You’ve heard about this album. Whether you care about it or not, you already know. If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past two and a half years, you had to have caught something. A hashtagged tweet, opulent images on Instagram, the pre-release mixtape, whispers and rumors and Kanye knows what else. I’ve been waiting patiently because Raekwon talked incessantly about this project, more than his past three albums combined. And he sounded genuinely excited about it and its potential to change the game, or be an instant classic, or shake things up. Or maybe he got a new social media team that decided to go on an all-out blitz. Either way, the results are the same. The album comes out, and now it gets held up against our expectations and judged on its merits.
Fly International Luxurious Art (F.I.L.A.) is not a bad album. It’s not a good album, either, nor is it listenable or unlistenable. It just is. It exists as a thing that’s been put into the world. It’s professionally made and well crafted, and I just can’t give a shit.
“What’s your problem?” you might ask. “Don’t Rick Ross and French Montana have, in defiance of all logic, excellent verses?” Yeah, they do. “Doesn’t F.I.L.A. have every element required to create a rap classic?” Absolutely. It nails the recipe: good beats, great rapping, and enough guests to keep it interesting. It feels like a party at Raekwon’s place, incredibly chill, and people come and go throughout the night to contribute a verse here, a hook there. It has great moments, maybe even exceptional ones, but the party died the way some parties just die, nothing caused it, you just start to notice that it’s only 10:30 and almost everyone is gone, and you got two kegs and one hasn’t even been tapped yet, and how are you going to clean up this mess you didn’t even have time to enjoy creating?
As good as the rhymes are, I’ve heard them all before. Laundry lists of luxurious accoutrements. Places. Things. Going from one place to another while wearing, carrying, and using various things. “It’s pretty good,” I hear you say. “It’s what Chef does.” It is, yeah, and he’s damn good at it, and if you want to call it too much of a good thing that’s fine, I don’t need to label this feeling. I just need more than whatever F.I.L.A. is. I need more after two and a half years of constant hype. Not Cuban Linx 3, not Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang 2, but something new. New stories, fresh beats, an orchestral collaboration, some goddamn thing that’s more than just rhyming brand names in interesting ways.