The album is considered to be an eclectic, varied album, taking influences from numerous genres including Motown soul, rock, funk, British beat and pop. Released in 1988–89 on I.R.S. Records, The Raw & the Cooked was a major commercial success, selling over three million copies. Numerous singles were released from the album, including the two US number one singles "She Drives Me Crazy" and "Good Thing". The album was also critically acclaimed and Jo-Ann Greene of AllMusic called the album a masterpiece and one of the 1980s' most exciting albums. A remixed version of the album entitled The Raw & the Remix was released in 1990.
Multiple songs from The Raw & the Cooked debuted long before their release on the album; the band's cover of Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've)" originally appeared on the soundtrack for the 1986 Jonathan Demme film Something Wild. Three other songs from the album—"Good Thing", "Tell Me What" and "As Hard As It Is"—first appeared in the 1987 film Tin Men, where the Fine Young Cannibals portrayed a band in a nightclub. These three songs have a retro-soul style consistent with the film's 1963 Baltimore setting. At this point, the band were beginning to move away from their "Sixties soul sound", but Tin Men director Barry Levinson persuaded the band to retain the sound on the songs. With these songs, the band had already written and recorded enough songs for one half of the album between their contributions to the two films.
While the band were slowly recording the album, they had spent the period so far focusing on side-projects as a result of an unofficial semi-hiatus following their 1985 debut album. Vocalist Roland Gift took to his acting career, filmed highlighted dramatic roles in such films as Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987) and Scandal (filmed in 1988, released 1989). The rest of the band, David Steele and Andy Cox, however, formed the side-project duo Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet, an acid house-inspired project which was described as "high-tech" and "danceable." In December 1987, they released the single "Tired of Getting Pushed Around" on Fine Young Cannibals' label I.R.S. Records, and it reached number 18 in the United Kingdom. Nonetheless, Fine Young Cannibals reconvened soon afterwards to focus their attention on writing and recording the remainder of The Raw & the Cooked.
Although the band had self-produced the album so far, the band's label MCA Records asked the band to find another producer for the second phase of recording. The band initially considered Latin Rascals and Gil Evans but eventually asked MCA to approach Prince to produce tracks to complete the album. As Prince was unavailble, the label countered with producer David Z, who had worked with Prince and is the older brother of Bobby Z. of The Revolution. The band and David Z recorded three tracks together at Paisley Park Studios, Prince's studio in Minnesota, United States, to complete the album, including the hits "She Drives Me Crazy" and "I'm Not Satisfied". David Z recalled that "they wanted to work with Prince for their next record. They were told that Prince doesn't work with anybody that way, as a producer-for-hire. But they were also told there was someone who works with Prince who does. That was me, and they were willing to try it out."
MCA suggested that the band record the tracks they wished to create with Z at Paisley Park Studios so that they "would have no choice but to work and get the record done", after the label told Z in a meeting that the band, "then living in London, had been taking an unusually long time between their first and second records." Though the band were polarized by their stay in Minneapolis, with the locals' "big and blonde" looks contrasting with their own "shaved heads" and "punk attitudes," the band's pre-production process, which "consisted of sending songs back and forth for consideration", was very efficient. Z had prompted the band to rewrite the original version of "She Drives Me Crazy", which was then called "She's My Baby", into the final version.