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Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

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Artist: Raekwon

Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II

Label: Ice H2o/EMI

Review date: Sep. 14, 2009

Chef Raekwon’s star was born on 1994’s “C.R.E.A.M.” single from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). A year later, using that verse as a thesis, he released Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Originally put out on purple cassette to mimic dealers marking product by container color, Raekwon inverted KRS-One’s cautionary drug tales, refined Kool G Rap’s thug trafficking persona and shifted hip hop’s Mafiosi obsession east. His discourses on Criminology sounded like a foreign dialect compared to the blunt terminology of his G-funk brethren. Inventing an intricate street lexis on par with Anthony Burgess, the Wu-Gambinos detailed the organizational fabric of the crack game and redefined hip hop’s code of misconduct.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part II arrives after 14 years of unrealistic expectations, rumors (Dr. Dre true, Nas and Bun B false), bailed Execs, placeholders The Lex Diamond Story and Immobilarity, chess matches with RZA, sample clearance issues, shifty labels and glaciers of hype. And Raekwon is in a much different place. Back in ’95, he was still climbing the ranks. He now consistently refers to himself as a General. Take into account that since the original Linx (a novel concept at the time), the proliferation of what Rae terms “shark niggas” have flooded the market; the sequel – always a dicey proposition anyway – seems destined to disappoint. What has kept the soldiers believing is that OB4CL II has always seemed like Raekwon’s official business.

The payoff comes the instant leadoff MC Inspectah Deck “pops off like a mobster Boss” flanked by J Dilla’s outgoing synth missiles on “House of Flying Daggers.” Deck follows up with “Angel hair with the lobster sauce,” and Rae, Ghostface and Method Man all show up in fighting shape. Add Dilla’s backdrop playing like a cinematic score on a broken turntable and you have Wu Dynasty material. It doesn’t really let up until the glazed production of Dilla’s Old Dirty Bastard flashback allows for reflection 14 songs deep.

Aside from less attention paid to dyed Wallabees, fantastical racketeering capers and “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” the blueprint remains intact. The Chef continues to feed the streets that “cooked raw,” the block narratives revolve around a Bally-sneakered Costra Nostra, and the crew attempts to reconcile the contradiction of “Wu-Tang is for the children! / Get paper by any means.” Meth nails this confliction perfectly: “I’m what these shits is killing to be / But I don’t want my children to be.” The Papa Wu intro and the Shao Lin yu Wu Dang dialogue inject familiarity, trapping that inimitable headspace of the original.

Cuban Linx was also Tony Starks’ coming-out bash, and he reprises his sidekick role for Part II, appearing on the LP cover and half the tracks. His uninhibited word association and tag-team affirmations again work as the ideal compliment to Rae’s patented patient intensity.

Even if the company of Ghostface and most of the Clan make this more of a Shaolin get-together, there’s still no denying the Chef’s “Suge Knight the building” presence. He’s trying on new styles. Instead of just talking like he’s thinking about his own resume, he enunciates from the gut on “Flying Daggers,” then through his nose on “Pyrex Vision,” hunched over a table trading crack recipes. Raekwon usually gets the most out of his jilted charisma in the 2- or 3-hole, preferably with men on base, because he knows how to hit the gaps. On “Canal Street,” he rides alone, chasing the theatrical brass with “All of our fathers is bank robbers / Holding tecs / Eighths of heroin / Shooting in the steps / In the 60s niggas was po’ / Check the revelation / Now we rock 650s in the snow.” A master of maintaining character, in a recent interview with Wax Poetics he explained “I’m good at putting films in your ear, kid.”

And he knows what pops underneath. Word is he’s has been holding onto some of these beats for years and it’s not hard to tell why. Dilla jumps off again with “10 Bricks,” perfecting the piercing guitar loop mastered by Marley Marl on Kane tracks like “Set It Off” and “Raw” (Marl produced Linx II’s “Pyrex Vision”). “Black Mozart” is one of RZA’s shining moments, inserting the catchiest hook on the least likely single, then sabotaging the track with his best Dirk McGirt impression. “New Wu” is the other stunner, essentially inventing a genre – Doo-hop. “Sonny’s Missing” finds Pete Rock still in Fishscale-form and the Alchemist’s stutter-fest “Surgical Gloves” would have been the beat on his signature work Return of the Mac.

The much-discussed Dr. Dre tracks (at one point Raekwon signed to Aftermath) live up. “Catalina” is almost baroque by comparison, but it fits in because Dre’s aura suits the reach-higher aesthetic. “About Me” is simply a thudding marriage of piano and bass.

The majority of the guest speakers are first-team Wu. Ghost reels off one of his most ridiculous verses on “Gihad” (“She take a bone like a ribeye steak at Ruth’s Chris”) and gets a laugh every time he advises his son to use bologna as an ice pack. Expanding his repertoire, the opposite mentality gives chills: “They found a two-year old strangled to death / With a love daddy shirt on and a bag on the steps.” Deck and Masta Killah both come out swinging sharpened swords, and only Johnny Blaze can say “Man you niggas ain’t shit to us” and have it considered for Line of the Album.

Outside of immediate family, Jadakiss leaves no question to how he wants to be remembered: “The economy is down / So you already know it’s gonna be a lot of hommies in the town / That’s why I’m still bringing the seed back / Sneakers that I can’t pronounce cost a G stack / Niggas in the yard got this on repeat black / Fuck saving hip hop we bringing the streets back.” Increasingly popular Slick Rick, (he also graced Mos Def’s inexplicably overrated The Ecstatic) does what he does and Beanie sounds like he wrote his verse by flashlight in the clink.

Raekwon diagrammed his initial plan on Cuban Linx introductory glance “Striving For Perfection.” With the sequel, he proves it wasn’t just an idle threat. Too often, second-guessing leads to overthinking; in this case, the meticulous calculation has abetted the final product. At 22 tracks and well over an hour, the LP is not without lapses. The singing and punch line on “Fat Lady Sings” are far from witty unpredictable and Busta Rhymes – whose decision to tone it down (an infinite improvement over his usual shtick) – is still a weak link. It could be argued that the Wu-familiar content (one chorus: “Money, Gear, Drugs, Guns …”) gets tired toward the end. But it’s equally impressive that they keep coming up with so many different ways to say the same thing. Working almost like a glorified mixtape, many of the tracks bleed together or start mid-scene with field recordings of corner action. It adds to the feeling that you’ve dropped in on something important.

By Jake O'Connell

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