Raekwon: Only Built for Cuban Linx II (Album Review)
Classics are lightning in a bottle occurrences. No matter how great an artist is, a musician cant simply waltz into the studio and make timeless record after timeless record. A classic LP is the perfect storm, where various factors from technical skill to the artists emotional/spiritual state all come together in a perfect marriage of artistic expression. If an artist is lucky, theyll get that experience once in their lifetime. If the music gods favor them, maybe twice. Those whove had it sometimes try in vain for the rest of their careers to recapture that vibe. Others, like Wu-Tangs Raekwon, are pushed back to their former glory by outside forces.
For the past 15 years, the original Cuban Linx has been the Chefs cruel mistress. On one hand, its his greatest triumph, the shining jewel of the Wus acclaimed catalogue and universally recognized as one of Hip-Hops greatest albums. But simultaneously, its overshadowed every work afterward, with fans dismissing everything as unworthy, subpar follow-ups. Well, Raes not running from Cuban Linx anymore. In fact, he doing what he claims comes easy, and thats the NY Mafioso, cocaine-centered Hip-Hop that he popularized in the 90s. But in 2009, can Only Built for Cuban Linx II (Ice Water/EMI) recapture the magic?
Immediately, your spirit is sent back to the summer of 95 courtesy of the familiar rhythms on Return of the North Star. Papa Wu reprises his role as an aged Rae confidant, and leads right into the jaw-dropping Wu posse cut House of Flying Daggers. The track is classic Wu. From the pounding string instruments, soul/kung fu samples, and the near flawless verses of Meth, Deck, and Ghostface, the LP gets off to the perfect start for those doubting the Clans prowess in 2009.
What immediately strikes the listener about these introductory songs is how well Rae and the producers recreate the atmospheric, perilous reality of drug life from the original album. Whether its Pete Rocks menacing chords accentuating a brutal kidnapping on Sonny Missing, or Marley Marls dragging guitar loop complimenting the Chefs crack baking process on Pyrex Visions, you are completely immersed in the project after a few songs.
Some fans worried about RZA only offering a few standout tracks (New Wu, Black Mozart), but the Abbott excels here as an executive producer. Despite the mixed response to some of his experimentation over the years, the Abbott knows the Cuban Linx sounds fans were salivating for. Even more amazing, the legendary broadsmith is able to take the contributions of over 11 producers and sequence them to a mosaic tapestry for Raes unique perspective on the game.
Ghosface Killah fans will also be happy. On the OG version, Ghost delivered lyrically but also supplied memorable one-liners that contrasted well with the violent, dangerous stories (Dont play me like Im holding a flower pot). Here, Ghost shines on tracks like Gihad, were he weaves a hilarious tale of being caught jilting his friend through a pregnant girlfriend. Its classic Ghostface, and you cant help but crack a smile at how the Wally Champ ends the narrative (Go in the freezer and get a steak for your eye nigga, go put some baloney on your face I dont give a fuck if you 25 you still my son nigga.). On Penitentiary, he returns to the ruthlessness of jail life alluded to on classic Verbal Intercourse. Throughout the album, Ghost remains an irreplaceable influence every few tracks, and ensures the listener gets a nice energy contrast from Raes laidback rhyme schemes.
Non-Wu guests are not a problem either. Jada and Styles P are at home reciting coke tales and go hard over a Scram Joness bass-heavy street banger in Broken Safety (I used to move brown rectangles/Roll you a blunt to smoke you with Deaths Angels). And Beanie Sigel crafts a vivid picture about the loneliness of incarceration on Icewaters somber Have Mercy.
Even Dr. Dres two offerings of Catalina and About Me fit in. The former showcases Lyfe Jennings crooning on the inevitable end of weight pushing, and the latter features Dres trademark piano thumps and a cocksure Busta Rhymes (I see the weakness in most of you niggas that be hollering/So I toned it down so these words be piercing your lower abdomen.). Throw in Slick Rick providing the intro to We Will Rob You, and you have the big event feel youd expect from an album of this magnitude.
When Raekwon goes at it solo, the album doesnt suffer. Fat Lady Sings is a hard-hitting narrative of block appropriation, replete with soulful singing and lyrics that nod to the originals LPs creative lines (Shorty was a vet/Gillette solider/Shorty hit the neck/Blood squirting look like laundry detergent ). Ason Jones as a worthy tribute to the late Ol Drity Bastard, and once again Dilla blesses this album from the beyond with production that illuminates the bittersweet pitch of Raes reflections.
The complaints are minor, in that Criminology 2 fits the album better than Mean Streets. And surely some fans will want to burn Nas at the stake for not returning Raes calls for Verbal Intercourse 2. But considering Escos divorce situation, Gods Son should get a pass. His presence is missed, but nonetheless not essential to this albums success.
Is Cuban Linx II the classic, genre-turning opus that was the original? No, but its as close as one can possibly get. As the great Chicago poet Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr. stated, This aint 94 Joe/We cant go back. But that doesnt mean one cant tap those old spirits to assist in creating genuine, new art. Like Nas did on Stillmatic, Shallah Raekwon has done well by the legacy of his greatest work. Now, we fans should let him rest. The Cuban Linx saga is complete, and the Chef should be allowed to move on to other artistic endeavors if he so chooses. Well done, Rae.
Raekwon - House of Flying Daggers (feat. Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface Killah & Method Man>
Raekwon - Ason Jones (Prod. J-Dilla)