If there's any doubt about Raekwon's intentions to set up a label in Canada, the visual cues to dispute that contention are everywhere. The door to the newly established label offices, on Yonge Street in the heart of downtown Toronto, features Raekwon's Ice H20 Canada logo prominently incorporating a maple leaf. And inside, past the label's tastefully decorated lobby with Wu-Tang Clan album covers, barber chairs and mirrors in the shape of the Clan's iconic W, is an enlarged black and white photo of the Toronto skyline.
Raekwon, himself sits in a bright red Hockey Canada T-shirt and is in an eager mood to discuss his decision to expand his label to Canada. He's been a frequent visitor to Toronto as an artist over the past few years, including his surprise onstage appearance at this fall's Manifesto Festival, and his positive experiences and recognition of untapped potential has led him to expand that to the role of businessman.
"Every time you turn around -- I could be in a Chinese restaurant eating pepper shrimp, I could be in a hotel on King West chillin' -- the talent, it presents itself to me," Raekwon tells Exclaim! "The love out here is unconditional for a fella like me. That makes me feel good and it makes me say to myself, 'Rae I know you want to help. Let's do it.'"
Ice H2O Canada's first move has been to sign MC JD Era, who had already issued a number of mixtapes before connecting with Raekwon. The two have also collaborated together, and the label also recently signed Scarborough artist Gangis Khan aka Camouflage.
Raekwon says he believes the label gives him a chance to impart wisdom and artist development to younger emerging artists and provide a springboard for their careers.
"Basically it's just like a media talent academy label that just allows cats to expand on their dreams and know their place and now to become more career-minded with [their] dreams," says Raekwon. "We're just here to instill that in their heads. At the same time, [we're] looking to do deals with artists and develop them, because you know the labels gave up... They don't know what's in the streets anymore. They're so far away from it and that's why they are who they are. I'm not hating on them, I'm just saying, 'We're gonna go out there and help develop these stars' and help them make money, too."
But just because Raekwon is expanding his label, he's not abandoning his own recording career to solely be a label head.
"I ain't quit my day job, know what I mean," he says. "I just only expanded my day job and made it more interesting."
This means that Raekwon, who says he is currently a "free agent," is about to start work on a new album, as well as a potential reunion with Wu-Tang Clan members.
"I got a lot of things coming up," says Raekwon. "You got the 20-year Wu anniversary about to jump off. You know we scheming on some things. Going back on the road, doing something legendary again."
He's also working on a biopic of his life that he says is "90 percent done."
"We're still looking to drive investors and I got a couple of good friends involved in the movie, Cee Lo Green, Erykah Badu and a couple of more people too," Raekwon says. "We're just trying to stay busy, man."
On top of all that, Raekwon is planning to release Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. III on the Ice H2O imprint, which is aiming to release the record sometime in 2012.