The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AllHipHop.com
2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan. A vital act in the East Coast’s Hip-Hop resurgence of the mid-90s, the nine-man collective was a creative force to be reckoned with. The group’s ability to combine their kung-fu fascination and street life experiences over raw soundscapes was nothing short of extraordinary.
And as a result of the group’s prosperity, individual members also embarked on solo careers. After the success of projects by Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, along with Ghostface Killah, dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... on August 1, 1995. Hip-Hop hasn’t been the same since.
As if Rae and Ghost’s rhymes over RZA’s board work, a purple cassette tape, and dialogue from The Killer isn’t already enough to make the release remarkable, the project is a concept piece about two people’s adventures in the underworld and their one last job before they get out. Cuban Linx is a crime epic that’s just as vivid as anything Carlito’s Way projected on a movie screen, and the power of it is still being realized. From the hustling themes of Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt to Kendrick Lamar’s narrative-driven good kid, m.A.A.d city, the influence of this 18-track collection can be found on those LPs as well as many others.
In recognition of Cuban Linx’s 18th birthday and the Wu’s 20th, I wanted to acknowledge what is, in my opinion, one of rap’s greatest albums. Even after two decades in the game, the Wu-Tang Clan still ain’t nuthin’ ta f**k wit and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is one of the reasons why.
I love lyrics. And this album surpasses most in terms of its quality of organized words. There are so many I could quote, but a few in particular really stand out. Nas, Cuban Linx's only guest emcee outside of the Wu, drops a stellar verse on "Verbal Intercourse" and leaves a lasting impression with his rhyme about how some women transport drugs. “Rooster heads profile on a bus to Riker's Isle/Holdin’ weed inside they p***y.” However, it is during “Incarcerated Scarfaces” when Rae goes, “Me and the RZA connect, blow a fuse, you lose/Half-a** crews get demolished and bruised,” that a rap really says so much with so little.
Production-wise, it is some of Robert Diggs’ best work. Where Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers has a stripped down element to it, Cuban Linx clearly shows growth in RZA’s skills as a producer by comparison. The strings on “Knowledge God,” the Eddie Murphy sample on “Ice Cream,” and the violins on “Wu-Gambinos” are just a few examples of how the Wu-Tang sound had evolved. The music became more advanced. Where RZA’s beats were once suited for ciphers, it was on Cuban Linx that his instrumentals became capable of scoring cinema.
Conceptually, this recording does play like a movie too and that is what takes the album beyond just beats and rhymes. It is this cohesiveness that makes Cuban Linx a masterpiece. From the opener, “Striving for Perfection," which sets up the plot to the album to “North Star (Jewels)”, the flawless closer that concludes the story with perils of wisdom from Papa Wu, everything is perfectly sequenced. While other rappers before Rae had told tales of the streets (most notably Kool G. Rap), Cuban Linx goes beyond storytelling, and has a screenplay quality to it that to this day remains unmatched.
This album is a document that extends beyond the 36 chambers. The music takes listeners on a journey of two hustlers who address all the dangers of the hood with as much potency as the drugs they are slanging. It’s a rough road traveled, and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… chronicles every bump along the way.
Respect due for one of the most complete albums in all of Hip-Hop history.
What do you think? Is the album a classic? How does it stack up against other Wu-Tang releases? Share your thoughts in the comments section!