Published Jun 01, 2015Toronto's similarity to New York City is what drew Raekwon in and made him feel so at home, eventually leading him to set up shop in Canada.
"I always thought Toronto and New York are like twins — the personality of the people, the cold, the talent but still humble. It has a cultural scene just like New York, and of course you got the 'hood. To be honest with you, I feel like I'm in Brooklyn," the Wu-Tang Clan wordsmith told a cluster of media, industry folk and fans at a recent VIP listening session at Toronto's Red Bull headquarters.
The purpose of the Chef's visit was ostensibly to promote his slick new LP, Fly International Luxurious Art — "I just want to give people good records" — but he seemed more focused on explaining his connection to the city and why he launched his imprint, IceH20 Records, here in late 2011.
"I saw something a long time ago in the city, just coming here since the early '90s. From doing shows, I met all kinds of people that even to this day I'm still cool with. This city is filled with a lot of talented musicians and artists," he said. "I wanted to come here to live but also to check out the hip-hop scene because I felt that Toronto wasn't getting that full-fledged support that it should get throughout the world. Every city, every state gets its time to shine."
When the veteran MC launched IceH20, Drake had just popped off in a major way, and Rae hoped to build on that momentum. He signed his first artists, JD Era, then Scarborough's Gangis Khan aka Camouflage — but neither took off.
"I had to go home and get my career together," he said. "Now we [back] here. I believe everybody has a hidden talent within them. If there's any way that I can help, that's what I'm here to do."
After two-and-a-half years living part time in Canada, Raekwon returned to NYC, cranking out his own mixtapes, writing F.I.L.A. and plotting a concert tour and film to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Ghostface-assisted debut classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
"We decided to put a documentary together. It's going to be called The Purple Tape Files. This is a deep-look documentary on how we made that album," he explained.
The film is being crowd-funded, Rae said, because he didn't want a label to interfere with its vision.
"If it wasn't for the fans, I wouldn't be trying to make it," he said. "So, why not make it with them and have them attached to it. So they can be like, 'You know what? I was a part of that movement.'"
Raekwon promised he's still building his brand and has some surprise new signings on deck. He's searching for talent beyond T.O., "the mecca" of Canada.
"I didn't want people to think it's just about artists from Toronto being signed. We tryin' to sign anybody from all over Canada," he clarified. "Toronto is a tough city. There are a lot of artists that got great talent, but I see people that feel they know a lot, but really don't know a lot. I know what it's like to be an artist and have your homeboy be your manager, but before you call someone your manager, you gotta really know who they are."
Likening his role in Toronto to that of a big brother or a coach, Raekwon gave a special shout-out to local producer She Da God, who crafted the beat for FILA standout "Wall to Wall."
"A chick made this?!" Raekwon recalled saying when he first heard the beat. Then he invited the young composer up and gave her a warm embrace. "Y'all have a great city," he said, "but y'all gotta quit hating and work together."
F.I.L.A. is out now on Ice H2O/EMI.