June 20, 2008

Raekwon - The Lex Diamond Story (December 16, 2003)


Corey Woods released his second album, Immobilarity, to admirable sales, but most of the folks that picked up the album cried foul. Raekwon's lyrics may have retained their spark, but he opted to punish his fans by completely ignoring what made Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... so fucking good in the first place: the beats and the camaraderie between he and his Wu-Tang brethren, especially Ghostface Killah. It's no wonder that critics trashed his second effort, and it frequently finds itself brought up in conversations when hip hop bloggers and the like discuss terrible sophomore albums.

Raekwon had recently lost his label home, Loud Records, which had shut down for financial reasons, but was lucky enough to secure a deal with major player Universal/Motown, which ensured that he would get a third chance at appeasing his fans. The end result, The Lex Diamond Story, sold absolutely no copies and is probably part of the reason why Rae's long-fabled Cuban Linx 2 has yet to see release.

For reasons unknown to anybody besides Raekwon and his therapist, he opted to retain his mafioso persona cultivated on Cuban Linx..., a questionable choice considering the world of hip hop had long since moved away from paying homage to Italian gangsters that probably never cared for rap in the first place (as Maseo from De La Soul would probably put it). And while he relented and allowed a few more of his Wu crew to appear on the disc (with mixed results), he kept most of his album advance in the bank, only purchasing the most bargain-basementest of the bargain-basement beats. Yes, this means that The Rza is still missing in action on a Raekwon solo disc.

I have a feeling that my two readers already know where this is going.

1. THE LEX DIAMOND INTRO
Considering the title of the album, I suppose it's sensible that the format of the disc is that of a story being told. The second bit of dialogue is too muffled to be understood properly, though.

2. PIT BULL FIGHTS (FEAT POLITE)
The beat is good, much better than anything on Immobilarity. Raekwon even manages to sound invigorated. Polite comes off sounding like an ass, though, and I mean that in the most literal, rapping-donkey sense.

3. HITMAN SALARY (SKIT)
There's that muffled voice again. I get the gist of the message, but couldn't you have cleaned up the audio a bit before you mastered the album?

4. KING OF KINGS (FEAT HAVOC)
Oddly, Havoc of Mobb Deep guests on a song which he does not have a hand in producing. Maybe that's why he sounds only okay over this calm and peaceful creation by Crummie Beats (a terrible producer name if I've ever heard one). Rae's energy level seems to have dipped a bit, but he at least sounds like he's thinking about trying to consider winning back some of his fans.

5. MISSING WATCH (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & POLITE)
The hook is terrible, but Raekwon's tale of losing his watch in the club is engaging nonetheless. Ghostface steals the show with his verse, but Rae is no slouch. The song fades out toward the end of Polite's final verse, though, so I have to ask again: why the fuck do rappers do that? (Compounding the issue is the fact that The Lex Diamond Story actually contains its lyrics in the liner notes, and all of the lyrics for Polite's verse are included, even the parts that are only mentioned when the song fades out. That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard this week.)

6. ALL OVER AGAIN
Sped-up soul samples have long since been annoying as fuck. I don't recall anybody ever requesting that Raekwon rap with some chipmunks on the hook, but at least his lyrics have actual substance and sound good to boot.

7. CLIENTELE KIDD (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH, POLITE, & FAT JOE)
While it's true that Ghost appears on the track, you get the feeling that Rae and Tony Starks weren't even on the same planet when they recorded their verses. However, at least Ghostface feels comfortable on this awkward beat: Rae and guest Fat Joe sound like they're two or three breaths behind the instrumental.

8. SMITH BROS.
Starts off with a brief skit in which Raekwon berates an interviewer who has the gall to bring up Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Yeah, I would hate to be associated with a classic album too: it's such a goddamn hassle. How dare you be a fan from way back? Following up that stupidity with this boring song isn't the brightest move, either. The tale of this track is kind of bizarre, in that it's actually produced by some folks who call themselves the Smith Bros., a production team that apparently also gave the exact same beat to Ghostface's Theodore Unit (their debut crew album, 718, also happens to feature a song called "Smith Brothers"). I don't know if this was an Alchemist situation (considering Rae and Ghost are in the same fucking group, I highly doubt it), but it's still weird.

9. RESTAURANT (SKIT)
...

10. ROBBERY (FEAT ICEWATER)
Raekwon isn't even on this fucking song, instead choosing to defer to his weed carriers, who, against all odds, actually have a worse group name than Rae's former crew of baggage handlers, the American Cream Team. Based on that last sentence alone, you can imagine how well this gamble pays off.

11. FUCK YOU (SKIT)
...

12. PA-BLOW ESCABLOW
Meh.

13. MUSKETEERS OF PIG ALLEY (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & MASTA KILLA)
Sounds the most like a Wu-Tang beat (when they're paying their respects to old school hip hop, anyway), so it's good that Raekwon decided to include Deck and Masta Killa in the fun. While everyone proceeds to rip shit apart, the song itself doesn't actually fit into the underlying theme of The Lex Diamond Story. Still sounds good, though.

14. ICE CREAM PT. 2 (FEAT METHOD MAN & CAPPADONNA)
Wow, this sounds shitty. In no uncertain terms should this song ever be seen within one thousand yards of the original "Ice Cream". (Rae, didn't you just beat down a reporter for daring to ask if you'll ever do another Cuban Linx album? And now you're blatantly trying to bring in that fanbase with this? What the fuck?) Every single motherfucker involved with this song should be ashamed of themselves.

15. THE HOOD (FEAT TIFFANY VILLAREAL)
I believe this was the only single, and it just so happens to be the only song on The Lex Diamond Story that sounds like it might have received radio airplay (that is, if Universal had paid Funkmaster Flex enough to spin it). I'm not very impressed, though.

16. WILD CHIMPANZEES (SKIT)
...

17. PLANET OF THE APES (FEAT CAPONE & SHEEK LOUCH)
Holy shit, Capone from Capone-N-Noreaga? It's been a while, fam! How've you been? Oh, my fault, you're busy recording a verse that will be neither memorable nor interesting. No, no, I completely understand. I'll see you around.

18. WYLD IN DA CLUB (FEAT ULTRA & ICEWATER)
Yeah, right, like anybody would ever play some Wu in the club. Raekwon sounds as interchangeable as any film in the Steven Seagal oeuvre, which is not a good thing when you're spitting alongside your subordinates.

19. ONCE UPON A TIME (FEAT TEKITHA)
Raekwon is downgraded to being a guest star on his own song. However, on this particular track, the setup actually pays off, since Corey dominating this slow beat would have been a catastrophe. This is actually very good, although it does come off as an outtake from the abandoned Tekitha solo album.

20. LEX DIAMOND STORY OUTRO
And we're out.

FINAL THOUGHTS: The Lex Diamond Story is a failed attempt to recapture the magic originally sparked by Rae's superior debut. (I'm actually terrified as to what Cuban Linx 2 will actually sound like.) The problems with the disc fall into two categories: the mostly sub-par production (once again, Rae seems to have forgotten that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was as much Rza's album as his own), and Raekwon's reliance on inferior rappers to carry the weight. Even the name-brand guest stars fail to bring much to the table. All in all, it makes sense that this is the lowest-selling Raekwon solo album to date.

BUY OR BURN? While a couple of the tracks on here are diamonds in the rough, there is no real reason that anybody should consider buying this one. If you're a Wu fan, you probably already own this, but everyone else, feel free to burn away without the burden of guilt. Unless you find yourself burning it from Raekwon's own hard drive. That would just be awkward.

BEST TRACKS: "Musketeers Of Pig Alley"; "Once Upon A Time"; "King of Kings"

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
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5 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJune 20, 2008

    Couldn't you have gone all out and mentioned Ras Kass by name when referencing the Alchemist-like situation with the Smith Brothers? It's been quite a few posts since The Waterproof MC got some burn on your blog. I wonder if "The Missing Watch" is an allusion to the track "The Watch" that the Bulletproof Wallets sticker promised.

    As for Cuban Linx 2, there's a Raekwon and Ghostface song called The G Hide on Rae's MySpace page that got me somewhat excited to hear that project. That's mostly due to the handiwork of Tony Starks though. "Put some baloney on your face or something." There are also some lovely t-shirts for sale on his MySpace page.

    It's really too bad that Raekwon has convinced himself that he's better served working with Icewater than with The Rza. It seems like Bob Digi could steal up to 50% and Raekwon would still be better off financially. A Raekwon album fully produced by The Rza would sell at least 5 times as many copies as The Vatican Mixtape Vol. IV: Well Manicured Hedges, right? Robert Diggs must be a Grade-A, experienced asshole. The new video from Digi Snacks is pretty ill though. I enjoy the fact that he stole a Mos Def song after the formerly Mighty, currently Milquetoast Mos Def inexplicably tried to remake Liquid Swords. Might as well remix the Mona Lisa.

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  2. Jesus Christ, long name, long comment . . .

    Too be fair, you can only snort as much coke as the Wu did wbile recording Only Built 4 Cuban Linx once in a lifetime.

    That magic can never be recaptured because at this point the synapses in the brain have been fried.

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  3. I'm sorry I disagree... this is a great record from Rae from start to finish. I played this record in my car for a good 2 months. Better than Cuban Links in my opinion. Cuban Links is a record that's suck in the past. This record has great beats and a terrific story. Rae's flow at his best.

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  4. "Holy shit, Capone from Capone-N-Noreaga? It's been a while, fam! How've you been? Oh, my fault, you're busy recording a verse that will be neither memorable nor interesting. No, no, I completely understand. I'll see you around."

    my favorite track summary ive read on HHIsntD so far. i lol'd.

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  5. AnonymousJune 24, 2010

    IMHO you need to give this album credit as what it is, a by the books quality mafioso rap album. within the format of mafioso rap, this album is great. RZA is missed, but some of the guest producers do some decent work here. the only thing that i not only disagree with, but am mad at about your review is not giving mercury credit for making a perfect beat for what should have been the lead single on this album: All over again. not only does Rae reminisce on his path to fame in his signature style, chock full of drug slang and gritty/poetic lyrics, but the beat captures what this album couldve been. it is simple, powerful, sad and beautiful all at once, evoking images of scarface dead in a pool. perfect track IMO. BTW, this is my first day reading your blog and i love it. i dont usually agree with you, but its great to see that someone on the web really loves hip hop and isnt abandoning their blog. bookmarked this site right away. keep writing.

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