Wu-Tang Clan’s 1997 smash “Triumph” is arguably the greatest group cut in hip-hop history. Wu fans can rhyme along with Inspectah Deck’s famous “I bomb atomically” opening line as soon as Ol’ Dirty Bastard finishes his legendary intro. But ask any true hip-hop head what the most memorable line in the song is and you’ll likely hear them say it’s Raekwon’s “Guaranteed to make ’em jump like Rod Strickland.”
Strickland, who played for the Knicks, Spurs, Blazers, Wizards, Heat, Timberwolves, Magic, Raptors and Rockets during his 17-year career, isn’t the first player MCs think of when name-dropping in songs, which goes to show why Rae has been considered one of the best lyricists in the game for 25 years.
“I wasn’t a big Rod Strickland fan back in the day,” admits Chef. “I knew about him but that rhyme came out because it needed to come out. It was a metaphor thing, but it was also a vibe I was in. It made sense in the rhyme at that time. The kid could play ball and he was getting busy and I just said his name. It just worked.”
Like Strickland, Raekwon’s career has taken him all over the hip-hop map, both as a member of Wu-Tang Clan and as a successful solo artist. At 47 years old, the Staten Island, NY, native just dropped The Wild, his eighth solo record, in March.
Hear more from Raekwon from our sitdown on the “Respect The Game” podcast:
While Rae is admittedly a bigger fan of baseball than basketball, his influence can be felt on the NBA hardwood. He’s been an annual staple at All-Star Weekend, most recently performing at a GQ party in New Orleans this past February, and last summer photos of a massive Wu-Tang Clan tattoo on Kevin Durant’s leg began to circulate.
“When I saw Kevin Durant’s tattoo, that blew my head off,” he says. “People were like, ‘Yo, did you see what this dude put on his leg?! He threw the ‘W’ up there!’ And I was like, Yeah, he’s official. That’s when you realize this music is really influencing these players. Music puts you in a zone, and these guys are constantly in a zone—the music is part of them being motivated.”
As a veteran MC, Rae has played every role—from a superstar on his own albums to coming through with a clutch verse to give a Wu-Tang classic an extra jolt. It’s why he’s been able to stay relevant despite the ever-changing landscape of hip-hop music.
Peter Walsh is a Senior Editor at SLAM. Follow him on Twitter at @Peter_M_Walsh.
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