Raekwon may not have achieved the solo stardom of his fellow Wu-Tang Clan mates Method Man or Ol’ Dirty Bastard, but along with Genius/GZA and frequent partner Ghostface Killah, he has recorded some of the most inventive, critically acclaimed work outside the confines of the group. Born Corey Woods and also nicknamed the Chef (because he’s “cookin’ up some marvelous sh*t to get your mouth watering”), Raekwon joined the Staten Island, New York-based Wu-Tang collective in the early ’90s and was crucial to the success of the group’s groundbreaking 1993 debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Most notably, he delivered the first verse of “C.R.E.A.M.,” the group’s breakthrough, gold-certified single. The rapper’s lengthy solo career, concurrent with his Wu-Tang membership, includes the 1995 classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and two additional Top Ten albums.
Although Wu-Tang Clan’s contract with the then BMG-distributed Loud Records allowed Wu-Tang’s individual members to sign with whatever label they chose, Raekwon stayed with Loud when the first round of Wu-related solo projects began to appear. Following his 1994 debut single, “Heaven and Hell,” his own solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, appeared in 1995. While the RZA-produced set didn’t sell on the level of Method Man’s Tical, it peaked at number four on the Billboard 200 and went gold, pushed by the singles “Ice Cream” and “Glaciers of Ice.” Moreover, the album received near-unanimous critical praise for its evocative, image-rich storytelling and cinematic Mafia obsession (on some tracks, he adopted the guise of gangster Lex Diamonds). Also notable was Raekwon’s crackling chemistry with heavily featured collaborator Ghostface Killah, who enjoyed something of a coming-out party with all the exposure (he hadn’t been nearly as much of a presence on Enter the Wu-Tang).
After Raekwon was featured throughout Ironman, Ghostface’s 1996 debut, Wu-Tang regrouped for the double-disc release Wu-Tang Forever in 1997. That LP was followed by a second round of solo projects, including Raekwon’s Immobilarity, released on Loud in late 1999. Due perhaps to the four years that had elapsed since Cuban Linx, combined with the absence of RZA and Ghostface Killah, reviews were comparatively mixed, but it debuted in the Top Ten and also went gold. Raekwon was on subsequent Wu-Tang albums The W and Iron Flag and returned in 2003 on Universal with The Lex Diamond Story, an album he felt didn’t receive the proper budget or promotion. A series of delays, including sample clearance issues and a change of distributors, pushed the EMI-supported Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II back to 2009, two years after the release of the fifth Wu-Tang album, 8 Diagrams. Unlike Raekwon’s debut, the sequel featured productions from several major players, including J Dilla, Pete Rock, Dr. Dre, and the Alchemist, rather than RZA alone. It entered the Billboard 200 at number four.
During the following decade, Raekwon continued to build the discography of his Ice H2O label with numerous mixtapes and occasional proper albums, along with continued work with Wu-Tang and Wu affiliates. In 2010, he joined Method Man and Ghostface Killah on the collaborative Def Jam album Wu Massacre. Busta Rhymes, Nas, and Rick Ross all appeared on his 2011 album Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang. The EP Lost Jewelry followed in 2012, then in 2014 he reunited with the Wu-Tang Clan for the album A Better Tomorrow and a supporting tour. The conceptual solo effort Fly International Luxurious Art arrived in 2015, followed two years later by The Wild. The three-song EP The Appetition appeared in 2020.