October 8, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition) (August 17, 2010)

In 2009, Raekwon the Chef did the unthinkable, at least in the world of hip hop: he not only released his long-promised sequel to his debut solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, but it was really fucking good, too.  Critics far and wide held it in extremely high regard, including yours truly, as we suddenly believed that the Wu-Tang Clan was finally back.

That feeling didn't last long, but it was fun while it lasted.

In August of 2010, the newly relevant Raekwon (who spend his summer appearing on damn near everybody's albums in an effort to keep his name alive) decided that what he really wanted for Christmas was to trick all of his loyal fans into paying cold hard cash for an album that they had already purchased.  Hence the horribly Photoshopped artwork for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition), an iTunes-exclusive cash-in crafted strictly for the streets.

Raekwon claims that he crafted this for his hardcore fans, but it's hard not to feel cheated, especially since the only way you will ever have a hard copy of this special edition is if you download all of the extras and burn one yourself. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition) isn't lacking for extras, though: in addition to featuring six new tracks (four remixes and two original songs taken from the cutting-room floor), it also contains every single music video Raekwon shot as promotional tools for the album, all seventy-six of them.  Oh, I'm sorry, I meant to write the number six; it just seems that Rae shot more because he marketed the shit out of the original project, because if not him, then who?

Odds are that Only Bulit 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition) isn't worth your money, so that isn't really my question.  This is more of a "how much of a waste of time is the album"-type of day, anyway.

Producer BT, who also worked on Wu-Massacre's “Criminology 2.5”, tries his hand at fucking up another RZA beat, although to be fair, this is more of an original composition that happens to share the same lyrics as its namesake. Raekwon's verse may sound sloppy when not juxtaposed with RZA's original loop, but BT manages to craft a haunting melody thanks to his use of sound bites from other Wu songs to set the mood (most specifically, the late Ol' Dirty Bastard's crooning from “Baby C'mon” and the Force M.D.'s intro to Ghostface Killah's “Daytona 500”). Ghost and Meth sound okay over the new music, but it isn't as though that re-recorded their verses or anything. Interesting, but ultimately unnecessary. Kind of like this entire project.

Because what the original album cut was lacking was sound bites from kung-fu flicks, right? BT gives the Chef and two-thirds of The Lox a nondescript instrumental that, nevertheless, sounds good enough to hold the crime raps from these three. The Vincent Price sample from Michael Jackson's “Thriller” was a curious (and creepy) artistic choice. However, while this sounds alright, it isn't better than the first version, and it certainly isn't good enough for anybody to pay for.

Hip hop's favorite drummer that isn't ?uestlove, Travis Barker (The Source cover boy who is formerly of Blink 182), adds his instrumentation to BT's original production in a way that causes the song to sound louder, but relatively the same otherwise. Rae and Ghost still have the same chemistry that they first exhibited on the very first Wu-Tang Clan album, and I hope for more, better collaborations in the future. But there isn't anything “new” about this shit that I can recommend.

Wikipedia claims that, even though this was called a remix on blog press releases (although not on iTunes), this version of “About Me” is actually the original version, which makes sense, as The Game was once scheduled to appear on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, to the general apathy of absolutely everyone. The beat is the same as the album version (as it was produced by Dr. Dre, it makes sense that Raekwon would want to get as much mileage out of it as possible), as is Rae's first verse, but instead of shifting into one of the most compelling Busta Rhymes performances in recent memory, we get a contribution from Jayceon Taylor, who sounds predictably not-so-secretly thrilled to be performing with a Dre prescription, followed by an alternate Rae verse to finish things off. Since Rae actually got rid of the most interesting aspect of the album version, there isn't much to recommend on here, unless you absolutely love scraps from the cutting-room floor. Sometimes, things are changed for a reason.

One of only two unreleased songs on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition), Chef Raekwon gets an assist from Bun B over this soulful Scram Jones concoction that is just short enough to not become annoying. Each rapper gets one verse to tell their side of the story, and they each sound polished and accomplished, as though they were grizzled veterans who are getting too old for this shit. This wasn't bad, but this “soul sample as a chorus” shit has got to stop.

This long-rumored track actually exists, but as expected, it's as underwhelming as most anything you have to wait an extended period of time for. (The original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II is mysteriously exempt from this rule.) The RZA's beat is uncharacteristically suck-ass: “boring” doesn't even begin to describe it. As such, it makes complete sense why it was dropped from the final product. Rae and GZA/Genius sound alright, all things considered, but Inspectah Deck attempts a double-time flow that ends up making him sound like he's regressed back to the third grade and has no business rhyming when he can't even legally drink and/or drive yet. He comes off as the amateur I fear he really is: had it not been for the Wu affiliation, would he even be a part of our chosen genre? Sadly, I think not. Thea van Seijen's singing (and Stone Mecca's background crooning) is also immaterial: the song features an overall blandness that renders it what I like to call a fucking disappointment. But hey, the song actually exists, so that counts for something, right? No.

THE LAST WORD: It's hard to tell what audience Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition) was created for. Hardcore Wu stans who ran out opening week to pick up the original project won't necessarily want a double-dip filled with inferior remixes, and the album itself isn't a good starting point for new Wu fans, as a working knowledge of the original Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is required (but not mandatory) to maximize your enjoyment. If you've never heard of Raekwon, then you aren't buying this album anyway. While it is nice that Raekwon is offering a separate bundle of just the new additions, none of the tracks on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II (Gold Edition) is worth paying your hard-earned money for, as not a one adds anything new to the original menu, nor do they add to the album's storyline. Even Wu stans like myself should find other, more practical uses for their money, such as spending it on crack, or donating it to the Tea Party (which is kind of the same thing). Raekwon absolutely deserves your money, but not for this unfortunate cash-in: pick up the original version instead, unless you absolutely want to own all of the music videos from the project, of which only one (“House Of Flying Daggers”) is even remotely interesting. (If you're a glutton for punishment, there is also a “Gold Deluxe Edition” that contains the original album, both international bonus tracks, and all of the Gold Edition extras.) Perhaps Raekwon could have moved more copies of this shit by including his Justin Bieber collaboration, “Runaway Love (Remix)”, as a bonus, but even he's smart enough to not anger his longtime supporters like that. Walk on by, you two.




  1. Inspektah Deck an amateur in YOUR chosen genre? Unbelievable

  2. I believe Max is referring to Inspectah Deck's complete inability to make a good album. Uncontrolled Substance was okay, with some good moments, and everything after that has been pretty horrible. Deck can write a hot 16, but he's a shadow of his former self, and consistently fails at songwriting. Maybe "amateur" is the wrong word, but you get what he means. Solo-wise, Deck's in the bottom three Wu MC's.

    Sometimes I think blog should be called Wu-Tang Clan Affiliated Hip Hop Isn't Dead.

  3. Just a side note - I heard Pyrex Visions produced by Marley Marl and then heard O.C's Jewelz produced by Lord Finesse.. both beats are more or less the same and use the same sample - Changing Face by J.J Band [wikipedia]. Suprised wasnt mentioned in any of the comments before

  4. Deck fucked up like Prodigy, yeah, but you hate "Rockstars" beat?! It's reworking of Otis Clay "The Woman Don't Live Here No More" sample which is absolutely AWESOME, and while no one rocked it like they should flow-wise, Raekwon's and GZA's verses were pretty decent... throw it between "Have Mercy" and "10 Bricks" and you have even better album, but ignore the rest.

  5. Try listening to Game & Raekwon on Flashback Memories - awesome shit