September 9, 2009

My Gut Reaction: Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (September 8, 2009)

Yep, that's right, it actually came out. Which makes Chef Raekwon an eventual man of his word.

Some thoughts I had while perusing the liner notes of Raekwon's fourth solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II:

-Who the fuck designed this shit? And why does every track on the back of the CD case list the producer? I feel like I bought a mixtape from a fucking flea market.

-The quality of paper used for said liner notes only furthers the above feeling.

-The cover art, which is supposed to make one remember the original project's cover, works pretty well, but the pics on the inside are kind of embarrassing. Hopefully Raekwon opted to use all of his budget on securing the two Dr. Dre prescriptions instead of making the liner look good.

-Dr. Dre's two tracks appear to be the ones that the most work was put in to, if one is to believe the sheer amount of credits listed underneath each. No, seriously. Also, they both say "Produced by Dr. Dre" and "Produced by Dr. Dre and Mark Batson". Which one is it?

-Track number seventeen, "Fat Lady Sings" is produced by either The Rza (doubtful) or Icewater Productions (probable). The liner notes list both possibilities. Also, "We Will Rob You" lists two different producers, both of whom I'm sure are supposed to be the same guy.

-I seriously can't believe I'm holding this in my hands right now. I was taking bets as to whether this was really going to hit store shelves in 2009. I have to say, Rae, I'm kind of impressed.

-I also liked the fact that Rae brought back all of the Wu-Gambino names. Good bit of nostalgia there. He even gave new monikers to guests Jadakiss, Styles P., and Beanie Sigel. (And yet, Slick Rick doesn't get one? Maybe his rap name is already close enough.) Too bad Nas Escobar wasn't able to tear himself away from his own divorce proceedings to appear on either Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II or The Blueprint 3. Oh well.

-I hope this album does well enough to warrant Ice H2O/EMI releasing Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. 2.5, featuring the songs that never ended up on any album like "Baggage Handlers" and "Criminology 2", and also, more sound bites from The Killer.

-Busta Rhymes still managed to receive an executive producer credit. Seeing as I believed all of his contributions (save for one song late in the tracklisting) were removed from the final product, this was a shock. The Rza snags a similar credit, as well: here's hoping all of the rest of his contributions to the original version of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II are released soon, as are all of the songs the Gza was supposed to appear on (he was originally supposed to be biggest supporting player, alongside Ghostface Killah, but his contributions were, apparently, chopped down to one track).

-Raekwon's final line in his dedications is "All the haters hold this pickle!!!" Which is just fucking hilarious.

Anyway, I've wasted enough of your time. Let's get into this shit.

1. RETURN OF THE NORTH STAR (FEAT POPA WU)
I have to say, giving listeners the impression that this album picks up right where the first Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... left off is pretty brilliant, as it obliterates the sensory memory of the other two albums Raekwon released. Although the original “North Star (Jewels)” was a bonus track only available on compact disc versions of the album, but that's just a minor quibble. I'm sure that, in the past fourteen years (fuck, I feel old), folks have replaced their cassettes with CDs or digital copies.

2. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK, GHOSTFACE KILLAH, & METHOD MAN)
After the kung-fu sample clears the way, the late J. Dilla's Rza impersonation kicks in, and it is a fucking monster, making this song a contender for song of the year easily. Rae seems to have been inspired by Deck, Ghost, and Meth, as he wakes the fuck up and impresses alongside everybody else. One wishes the Gza actually showed up to recite a twist on his hook from the Wu's early “Clan In Da Front” (unlike the video version, there is no Genius on here, and no intro by The Rza, either). This reminds me of how hyped I was the very first time I heard “Guillotine (Swordz)”, which is the kindred spirit for this track. I cannot stress enough how fucking awesome this song is.

3. SONNY'S MISSING
This is similar to the crime stories that populated the last two Raekwon solo albums (the ones that sucked), but he seems to step his game up on here, possibly because Pete Rock provides an unorthodox (for him, anyway) beat. I choose to believe that Raekwon was cognizant to the fact that hip hop heads will leave his ass in the dust if Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II was anything less than a good album. Not as entertaining as some of Ghostface Killah's stories, but still fairly effective.

4. PYREX VISION
This one verse half-thought from Rae (and producer Marley Marl) gets into so much detail, you feel as if you're sitting in the kitchen with the Chef as he sleepwalks through a procedure that he's done an infinite number of times already. The sleepy flow actually makes this song better. This was nice.

5. COLD OUTSIDE (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & SUGA BANG)
I hated the singing on here (was that really necessary?), and it took too long to get the ball rolling, but other than those complaints, I really didn't care for this track at all. Moving on...

6. BLACK MOZART (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & THE RZA)
This Rza-produced beat didn't grab me the first time I heard it, so I listened again, and I appreciate it a lot more (it's dramatic as hell), but it's still hardly Prince Rakeem's best work. Also didn't ever need to hear The Rza singing on the hook, as every time he does, it gets more and more frustrating. Rae and Deck fight for their lives (and their respective careers) with fantastic results, though: had both men been rapping like this for the past few years, maybe this little tiff with Joe Budden would be a non-issue.

7. GIHAD (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
I'm actually surprised that this track made the album and “Criminology 2” didn't, as they both leaked around the same time (bloggers mistakenly called this track “Necro”, when in reality, it was simply produced by Necro, in what is probably his most high-profile production slot ever). The instrumental is still haunting today (the chanting won't help cure anybody's insomnia), and Raekwon rocks it accordingly. Ghost's verse is fucking hilarious, as he rhymes about sexual encounters as only he can: he's probably the only rapper on Earth that can get incredibly graphic and still have female fans appreciate his attention to detail.

8. NEW WU (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & METHOD MAN)
Truth be told, I'm kind of over this song. It's still really good (Method Man, especially, sounds fucking great), but Rae's flow on here is lazy, and “House Of Flying Daggers” stole this track's momentum anyway. I would have thought that a song called “New Wu” (or, as it was originally called, “Wu Ooh”, which is a stupid name) would actually feature more than just three members of the Clan, but oh well. The Rza doesn't bring his A-game to Rae on the production tip: maybe his feelings were still hurt from Corey's 8 Diagrams criticisms.

9. PENITENTIARY (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Rae almost lost me with his reference to “lead burgers”, but this was entertaining nonetheless. Rae and Ghost pass the mic back and forth so effortlessly that you're left wondering why they don't always just work together.

10. BAGGIN' CRACK
Allegedly, this subdued Erick Sermon-produced cut is only available on the dirty version of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II. I'm not about to go to Wal-Mart to pick up a clean rap album, so who knows how true that fact is. The song is alright, but I'm more impressed at just how blunt the title is: I'd bet the Clipse never thought to just be obvious with their drug talk.

11. SURGICAL GLOVES
This Alchemist-produced track sounds like the same bullshit that Rae has been trying to pass off as “music” since Immobilarity. I know that many bloggers are celebrating this song's existence, but I can't bring myself to do it. I guess it is true: I'm just not an Alchemist stan.

12. BROKEN SAFETY (FEAT JADAKISS & STYLES P.)
Jadakiss says it best over this Scram Jones-produced banger: “Fuck saving hip hop, we're bringing the streets back.” This was actually pretty fucking good (although Styles P threatens to mess everything up), and it's nice to hear Raekwon sound rejuvenated even when he's not around his Wu-Tang brethren.

13. CANAL STREET
I liked the beat, but otherwise, this crime tale bored me to death. They can't all be winners.

14. ASON JONES
Raekwon wasn't satisfied with his verse on the Wu's “Life Changes”, so he crafted another respectful homage to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard. This J. Dilla-produced track actually hits you harder than the Wu's song because Rae includes excerpts from Russell himself. I liked this a lot, but I was left wondering why Ghost didn't lay down some thoughts: he infamously missed his opportunity to contribute to “Life Changes”, so you would have thought he would have made damn sure to be in the studio the day “Ason Jones” was recorded. Unless Raekwon wanted this track all to himself, of course.

15. HAVE MERCY (FEAT BEANIE SIGEL & BLUE RASPBERRY)
I can't say that I expected the Wu to bring Blue Raspberry back into the fold: I figured she had simply moved on. However, “Rainy Dayz” this is not. Beanie Sigel's opening verse is dull, and Raekwon's medication seems to have kicked in at the worst possible time.

16. 10 BRICKS (FEAT CAPPADONNA & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
J. Dilla's beat is catchy in a monotonous kind of way, but otherwise, this was pretty fucking entertaining. Raekwon and Cappadonna only manage to be decent, but Ghostface saves the day (no surprise here) by ripping the stuffing out of the instrumental, tossing it in the air like a graduation cap, and dancing in the resulting downpour.

17. FAT LADY SINGS
I liked the false start to Rae's story and the way he says “You ain't dead yet?”, but I can't remember anything else about this song.

18. CATALINA (FEAT LYFE JENNINGS)
Dr. Dre's first of two production credits appears on “Catalina”, which starts off with a sample from the English-dubbed version of John Woo's The Killer, a smart move as Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was almost entirely built around that classic flick. However, unlike other bloggers, I found this track to be bland as hell. The chorus, performed by Lyfe Jennings in an entirely different studio (seriously), was okay, but the beat is meh, and Raekwon doesn't sound especially jazzed to be here. So why exactly was everybody excited when it was first announced that Dre would be working with Rae?

19. WE WILL ROB YOU (FEAT SLICK RICK, GZA/GENIUS, & MASTA KILLA)
I liked this one a lot, although Ricky should have done more than just the intro and the chorus. Allah Justice/Karim's upbeat instrumental helps offset Raekwon's “crime joints”, making this come off as a pseudo-sequel to Ghost's “The Hilton” (a terrific song, by the way). (When you click on Allah Justice's name on Wikipedia, you're redirected to the Gza's page. Karim, or Kareem, is Gza's son. If Gza's kid really produced this track, he did a fucking bang-up job.) The hook should be corny (given the song's title), but Slick Ricky changes it up just enough to make things interesting. Gza and Masta Killa also sound really fucking good, even though Elgin fails to stick with the theme.

20. ABOUT ME (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
Raekwon and Busta pair up over the other Dr. Dre prescription, This one sounds a bit better than “Catalina”, if only because Busta deliberately tones down his approach (a fact he cops to during his verse) to such a degree that you're coerced into hanging on to his every word, and let's be honest here, how often does that happen with Busta Rhymes?

21. MEAN STREETS (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
I liked everything about this one, save for the singing. Allah Mathematics's dramatic theme helps lend credibility to the verses of Rae, Ghost, and the Rebel INS. Ghost's first couple of lines, especially, are even more hilariously graphic than anything he could have said on “Gihad”, so that was interesting.

22. KISS THE RING (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & MASTA KILLA)
Raekwon ends Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II with a celebration of the Wu-Tang Clan's legacy and what they (naturally) assume will be their continued dominance in hip hop. Which of course means that Elton John's “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is sampled. (At least Sir Elton got himself a writing credit on the song: Gary Numan still hasn't received any credit for “Life Is A Movie”.) Their golden days may be long past them, but with more albums such as this one, they can easily stay afloat in the game, carving their niche for hip hop heads who continue to enjoy the work of the Wu.

THE LAST WORD: So it turns out that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II is not the perfect sequel we've been waiting for. It also doesn't help eradicate the memory of Raekwon's Immobilarity and The Lex Diamonds Story. However, due to a renewed focus by the Chef and his collaborative efforts with everyone in the Wu who matters (read: U-God is nowhere in sight!), this album is still pretty fucking good. I would have liked more production from The Rza, as his musical backing played a vital role on the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., but I've learned not to ask for much in my Wu-Tang releases: that way, I'm pleasantly surprised whenever I buy something like, say, 8 Diagrams, and find almost wall-to-wall Rza production. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II is much more enjoyable and entertaining than anybody could have hoped for, given the extremely long lead time, so maybe 2009 really is the year of the Wu renaissance. This is easily Raekwon's best effort since his debut.

-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Other Raekwon albums (the undisputed classic and the rest) can be discussed by clicking here.

41 comments:

  1. A few duds, but overall a really good, solid album. Good review.

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  2. Oh man Max, Surgical Gloves is an album highlight! Rae hasn't sounded that good in 15 years. His second verse is just complete fire. How can you not imagine doing 120 on the freeway blaring that shit?

    "bulletproof brothels with the jew bitches!"

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  3. I'm still waiting to purchase it with two bonus tracks, which is not an easy feat, since everyone bought at least five copies, I suppose.

    "This album is still pretty fucking good?" You trashed half of songs presented here! Cold Outside is damn near perfection! I like it even more than Rainy Dayz. Catalina has a nice loop, and I like About Me, but Dre's beats are the weak link. Surgical Gloves is really fucking good, with Rae going (somnambulic) nuts over production simillar to Glaciers of Ice, and Baggin' Crack is weak, because 1) I hate Erick Sermon, save for a few beats, and 2) the beat is kinda blah anyway.

    For me, this album is the SHIT, almost every song clicks, and I know Part One featured a genius producer in his prime in (not only that, but it's the only album with 100% RZA, no co-productions), but I like this one as much. Truly a worthy sequel.

    PS. Have you recieved my review?

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  4. I like this album alot of coarse its not the first one but its the closest thing to the first Cuban Linx we are gonna get, & its great in its own right.

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  5. Yeah its good. Im still kinda somewhat disappointed cause if i cut it down to the songs i really like i end up with only 14. Some songs actually sound like mixtape shit to me (Gihad, Fat lady) and i hate Black Mozart: thats some 8 Diagram shit!

    But its a purchase for the Dilla tracks alone!

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  6. Cold world, catalina are growers. Trust me it took me a few tries to appreciate it, especially the latter. Surgical gloves sucks period. Overall this is definitely something you can bump for an extended period of time.

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  7. Album of the year no doubt.
    Great review!! Props.

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  8. definetely the best wu release of the decade. better than 8 diagrams, iron flag, and supreme clientele. baggin crack, kiss the ring, and house of flying daggers were my favorite, and pyrex vision was a pretty good track despite its less-than-a-minute runtime.

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  9. The Fuck?

    This album was fucking raw and both Dre beats fit like a glove.

    I am not a huge Wu fan but this album rocked; especially Method Man murdered the beats.

    Bad Review Max; Sorry

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  10. I also think that 2-3 tracks could have been left off or replaced by other stuff. Especially after listenin to some of the mixtapes that have been released recently. I would have enjoyed some of the beats off the Cuban Revoultion Tape by Memory Man on the actual album. But I'm not complainin' this is the shit right now...

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  11. stop living in denial max, this album is booty from front to back

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  12. Nice review. It seems to me that "About Me" uses the same sample that "Cinema" (GZA, Pro Tools). Do you know where it comes from? I've been reading your blog for a month. Keep up the good work! By the way, will you review hip hop from other countries (british hip hop, french hip hop...) or albums by J-Live or The Last Emperor?

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  13. just copped this shit and this album has to be one of the most underrated albums of 2009, Supreme Clientele saved the wu back in 1999-2000, now with raekwon's new album, a sequel to the classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, originally released in 1995, this album brings back the old wu, the production is now what we expected but still raw as hell, this is raekwon's best album in modern day hip hop

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  14. http://thehiphoprevuebangout.wordpress.com/2009/09/08/only-built-4-cuban-linx-2-review/

    For an alternate take; I have to disagree with you on your Cold Outside (verses only, the hook is weak) and Have Mercy reviews, but nevertheless I agree, a very solid effort by Rae.

    You should also check out the bonus track from Itunes, "Walk Wit Me" it could have slid into this album perfectly instead of Catalina

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  15. I'm surprised you weren't a little more thrilled about this release since it's easily the best Wu related release in the last 5 years.

    I recall reading an interview back in the early days of OB4CL2 production about GZA's son playing a track for Rae and Rae loving it and saying it was going to be on the album so I imagine We Will Rob You is indeed credited correctly.

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  16. this album is just straight boring

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  17. album is banging

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  18. nice review as always! not a perfect album but pretty fucking good indeed! Rae still got it in him!

    btw, here's another curious liner not which you didn't mention: the beat for "Sonny's Missing" is the same from a track included on Pete Rock's "NY's Finest" album called "Questions" featuring Royal Flush. here's the original if you haven't heard it:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlojGp9Gfe4

    btw: can we expect some reviews for Kid Cudi (Man On The Moon), M.O.P. (The Foundation) and Drake (So Far Gone EP) as well?

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  19. Great album, but did you ever review Doom's Born like This? I think that is the album of the year so far.

    Both of which dominate over BP3

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  20. Wow, I expected you to like this a little more than you did. I think it will be the best release of the year. Been getting way more play than BP3 for me.

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  21. This album shits all over BP3. anyone who doesn't think so is a skinny jean wearing faggot.

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  22. Damn I'm late.

    A lot better than I thought it'd be. For a 2009 mainstream release, this is as good as it could probably get.
    'House Of Flying Daggers' should win a fucking Grammy. Maybe that would make the awards show relevant again in our genre.

    Side note: Really puzzles me how my Windows Media Player doesn't recognize the tracklisting, but FreeRIP (a program I use to rip mp3s from CDs) does perfectly.

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  23. WOW. And I thought Pro Tools was the Wu saviour for the last few years. I was then hit with this album. I wasn't expecting this to ever come out. Great review, but I think the album is better than what you make it seem. And you made it seem pretty good. Anyone else think that House of Flying Daggers hits you just as hard as Guillotine Swordz? Anyway, I agree 100% with that "OB4CL2.5" comment you mentioned.
    BO2 (which I thought was fantastic), Dopium (which I thought was surprisingly great), Wu-Tang Chamber Music (which is damtastically awesome), and now OB4CL2 (which knocks the other three albums out of the box). Wu renaissance it is, Max. Kinda skeptical about that Wizard of Poetry album though...

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  24. a very average album at best , the best album of the year goes to - marco polo and torae - double barrel

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  25. i know i already commented on this album but what i thought really stood out to me was the whole feel of the album. I was expecting criminology 2 and staten go hard but w/e they cant all be winners. It seemed like everyone that worked on this album knew what a cuban linx album should sound like. from dr. dre to pete rock they all got the cuban linx sound on lock

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  26. But with Sunny's Missing that makes it 3 recycled beats with Ason Jones and 10 Bricks, both of which were used on Dilla albums before. Together with We will rob you that samples Hard Times yet again that kinda takes a bit off the shiny shine of the album. Like i said, i think its good but not great.

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  27. YOU WANT SOME OF THESE DONUTS?

    NAH IM GOOD.

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  28. do you know if criminology 2 is produced by the RZA?

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  29. Best album I've heard in a while. Well worth the wait. Think it's better than the review. Cold Outside is banging.

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  30. The album is pretty much what i expected itd be. Theres some hot tracks but mostly its just average. CL2 is ok but nowhere near OB4CL. Better than Sumpere Clientele? Hell no.

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  31. PS. As I said, I'm still waiting to cop OB4CL2 at 18th September, when it will be availble in my country, so I downloaded it when it leaked.

    I see the album version of 'House Of Flying Daggers' is without GZA's hook.

    I don't recommend burning, so I won't throw a link for whole album, but I think this one particular song should be heard in the best possible version.

    Here's the link for 'House Of Flying Daggers' with better GZA's vocals in really good quality:

    http://www.speedyshare.com/659230467.html

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  32. 2nd best Wu solo album of the 2000s
    1st of course is Supreme Clientele

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  33. Very good album, but it does have its fillers... I could've lived without having Black Mozart, Canal Street and Fat Lady Sings on the album. Cold Outside's hook could've been toned down a little, the poor guy uses his voice so loudly that it gets on my nerves. "Haaa, HAAAAAA-AAAA" okay I get it, it's cold. Likewise I would've liked to see Criminology '09 and State of Grace on here... ah well. Pretty much all songs I didn't mention here rock though, so it's all good.

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  34. Max, I'm glad you kept this review honest. Attaching the name OB4CL2 to an album doesn't make it an instant classic. And does this album have the start-to-finish cohesion and storyline of the original? No.

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  35. Ob4cl 2 is nothing spectacular. I expected more, after reading your review, Max.

    In my ears, thi album has got no inspiration. So many tracks, so many fillers, but no inspiration.

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  36. Max...talk to me about why Nas let Rae down...let me down

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  37. Thanks for the review Max
    In New Zealand the iTunes version of track 2 has the GZA hook






    Blake

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  38. Some good tracks on it, 'New Wu' and 'House Of Flying Daggers' are my highlights. But no where near as dope as the first Cuban Linx. Bought it on purple vinyl but ended up selling it.

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  39. I never really liked Rae and find the original Cuban Linx overrated, despite some classics.

    THIS ALBUM FLOORED ME, THOUGH. It's better than the original in some regards, even.

    Really shocked how much you like J. Dilla but haven't even bothered with ANY Madlib reviews on your blogs. Get that Jaylib, dawg. Get MADVILLIANY and quas' UNSEEN first though.

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  40. Rae's sequel is entertaining throughout. I prefer his debut, though, by far. And TBH, I listen to The Infinite Arkatechz' tracks off Immobilarity MUCH more than this entire album. That's how much I miss Rae's awake flow.
    Bottom line, the Wu never did need saving. They still don't.

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  41. Max. You DO know that on Pyrex Vision, Marley Marl jacked Lord Finesse's beat on OC's Jewelz' title track wholesale, right? Yet you hated that track and liked this one, even though Jewelz shits on Pyrex Vision all day.

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