The referentiality is off the charts, a popular culture collision between fashion and music that has not diminished over 20 years of keeping faith and staying focussed. As a member of Wu-Tang Clan, Corey Quontrell Woods (better known by his stage name, Raekwon) achieved fame and wealth, but those were not the main goals for them as a collective, nor him as an individual artist. As he puts it, “I realized kids were watching every little thing I said, what I wore, just like I did when I was a kid. And I want to create something that gives back, somehow.”
Wu-Tang Clan is one of the most important, truly seminal groups in hip hop history, but Raekwon has a broad view of music. “Hip hop was acceptable for guys like us,” he says. “It was great music, a culture that accepted us for who we are, and where we came from: the suburbs, the hood, wherever. You can’t hide the truth, or the music.” He pauses, with a broad smile adds, “Even though it didn’t go as far as we might have wanted.” Maybe, but it has gone plenty far. Developing a massive underground following from their home base of Staten Island, Wu-Tang Clan released the best-selling Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers on RCA records in 1993, which moved them into a more mainstream position. From there, they became deeply influential musically, and were one the first hip hop groups to create a clothing line.
Raekwon was recently in Vancouver was to share his newly designed jacket, a tribute of sorts to a pullover he wore in the 1994 video for “Can it All Be So Simple” from the Enter the Wu-Tang album. It was a Ralph Lauren Snow Beach jacket, and it took the world by storm, giving the piece an iconic status. “I was a little surprised at the response,” Raekwon recalls. “All I did was buy a jacket that I liked. It was all about paying homage to Ralph Lauren. Now, 20 years later, what I want to do is try to get a bit close to the original, kind of an update. I can’t do what Ralph Lauren did, that was a dope jacket back then. Mine is an update, with a few little extra amenities. I wanted to play with it.” Those features include reflective material, secret pockets, multiple zippers; it is an eye-catcher for sure.
He looks around Vancouver streetwear boutique Dipt, as the setup for the Canadian launch event unfolds. “To me, being true to it is important, and the quality,” he explains. “For example, I love Whitney Houston. If you want to sing her songs, go ahead, but sing it right! That’s what we are doing here. These things are souvenirs. They see Rae wear something, it becomes the stuff they want—like the Jordans we all used to want. Sneakers are unbelievably huge, too. So, this jacket is about the record I made; it has a special place in my heart, but more importantly, it is special to my fans.”
Hip hop is on the loudspeakers, various members of his team are busy all around the room, some visibly excited fans are lined up outside. Raekwon is clearly accustomed to this kind of surge in energy when he arrives, and he is good with it. The jacket has a built-in audience, people who want their piece of the culture, and their place in that culture, which Raekwon was such a vital force in creating. In addition, he has a new record coming fairly soon: “I don’t talk about it much; it is a different style, different tone, something I want to share with my fans.” Another pause. “But it’s cool, taking a different path. Music in any genre is a vessel to the heart.” And it doesn’t hurt to look really good in the process.
Photos by Prince from tikoonz.tv.