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Raekwon And Cee-Lo Pay Tribute To Marvin Gaye On New Song

Since its inception, hip-hop has been grappling with the timeless question Marvin Gaye posed on his seminal 1971 album: What's Going On?

This past weekend marked the 33rd anniversary of Gaye's own untimely death (on April 1, 1984) resulting from a domestic dispute with his father that happened just one day before the singer/songwriter's birthday. Gaye would've turned 77 this year.

On Raekwon's eighth studio album, The Wild, the Wu-Tang wordsmith dedicates a track to the Motown legend. "Marvin," featuring Cee-Lo on the hook, packs a richly detailed biography of the soul searcher's troubled life into a four-minute tribute.

"Once I heard the beat, his name kept coming to me," Raekwon says in a press statement, explaining the inspiration behind the song, produced by Frank G. "The beat reminded me of him and it transported me back to that time. It was like his life flashed before me and the words just began spilling out organically."

Raekwon's own musical career, quickly approaching a quarter-century since Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut, has left an indelible imprint on the canon of inner city blues Gaye conceived. In a sense, Raekwon is a direct descendant of Gaye.

"Marvin's music transcended genres and it can speak to anyone, but it especially speaks to those of us who come from the inner-city; poverty, oppression, the good and the bad. Living in the inner-city, his music helps us reflect. He was real and you could hear it in his voice and in his music. That is where we have parallels, he spoke to a generation and so do I and Wu-Tang."

Indeed, the Wu discography and Raekwon's solo works have long been defined by the soul samples mined and manipulated from the Motown era and beyond. But, on this anniversary weekend in particular, Raekwon wishes he could share more than musical DNA with the iconic Gaye. "I wish I could sit down with him and play him this tribute," he says, "and just smoke a spliff and vibe."

Rodney Carmichael is NPR Music's hip-hop staff writer. An Atlanta-bred cultural critic, he helped document the city's rise as rap's reigning capital for a decade while serving on staff as music editor, culture writer and senior writer for the defunct alt-weekly Creative Loafing.