Raekwon – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… PT II [Review]


4th solo album. 5 years of waiting. Now we’re finally here, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2; sequel to the certified classic of the same name, without the 2 of course. Generally Hip-Hop and movies had a rule that sequels sucked, with the exception of a name few. As of late, both genres have found the ability to craft further extensions to an original story without killing the quality of what the original stood for.

If you’re a fan of Raekwon, then you’re aware of his status of storyteller supreme within the Wu-Tang Clan. You also might be aware of the 5 years of politics, pushbacks, label issues, etc that almost kept this from coming out. This very well could have gone the way of Detox or –sniffle- Crunk Rock; but it has finally made it to store shelves and true Hip-Hop heads are chomping at the bit. The Twitter buzz alone from heavy-hitters like Q-Tip and Fabolous to the educated Hip-Hop fan is ridiculous.

There’s not much more to say on this release other than it’s a put-up or shut-up proposition. Raekwon has shown the fire is still there with quality features over the past few years and despite the 5 year wait, the buzz surrounding this album is still there. Is the Chef serving up a quality follow-up to an all time classic, or was this better shelved? The wait is finally over nevertheless.

1. Return Of The North Star
Featuring Poppa Wu; Produced by BT
You can always count on a mean intro on any Wu related album and this is no exception. Beautiful horn and string beat here; a throwback to the blaxploitation flicks of the 70’s and I love it. Poppa Wu is spitting some real talk in his street preaching, then brings the comedy by trying to nab a couple of dollars during his motivation. Listen for it.

The preaching, and subsequently, the beat; fade around the last 40 seconds to give way to Raekwon plotting his hustle. It’s like coming down from a dream and realizing you got work to do to get to it. Definitely starting on the right track, let’s see what else we have in store.

2. House of Flying Daggers
Featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, & Method Man; Produced by J Dilla
A thumping drum pattern like only J Dilla (R.I.P.) knew how to do ushers in this track. The moment the Wu-Tang quote finishes to start this track, we’re thrown right into the track. Driven and unrelenting, save for a quiet pause here and there; you have 4 of the more lyrically-inclined members of the Clan getting into scary detail about what they’ll do to anyone standing in their way of getting a dollar. Again, what makes their spit different from a lot of rappers these days, I tend to believe them.

Nice group collab here and a great way to start the album at an energetic pace. Ghostface and Meth drop absolute show-stealers here; and it’s not like Rae and Deck weren’t trying.

3. Sonny’s Missing
Produced by Pete Rock
Now we bring the mood down a bit and Pete Rock laces a subdued, almost street noir type beat. It’s not meant to be overpowering and with good reason, you’ll miss the superb storytelling of Raekwon here as he gets into details about torture and murder that only experience could give you. Seriously, the initial torture of their victim is cringe-worthy alone…and they haven’t even gotten to the murder yet. Quality if for nothing else but the picture it paints, just be prepared.

4. Pyrex Vision
Produced by Marley Marl
UGH. I hate when a song is too short for it’s own good. The legendary Marley Marl hooks up a minimalist’s dream, light drums with a looped guitar chord. Raekwon proceeds to go into the anatomy of crack rock, in less than 58 glorious seconds. From stove to the dividends it yields, I only wonder if he had 3-4 minutes to relate this one and I find myself cheated he didn’t; especially with such an awesome beat.

Worth a listen, but the promise this track had is extinguished and snuffed due to how short it is.

5. Cold Outside
Featuring Ghostface Killah & Suga Bang; Produced by Icewater
Another throwback beat done quite well. Feels like one of those old school, “quiet storm” soul songs, complete with Suga Bang belting out the hook along with an intro verse to open the track. His worn, leathery voice adds to the street grit of this song. The beat may be beautiful, but the subject matter is not and a singer with a smoother voice would threaten to ruin the picture being painted.

Raekwon and Ghostface spit focused verses about the plights of the hoods they represent. Dead bodies, kids on drugs, senseless violence, and broken homes. Beautifully depressing is the best way I can describe this song. With the wrong artists, this would be a preachy track. However, the detail and emotion found in this track make it a worthy listen. Thumbs up.

6. Black Mozart
Featuring Inspectah Deck, RZA, & Tash Mahagony; Produced by RZA
Nothing wrong with the subject matter, just nothing particularly sticks out about this track. And I’m shocked to be saying this, but we stand at a RZA production that I’m not quite feeling. The track is almost too cartoonish in comparison to what we’ve heard before. May have been their intention to lighten the mood after such heavy subject matter, but it’s just not a particularly good attempt at doing so.

It’s merely okay and the album could have moved right along without it. Skippable. You’ll never miss it.

7. Gihad
Featuring Ghostface Killah; Produced by Necro
This song is pretty cool in the sense that it’s like a telling in the day of the life of Raekwon and GFK. Rae is telling stories of his cooking days, earning the title of Chef while Ghostface recalls the good days of easy living, womanizing, and having to fend off their jealous girlfriends. The beat is subdued in a series of them, showcasing the lyrical content of the players at hand. I wish the beat had more of those heavy bass breaks in between the ghostly “La La’s” and light drums. Definitely like this one.

By the by, Ghostface’s tirade at the end of this track is priceless, threatening to steal the track with something that’s not even a verse. Funny, funny shit.

8. New Wu
Featuring Ghostface Killah & Method Man; Produced by RZA
RZA’s back on track with this beat after the uninspired work he did on “Black Mozart”. This track is mad relaxed and the trio of Meth, GFK, and Raekwon works so well. I love how they’re representing the Clan, but don’t feel the need to yell and scream to make their point. Strong lyrics, good production, and the occasional call to throw your W’s up make this a left field Wu-Tang anthem that works. Thumbs up and strangely original in the delivery for the type of track it is. Everything just WORKS.

9. Penitentiary
Featuring Ghostface Killah; Produced by BT
The relaxation provided by the last track is turned on ear as a tense piano driven beat takes over. If Oz had a song written for it [without all the homoerotic undertones of course] I’d imagine it’d come off like this. Two prisoners who make you wonder who’s really running the jail at the end of the day. Crazy stuff, worthy listen as well.

A lot of rappers could take notice of the storytelling these last few tracks have had.

10. Baggin’ Crack
Produced by Erick Sermon
I feel like the Way Back Machine has taken us to 1980. This is the first beat I’ve heard by Erick Sermon and it’s as disciplined and old school as his flow. It’s nothing special, but it’s just throwback enough to get with. I’m amazed at how many stories The Chef has about the various aspects of the dope game, yet all of them remain interesting. He’s damn near the Hemingway of crack cocaine in terms of detail. Good song, wouldn’t say a standout, but a solid addition as we make our way through.

11. Surgical Gloves
Produced by The Alchemist
I love the rough synth of this track. Alchemist has given Raekwon a canvas for him to paint a picture of bragging and boasting that only crack cocaine could provide. Definitely a change of pace in regards to what else he has on the album, but there is no slack in his flow just because he gets boastful. Definitely worth the listen. Between the beat and the flow, a standout from this album.

12. Broken Safety
Featuring Jadakiss & Styles P; Produced by Scram Jones
I got excited when I saw this on the track listing and it fails to disappoint. Raekwon is the filling sandwiched between flows as raw as anything you’ve heard from P or Jada. The beat by Scram is like a patchwork of different sounds to create something wildly original and worth a listen. It’s like a rhythmic churning of an engine, but in a positive manner.

This is up North flow on display with no hooks and raw lyricism and I found myself bringing this one back plenty of times. You need this on your Zune, iPod, or whatever MP3 device you’re using. The only knock you can make on this is length. Wish there was a bit more. Among the best on the album by far. Styles P drops a verse that rivals the goodness he dropped for The Roots on their Rising Down album. What’s not to like about this?

13. Canal Street
Produced by Icewater
I love how grand and ominous this beat is. You get that feeling like something bad is going to happen. Icewater had to be a student of the game when it comes to producing soul music. I could see any of his beats being used on a 70’s crime flick and loving it.

What follows is a story about what happens when you go down the wrong streets in a dirty city. Again, I love the detail of the stories and examples given. That’s sorely missing in the rap game and they toss you into that atmosphere whether you like it or not, which makes for quality listening, ya dig? This is menace done correctly and I’m pleased at how well these tracks are coming together by this point in terms of production fitting the lyrics.

14. Ason Jones
Produced by J Dilla
A track in remembrance of Ason Jones AKA Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

ODB would be proud.

Seriously, touching track with a soulful J Dilla beat as Raekwon reflects lyrically on the man behind the ODB moniker. It’s crazy, because you almost find it hard to believe ODB is the same man that Raekwon is revering, but the sincerity in his flow is nothing but true. One of the most beautiful and human tracks of the album and any ODB fan would be commend this track. A great track in it’s own right.

15. Have Mercy
Featuring Beanie Sigel & Blue Raspberry; Produced by Icewater
I remember reading The Blueprint 3 and on the track “Real As It Gets”, it was mentioned that it felt more like a Jeezy track than a Jay-Z track. I will have to echo that feeling whereas this feels like a Beanie track as opposed to a Raekwon cut. Not a terribly impressive song at that. Beanie’s flow is back at the levels of the B.Coming, with a roughly introspective style of spit.

Despite that though, the song feels like it’s just…well…there. It’s not that it’s not trying to be good, but it just seems to lack the x-factor the other tracks on this album have brought. Blue Raspberry’s vocals are fine, but nothing blow away about them. Raekwon’s verse isn’t bad either; but this song just feels like a slow number for the sake of a slow number. I doubt you’ll miss it, but you can listen. I’d call it filler though.

16. 10 Bricks
Featuring Cappadonna & Ghostface Killah; Produced by J Dilla
If you own J Dilla albums the way I do, you’ll know that beat when you hear it and you’ll be glad it’s getting put to good use. More stories revolving around coke and the seedy dealings behind it await you; along with a little boasting of how well-connected their operation is.

Again, it’s the details and presentation that make these songs. He’s talked about cocaine for 3/4ths of the album and it remains interesting based on the features and the wordplay. Expect to remain entranced by the storytelling the way you have the past few tracks.

17. Fat Lady Sing
Produced by RZA
It takes a while for this track get going, they take time to establish the situation before Raekwon gets going. I’d call this more of an interlude track of sorts with a nice background beat by the RZA as Raekwon spins a yarn about selling on the wrong block and the consequences that come with it.

You can probably guess by the title how it all ends up. Short, but effective.

18. Catalina
Featuring Lyfe Jennings; Produced by Dr. Dre
The 1st of two Dr. Dre beats on this album and he fails to disappoint [WHERE’S DETOX YOU BASTARD!?!? –mad he missed the 7 year quota-] on this piano driven production. Has an almost island feel to it. Raekwon rides this with ease, letting you know what it takes and the motivation behind being a dope boy.

Lyfe is a welcome addition to the track and his hook duty evens out the smooth verses from Raekwon. I’m definitely feeling this track and Raekwon is showcasing his ability to ride all sorts of beats. A winner of a track and Dre is 1 for 2 on beats thus far. Glad he hasn’t lost a step.

19. We Will Rob You
Featuring GZA, Masta Killa, & Slick Rick; Produced by Allah Justice

I’m loving this. The hook is a thugged out interpolation of “We Will Rock You” by Queen and although he may have used a moniker to craft this beat, Allah Justice is easily exposed as GZA after listening to how well crafted this beat is. The shit’ll have you nodding and watch for the “Across 110th” street sample that rears it’s head throughout.

All the flows here are so polished and this is a case where everybody comes through on their parts to craft an awesome track here. GZA is especially motivated and he always brings a party vibe to any track he’s apart of. One of the best of the album and good to see Rick, Killa, and GZA still at it.

20. About Me
Featuring Busta Rhymes; Produced by Dr. Dre
Two for two, Dre. Two for two.

Speaking of twos, Busta and Raekwon pair up quite nicely and I hope there will be more on the horizon for the two in terms of collabs. Not much rocket science to this track, just two rappers letting you know what they’re about, what they do, and what they WILL do if pushed. Definitely and no need to reinvent the wheel when the beat and lyrics are this well done. Thumbs up.

21. Mean Streets
Featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, & Suga Bang; Produced by Allah Mathematics
Wu-Tang’s resident DJ handles production on this track. The production is fine, but we’ve had Icewater already give a college course class on how these type of beats should be done. Suga lends his rough crooning to this track, not quite the home run like it was in his previous feature, but still good stuff.

All three break down what goes down on their streets, where not to cross, and what happens if you dare make enemies with them. Ghostface is especially unapologetic about what he’s got to do in his streets and if this track has a failing, it may be that the hook doesn’t quite seize you like other usages of it on this album. This may have been the place for a hookless flow, but a minor complaint.

22. Kiss The Ring
Featuring Inspectah Deck & Masta Killa; Produced by Scram Jones
I love when an ending track SOUNDS like an ending track, with all the fanfare that goes with it. Scram is responsible for another must listen of the album and this beat works because it’s so space age compared to everything else on this album. Captivating.

There’s nothing terribly deep about this, but given how long this album took and after listening to how well-crafted it was…you can’t help but agree that this is indeed Raekwon’s night and he has a lot to celebrate. It sounds like victory and it is well deserved by The Chef and all parties involved.

A fitting end to an album many thought wouldn’t happen. Kiss the ring, bitch.

Bottom Line:
Raekwon should be proud.

This album for all intents and purposes shouldn’t have made it out and should have been an afterthought in the changing landscape of Hip-Hop.

Not only is it out, but it upholds the stature associated with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. This is a worthy sequel with only two songs of 22(!!) that don’t quite live up to stature. Forgive me if I love an underdog, but this album had every reason not to be good and here it is, holding up against anything out there on the shelves now.

This is quality Hip-Hop start to finish and albeit throwback in nature, injects just enough surprises and bucks against tradition to show you that The Chef, Wu-Tang, and a bevy of others aren’t prepared to go quietly while Hip-Hop gets bastardized. Loving the attitude and I’m hoping other artists are paying attention.

My only regret is this album being released against the pushed up Blueprint 3, which makes me fear how it will sell. But whether 1 or 1 milli, there is nothing to be ashamed of on this release and if anybody questions if the wait was worth it it, it is a resounding YES. No question.

Scratch “Black Mozart” and “Have Mercy” and you have a no-bullshit, quality track listing from start to finish. Here’s hoping Raekwon works up the nerve and fire to make this a trilogy. I don’t think I’m quite ready for it to stop here and I hope real fans of Hip-Hop feel the same way.

You need this in your collection. No question. This sequel doesn’t suck.

nappyPicks: “Broken Safety”, “New Wu”, “Kiss The Ring”, “Ason Jones”, “We Will Rob You”, “Pyrex Vision”, “Catalina”, “House of Flying Daggers”

Download: Raekwon – “Walk Wit Me” (UK Bonus Track)
Download: Raekwon feat. Ghostface Killah – “The Badlands” (iTunes Bonus Track)