UNCOVERED: The Making of Raekwon The Chef’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Album Cover (1995) with photographer Daniel Hastings.
Truly classic albums of any genre stand the test of time. But there’s an extra special reverence with which hip-hop fans regard Raekwon the Chef‘s 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Musically and conceptually groundbreaking, OB4CL‘s uncompromising hustler’s sensibility was famously symbolized by a simple packaging detail: its cassette and CD’s purple tinted shell, which announced a product from the streets both elite in class yet undiluted in its aesthetic rawness.
Equally iconic, however, is the album’s striking Daniel Hastings-photographed cover image – a portrait of Raekwon and exuberant partner-in-rhyme Ghostface Killah halo-ed by a haze of blunt smoke set against a fire-engine red curtain adorned with the Wu emblem. Having already worked with the Clan on Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, Hastings enjoyed a unique perspective on its interpersonal dynamics by the time of OB4CL. With much recent talk and reminiscing about “The Purple Tape” we caught up with him about his experiences shooting Rae and Ghost for this most classic of classic albums.
It’s 1995 and Wu-Tang Clan have blown up since you first shot the group’s debut album cover, and they’re doing their solo projects now. So how did you get involved with shooting Only Built for Cuban Linx…
Daniel Hastings: I think from 36 Chambers to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… there was some growth – from their part and on my part as well. Because during 36 Chambers there were like some really, really talented broke rappers, you know what I mean? [laughs] They didn’t have no money, they had no budget. They got their first deal and from then to [OB4CL] it was like a couple of years and they traveled the world already. If they weren’t already millionaires they were sorta like [on their way]. And they were collecting checks and royalties from all sorts of directions. And on my end, that was the year I was probably doing thirty-five [different] album covers, man. It was insane. Everyone in New York wanted me to shoot their album cover, ya know?
I had a really cool relationship with Raekwon where he felt really passionate about his artwork. And at that point he was signed to Loud Records, which released 36 Chambers. Everyone else [in Wu-Tang] basically had different deals with a lot of different labels, and the marketing director at [Loud] at that time, Brett Wright, he’s the one who called me. He was like, “I want you to do Raekwon’s next album.” And we had a meeting and that’s when I met Rae again and everything was different, you know? [laughs] It was a big budget, the label had money behind it, they were already done collecting [money] off 36 Chambers. At that point they already had Mobb Deep and they had a lot of big records coming out. Loud Records was a Titanic at that point. And Rae came [to the meeting] and [we talked about] Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
So he tells you the title of the album, and…
Daniel Hastings: I’m not a jewelry type of guy, so when it comes to chains and stuff like that I don’t really know much about it. So I asked him like, “What’s the deal with the Cuban links stuff?” He wanted to call [the album] Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz. And I was like, “Well, what does that mean?” And he was like, “It’s the hardest chain to break. And that’s what we are. That’s the Wu-Tang. That’s my family.” From there, we started talkin’ about concepts. And I think we kinda threw some concepts around about the Last Supper. Dressing a studio with all the members [of Wu-Tang].
Where’d that specific idea come from?
Daniel Hastings: I can’t remember whose idea it was. I mean, I will listen to records and I will come up with ideas. [Rap] photography at that point… I don’t think anybody was listening to the music and really trying to give a representation of what the music would look like [visually]. When I listened to OB4L, to me it was aggressive, you know? There definitely was the bond [between Rae and Ghost] that he was talkin’ about. [Rae] was talkin’ about “the both of us together” [him and Ghost]. I don’t think there was nothin’ pretty about [the album]. It was right in your face, just like “Bam! This is who we are.” And the concept came up about the Last Supper. I can’t even say it was my idea or their idea, I can’t even remember how it came up. But I know that there’s always a brainstorming meet and greet that I do with the artists. I remember Raekwon being there. I remember Ghost being there. I remember the folks at Loud Records, [label owner Steve] Rifkind were also sort of involved in this [album] because this one now was the follow up to [36 Chambers]. So once the concept was approved then I went to work with an artist to pick out colors. I wanted to sort of like give that feel of the 36 Chambers [cover] but a little bit more urban. So that’s what everybody sort of agreed to and that’s what we did.