Those hungry for an insight into the Wu’s lifestyles or their inner creative processes will get a few peeks into the mansions and the recording booths here. Hawkins’s fight to get his bars up to scratch after coming out of prison is strangely poignant, even in this context. The bigger story, though, is his life. He writes with a mixture of braggadocio, insight, pride and weariness about the years leading up to the Wu-Tang ... A breakdown, sobriety and therapy have had a role in the making of this memoir, which should have an audience in hip-hop fans and policymakers alike.
In a refreshing departure from the typical ghost-written celebrity memoir, it seems much of U-God’s own voice was retained. There’s ample slang, cursing and sexist language — to the point that some readers might be turned off. But as the title suggests, the book aims to give a raw account of Hawkins’ experience. Hip-hop fans will appreciate plenty of behind-the-scenes looks at the lifestyle of a rich and famous rapper ... Yet, the book isn’t an entire recount of years spent traveling the globe and partying in mansions. There are rivalries among bandmates over money and recording time. U-God also discusses some personal trials like the shooting of his son and the overdose of clansmen Russell Tyrone Jones, known as Ol’ Dirty Bastard. So, if you like hip-hop music, memoirs or even modern history, it’s worth giving Raw a read.
Hawkins’s career has never reached the same heights as the rest of the Clan’s—a reflection of his relative level of talent, mostly, but also of circumstances of timing and personality. In Raw he displays an unusual degree of self-awareness about this fact. He describes how difficult it can be to maintain his craft and his confidence, a rare sort of candor in an art form typically premised on effortless cool. But the memoir’s most endearing moments involve the small victories that come with surviving into middle age and the momentary plateaus where Hawkins feels satisfied ... Raw feels cathartic, as Hawkins finds the language and perspective to reckon with his past. His moment in the spotlight may be over, but he now has something that few of his Wu-Tang brothers, still so admired by a younger generation, have: the distance to tell his own story.
Hawkins shows a natural flair for capturing his early life before hip-hop made the Wu international stars ... Hawkins' book is particularly adept at presenting a New York City of long ago, during its Rotten Apple era ... Those looking for a Wu-Tang biography will be disappointed. Hawkins riffs - not always in flattering ways - about the group's members, with their many dysfunctional relationships, all stuck together with tape and glue by producer Robert 'RZA' Diggs ... But the book's best moments riff on the daily hopes, anxieties and disappointments that come with living in a community immersed in struggle. The body count is high. And more interesting is Hawkins' ability to tell the story while also hinting at how a hunch or a feeling can lead to a decision that results in freedom or jail.
Hawkins is a wonderful storyteller who spares no detail (he writes of using plastic wrap as a prophylactic), and his willingness to share his wisdom in nonsaccharine terms yields an inspirational coming-of-age story.
The author writes in a casual style that will entertain fans of the group and its era, but the narrative becomes muddled and disingenuous. Hawkins brags about his own redemption and embrace of an underground values system termed 'Supreme Mathematics,' yet he writes dismissively of barely provoked violent acts by Wu-Tang associates and himself.