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On Second Listen: Raekwon – Only Built for Cuban Linx II

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“See these fans can’t resist the rush/they Wu-Tang for life,” Method Man cries out in his first and certainly not last verse on the long-awaited Raekwon album. Only Built for Cuban Linx II. In a way, Meth speaks the truth. There are people who know the Wu-Tang Clan and then there are people who know the Wu-Tang Clan. The first group may have heard the classics such as Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Liquid Swords, Tical, Cuban Linx I, various Ol’ Dirty Bastard tracks and have an idea that Method Man and Redman like to make records or movies. But then there are the die hard Wu geeks who know all of their solo works, names, own both of the RZA’s books, a limited edition copy of the Ghost Dog soundtrack and more than likely own a couple of the Wu-Tang DVDs of classic Kung Fu movies. I am one of those people.

Therefore, I was a bit surprised that I saw no notification of this album’s release until it was handed to me a few weeks back. Only Built for Cuban Linx I is one of the best Wu-Tang solo works within their entire catalog. Not to mention, there were posters of this album surfacing at Wu shows back in 2006, if not earlier (I was there). And on top of that, the word on the hypothetical street was that none other than mastermind Dr. Dre was behind the production of this highly-anticipated hip-hop sequel, even though eventually the two had a falling out (Dr. Dre did produce the track “Catalina”, however). And do not worry as there are multiple guest appearances such as Method Man, GZA, Ghostface Killa, Jadakiss and production from people like J-Dilla, Necro, the Alchemist and of course, the RZA.

The album begins with an intro featuring Papa Wu spitting a bunch of karate, gangster gobbledygook, and then breaks in with a raw opening track reminiscent of the kind of work Wu-Tang exhibited on their double LP, Forever. The song, “House of Flying Daggers”, with a beat by the deceased J-Dilla, commences with a GZA rhyme reminiscent of their classic tune “Clan in da Front”. It sounds like this time the GZA is calling forth an army to fight a battle on the front lines and this time the Wu-Tang Clan seems to know they’re on top. Their usual threats of obscene measures of violence, references to smoking pot, drug use and kung fu samples plague the song making you realize this is certainly the Wu-Tang Clan and they are certainly here forever.

Unique Wu-brand hip-hop continues on the record though complete with that New York City jazz vibe. “Black Mozart” is a standout track, as it is one of the few RZA produced on the album (one might argue RZA is the Black Mozart). With a laid back beat, Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and RZA all team up to rap about what they rap about best, the hard life in Staten Island (aka Shaolin). The chorus states, “You gotta get that money/and represent your crew/and keep it true,” which is inevitably what the idea of the Wu-Tang Clan and hip-hop is all about. One of the more interesting tracks is a two-minute, quick paced tune called “Bagging Crack”. The title is rather self explanatory, but within the lyrics, Raekwon tells us about the standard pushing of drugs to shady people in a bad environment and describes the life of a modern drug dealer much better than one would like to actually consider, both the highs and the lows.

The end of the album contains “Catalina”, with Lyfe Jennings and Dr. Dre’s master production. As a jazzy piano loop pollutes the airwaves, Raekwon again describes the life of a drug dealer (he was after all dubbed the “Chef” for a reason), but this time discusses it with fear rather than glamorizing it. A line in the chorus states, “I don’t know when the toilet gonna back up/and put me in some shit that I can’t get out of.” Believe me that does not sound glamorous. Following this track is “We Will Rob You”, a play on that ever popular sports arena song by Queen. The chorus is predictable (as it is parodying “We Will Rock You”) and the subject matter matches the title as well, but with a chorus from Slick Rick and some of the most articulate verses from Raekwon, the GZA and Masta Killa, it is a stand out track. The finale is an Elton John sampled track (“Goodbye, Yellow Brick Road”) called “Kiss the Ring”. Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa rap about demanding respect with such pride and power to close out this hip-hop expose on the hard life as a crack dealer in Staten Island.

As usual though, most Wu-Tang solo releases get lost in the sea of other Wu-Tang records since their work is quite extensive. Only Built for Cuban Linx II may not be as groundbreaking as the Wu’s first period of collective work, but it’s still a stellar hip-hop album, if that’s what you’re into. Like Cuban Linx I, it is more of a story about the gangster life rather than just an album (see also; Liquid Swords by GZA, except that’s about ninjas). The rhymes and beats certainly do not live up to the kind of records Wu-Tang was producing at the start and peak of their career, but Raekwon still knows how to cook up some tasty songs. The bottom line is Wu-Tang can still hold it down after all these years. For any Wu-Tang fan, this record will definitely put a smile on your face knowing one of the most gifted members of the group still has the ability to kick it. If you’re an average Joe though looking to keep it gangster, you might just want The Blueprint III instead.

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