The Vatican Mixtape

Artist: Raekwon (Ice Water Inc. & DJ Riddler)Title: The Vatican MixtapeRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Bill "Low-Key" Heinzelman

It's very rare that an artist can go back and recapture the essence of their debut album, no matter how skilled they are. For Raekwon, this has been the demon he has struggled to exorcise for the past 10 years. With the disappointing Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story, The Chef has failed to cook up that special batch of songs comparable to his timeless classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. Looking to change that in 2006 is the so-called sequel, which is executive produced by Busta Rhymes. Since the album was announced, Hip-Hop heads have been praying Rae can bring back the Wu like Ghostface did with Supreme Clientele. Until then, Lex Diamonds offers a new mixtape - The Vatican - to hold fans over. With a mix of classic verses and newer efforts, the mixtape will please long time Raekwon fans.

While most of the material on The Vatican is old, Rae's joints from the past year prove he is as hungry as ever. The Scarface inspired "Baggage Handlers" finds J-Dilla doing his best RZA impersonation by utilizing a grimy loop that Rae rips to shreds. Busta also lends his vocals to the hook, by energetically proclaiming, "It's Cuban Linx 2 motherfucker!" "Thousands To M's" continues the heat, as Rae spits his usual assortment of vivid hood tales that transports you to the world he is depicting. But things get even iller on the Pete Rock produced "Kids That's Rich," which will have many fans fooled, as Pete's light and scattered keys don't fit the mold of what you would expect from the Chocolate Boy Wonder. Nevertheless, the combination of Pete and Raekwon works to perfection once again.

With improved production, the aforementioned tracks are arguably better than most of the material on Rae's last two albums. As long as Rae sustains such momentum and relies on the RZA for the majority of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…II, he could have another classic album in the books. Until then, The Vatican is a nice appetizer until The Chef cooks up his main course.