(Today, Banksta, who has written Wu-related Reader Reviews in the past, brings us (surprise!) another Wu-related review, this time for Raekwon's recent magnum opus, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II. You may have already left a comment on my original post, but be sure to show Banksta some love.)
Raekwon the Chef, alias Corey Woods, officially dropped his fourth solo offering on 8th September.
As you may have figured out from the title, said album is a sequel to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., his solo debut from 1995. It didn’t start the 'mafioso rap’ movement, but it certainly popularized it on a mass scale in hip hop. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... introduced the world to Chef Raekwon, a Wu-Tang Clan member that wasn’t the most charismatic, nor was he the best lyricist, but he meticulously crafted crime stories on par with the novels sitting on your bookstore's shelves. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was also the only Wu-Tang album which was produced in full by The Rza, featuring some of his greatest work ever. It's generally considered to be one of the classic hip hop albums of our time.
I’m still surprised Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II actually made it onto store shelves. It has arrived in a completely different form than what Rae originally promised, though: what was supposed to be fully produced by both Dr. Dre (as Raekwon was briefly signed to Aftermath, which was supposed to be the distributor of this project) and The Rza became an album with multiple producers claiming credit. It was pushed back and reworked so many times that most people gave up on the concept, which made it a shock when people were actually able to hold it in their hands. Raekwon elected not to promote the album on a wider scale: “Catalina”, one of two Dr. Dre productions that made the cut, could have received some airplay on MTV, and “New Wu” (or “Wu Ooh”) was only really accessible on YouTube by diehard fans that were actively searching for it.
But it's here, so let's see if it was worth the wait.
1. RETURN TO THE NORTH STAR (FEAT POPA WU)
Brought a tear to my eye. Judging simply from Popa Wu's speech, I consider Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II an instant classic. Let's see if I'm right.
2. HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK, GHOSTFACE KILAH, METHOD MAN, & GZA/GENIUS)
The Gza's vocals sound unnatural (his performance for the video of this track comes off as amateurish in comparison). (I still don't buy that Gza actually appears on the album, especially since he isn't credited on this track but is credited later on a different song, but album liner notes have been wrong before.) That being said, this song is fucking napalm, with everyone equally slaughtering J. Dilla's production. I would have to compare this track to “Guillotine (Swordz)”. “House Of Flying Daggers” is one of those Wu songs that I would give an 11/10 rating without a second thought: the only other example I can think of right now is the Gza's “4th Chamber”. This shit is fucking awesome.
3. SONNY'S MISSING
Vintage Raekwon crime rap, with producer Pete Rock providing a pretty good musical backdrop. This could probably be considered an unofficial sequel to the original album's “Knowledge God”. But maybe I like to think that because I like both tracks.
4. PYREX VISION
Corey, I don't understand: you brought one of the best hip hop producers of all time in for a song that only lasts fifty-five seconds? What the fuck?! Rae's performances on “Gun Will Go” (off of 8 Diagrams) and “Ill Figures” (from Wu-Tang Chamber Music) sounded like they were done while under the influence of speed and ADHD medication when compared to this. (And yes, I realize that was done on purpose.) Marley Marl's beat is really hot, though.
5. COLD OUTSIDE (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & SUGA BANG BANG)
Can also be referred to as “Rainy Dayz Pt. II”. This is, by far, the most theatrical song ever featured on a Wu-Tang solo album (I disagree: see the original "Rainy Dayz"), and it's fucking fantastic. I like Suga Bang Bang's singing,as he has a nice voice (he redeems himself for messing up many a song in the Wu's back catalog), and Raekwon spits well, but Tony Starks steals the entire show, passionately touching on topics ranging from a two-year-old strangled to death, not having enough money for bills, menthols and Christmas gifts, and finally ending with the troops in Iraq.
6. BLACK MOZART (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK, THE RZA, & TASH MAHOGANY)
Bobby Steels doesn't bother with spitting a verse; instead, he provides a musical backdrop that comes across as what The Psycho Realm's “Street Platoons” was aspiring to be. But it is nice to see that all Clansmen are present on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (except for U-God, whose Golden Arms character (also called Lucky Hands at some intervals) died on “Knuckleheadz” from the original project, and, obviously, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard, although his presence is still felt on here). I wish the beat sounded a bit better, though.
7. GIHAD (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Raekwon and Ghostface pair up again for this track. I remember reading a potential tracklisting for this album a few months ago, and this song was labeled as “G-Hide” for some reason. (The song's producer, Necro, also had his named misspelled, twisted into what could be considered as a racial slur. Has nobody ever heard of a fact-checker?) I was excited to see that a track entitled “Rockstars & Smoking Barrels”, featuring Gza/Genius and Inspectah Deck, was also slated to appear. While that obviously never happened, I still hope Raekwon will unleash the track eventually. As for this song itself, it sounds good, but Rae is outshined once again by his partner in rhyme.
8. NEW WU (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & METHOD MAN)
The first single, over a Rza beat from 1997, accompanied by a pretty shitty video, although watching the ridiculously amateurish acting from Bobby Digital was amusing enough. The song itself reminds me of “Ice Cream” and is really fucking good, but seriously, did all of Rza's production contributions have to be based on looping shit? We're all aware that the man is capable of much more creativity than this.
9. PENITENTIARY (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
Not bad, even though the track is produced by someone who is known only by Raekwon and his own parents. Lou Diamonds does a back-and-forth with Pretty Toney, with the pendulum swinging his way far more often, and manages to keep listeners entertained.
10. BAGGIN' CRACK
I'm not a big fan of Erick Sermon's sound, but this song is alright, thanks to the Raekwon narrative. Thankfully,the song is shorter than two minutes in length.
11. SURGICAL GLOVES
Raekwon is straight-up sleepy on this one, but it's really fucking good. It reminds me of “Glaciers Of Ice”, although that song was really the shiznit, so maybe that's an unfair comparison. Regardless, don't mean to take anything away from The Alchemist's beat.
12. BROKEN SAFETY (FEAT JADAKISS & STYLES P)
I loved this joint when I first listened to it, and ain't a damn thing changed. The Scram Jones beat is impressive, with Lex Diamonds, Jadakiss, and Styles Pinero (no comment) ripping shit.
13. CANAL STREET
Sounds good, I suppose, but this song did nothing for me.
14. ASON JONES
A tribute to Ol' Dirty Bastard, my favorite Clansman. R.I.P. As his biggest fan, I appreciated the sound bites from the man himself, and J. Dilla's beat is decent, but the track as a whole doesn't hit me as hard as “Life Changes” or “Wasted Time”. Due to the subject matter, I will not categorize this song as good or bad, as I don't consider it to be right.
15. HAVE MERCY (FEAT BEANIE SIGEL & BLUE RASPBERRY)
Beanie Sigel neither adds nor detracts from this song, but the smooth instrumental (jacked from “Have Mercy On Me” by The East St. Louis Gospelletes) compliments the lyrics nicely. Kudos to Rae for luring former Wu-Tang go-to singer Blue Raspberry back into the studio, as she sounds really fucking good.
16. 10 BRICKS (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH & CAPPADONNA)
Nice to see the prodigal son coming home. Ghostface, unsurprisingly, is the tits again, but Raekwon somehow coerced Cappadonna into actually sounding good, which was pleasant. The J. Dilla beat, while recycled from a previous project of his, also suits the proceedings. Nice!
17. FAT LADY SINGS
The title reminds me of the crappy Gza track from the second Soul Assassins album, but this song, the third and final of Rza's production efforts, isn't that bad. It makes for a decent interlude, at least.
18. CATALINA (FEAT LYFE JENNINGS)
I heard this Dr. Dre-produced track back when it originally leaked, and I wasn't impressed one bit. It sounds too tropical (it was even recorded in a studio called Avex Honolulu), as if Rae was chilling with Fidel Castro on a Cuban beach (which would be nowhere near Honolulu). Listening to it again, I'll concede that it's merely okay, even though it had 'radio-friendly' written all over it.
19. WE WILL ROB YOU (FEAT GZA/GENIUS, MASTA KILLA, & SLICK RICK)
The beat is so simplistic that I believe an average orangutan (albeit one with the knowledge of how to record a beat) would have no problem creating this loop. Kareem, Gza's son, somehow managed to do even less than an average orangutan would: he jacked this loop from “Hard Times” by Baby Huey (which also featured the loop The Rza stole for Ghostface Killah's “Buck 50”) and added a little of his own flavor. Still, this shit sounds damn good. Gza told Raekwon to pump the brakes, so he could rhyme circles around this song, and Slick Rick stays put in the land of the hook, but as for the other collaborator, it appears he wasn't aware of the concept of this track: I don't truly believe that Masta Killa would intentionally ruin a Wu-Tang Clan song. Which he doesn't, but he isn't that far off.
20. ABOUT ME (FEAT BUSTA RHYMES)
I liked this one from the very first first listen, and after digesting Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, I have to say that “About Me” is much better than “Catalina”. The interesting thing here is Busta Rhymes, who (1) isn't credited on the back cover, (2) gives a really fucking good performance, and (3) sounds like he's taking a shit. I'm fully aware that a lot of people hate Dr. Dre's production on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, but I still thought this was really good.
21. MEAN STREETS (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK, GHOSTFACE KILLAH, & SUGA BANG BANG)
This one is really fucking good, as Rae, Deck, and Masta Killa set the beat on fire. “Mean Streets” reminds me not of anything from the original project, but of “Nightshift” instead, a leftover from Inspectah Deck's Uncontrolled Substance, which crushed 90 percent of songs that actually made that album. Now, with U-God's decent Dopium, Inspectah Deck officially has the least successful solo career of all of the Wu-Tang Clan. Oh well.
22. KISS THE RING (FEAT INSPECTAH DECK & MASTA KILLA)
Scram Jones samples Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”, but everyone already knows that. A perfect ending to the Cuban Linx saga. Except that it isn't, if you live in Europe.
Overseas, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II contains the following two bonus tracks.
23. WALK WIT ME
I don't actually own the Eurpoean version of this album, but I'll run through the bonus songs anyway. On here, Scram Jones proves why Rae considered him worthy for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, and the video is also really fucking good.
24. THE BADLANDS (FEAT GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
BT brings a beat which makes Ghostface go mad (just like he did on “Criminology”), and Raekwon is also fully awake. A really nice way to end things.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Since I consider Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... as more of a Rza effort than Corey's, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II is, hands down, Raekwon's best solo album. I love this shit as much as the first one, too. Congratulations, Raekwon. Everyone should salute, and toast to the best who's done it. Now I only need to hear Detox, The Cure and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. III, and my life will be complete.
BUY OR BURN: I think you should get your hands on this as soon as fucking possible. Really. If you consider yourself a fan of hip hop music, this is a must-buy, if only because we should all help promote the good shit instead of the more popular, crappy stuff.
BEST TRACKS: “House of Flying Daggers”; “Cold Outside”; “Black Mozart”; “Kiss The Ring”; “10 Bricks”; “Pyrex Vision”; “Broken Safety”; “Surgical Gloves”; “We Will Rob You”; “About Me”; “Penitentiary”
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Leave your comments below, and be sure to check out my original review when you get a chance.)