ghostface Killah’s concept album, 36 Seasons—Fly International Luxurious Art is an exponentially better album. And that’s not saying much. But it’s saying something.
Based on the embarrassingly bad cover art to Fly International Luxurious Art (and let’s face it, that is, literally, the worst album art of 2015) I was all set to hate this album. And I was all set to hate this album because if we’re in the trust tree here, I think we can all admit that latter-day work by pretty much everyone in the Wu-Tang Clan is questionable at best.
Raekwon saw critical success in 2009 with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt.II, the sequel to his debut solo album, released in the early, golden days of the Clan. He followed that up with Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang in 2011, and since then, has stuck mainly to being bad at using Twitter and beefing with the rest of his crew.
The good news, or news, about Fly International Luxurious Art is that it’s surprisingly listenable (for the most part) and even marginally enjoyable. The thing about Raekwon as a performer, and as a “character” or whatever, is that he sticks (primarily) to what he knows—and as he has for the last 20+ years, he knows a life of drug dealing and crime. Does he really know that life in 2015? That’s the somewhat odd juxtaposition of Fly International Luxurious Art. It opens with a skit—yes, a skit, in 2015, on a hip-hop album—where he’s at the airport, and he’s run out of pages of his passport.
What’s a guy to do when that happens?
Well, not respond to the woman speaking to you is what Raekwon chooses to do, instead, opting to just randomly shout out a bunch of luxury brands of clothing and accessories while “fans” chatter behind him and take his picture.
Raekwon follows up this with “4 In The Morning,” a song that references “The Wire” before it even begins, and also features his partner in crime, Ghostface Killah (still sounding geriatric as fuck, as he did on 36 Seasons.)
And here’s the “odd juxtaposition” I was talking about—Raekwon, at 45, has one Timberland boot planted in the “finer things” money can buy you, while the other is planted in the hood—specifically, above a stove, Pyrex measuring cup in hand. And it’s this juxtaposition he treads throughout the entire album—it’s not a bad thing; it’s not a good thing; it’s just a thing, I guess. A thing that is very apparent when you listen to Fly International Luxurious Art.
“4 In The Morning” is one of the album’s stronger tracks—and it seems worth noting that the album itself is mercifully short, when compared to both of the Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… records—the first of which is a god damn masterpiece, so it can be as long as it wants to be. One of the issues with Fly International Luxurious Art, as with all latter-day Wu-Tang, is the bloated production values.
It’s a BIG sounding record—much like moments on the stale Wu-Tang reunion album A Better Tomorrow—it’s just huge, bombastic arrangements for the sake of having them. There are times when this works in Raekwon’s favor, and there are times when it back fires—the title track, featuring D-list rapper 2 Chainz—is one of those times when it fails to connect.
Fly International Luxurious Art is pretty heavy on the guests, including both a list of current flavors of the week, and marquee names from the mid 90s—braided hair spokesperson A$AP Rocky shows up on the smooth and generic “I Got Money,” Snoop Dogg arrives on “1, 2,1,2,” and the generations are gapped on “Wall to Wall,” with an out of place and ancient sounding Busta Rhymes appearing with memeable rapper French Montana who opts to slur his words lazily all over the song.
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Like so many albums I’ve listened to since becoming an “internet music critic,” Fly International Luxurious Art is neither a good album, nor is it a bad album. It is simply an album exists. There’s some music that is unlistenable and uninteresting; there’s some rap music that grabs your attention and is incredibly memorable; and then there’s something like this, which, unfortunately for a once great artist, it ends up becoming background music.
Fly International Luxurious Art is the kind of album that’s neither impressive, nor is it horrible. Raekwon, if anything, is consistent. He’s a consistent storyteller and performer, and he’s trying. You really can’t fault him for that. It’s not the kind of album that will be looked back on as a career defining moment, but it’s also not a career killer. It’s Raekwon punching the clock, beginning another uneventful day in the factory.
But I mean you can fault him for that cover art. Jesus. Seriously. What a joke.
Kevin also writes for the super excellent Anhedonic Headphones.