Album of the Week: “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (Parts One and Two)” by Raekwon

rae

Raekwon
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… / Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II
RCA, 1995 / EMI, 2009

Daniel’s Thought (Part One)

We can go on about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’s reach forever. We can go on about Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Nas’ It Was Written and Mobb Deep’s Hell on Earth and how they were direct spawns from Linx’s influence. We can go on about the album’s original use of Cristal. We can go on about the mafioso hip-hop scene that rose in the wake. And we can go on about Raekwon’s growth and lyrical mixture between NYC slang and the Supreme Alphabet.

We can go on about influences, but what about the actual content itself?

First it must be noted that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is the most creative Wu-related record to date. Musically, Linx is a lush stack of sonic sound. Instead of the usual grime and roughneck production found on earlier RZA works, Linx presents a change. Here, the production is more symphonic, with crystal clear allusions and imagery that sets up the record’s conceptual depth and presents a clear-cut background for Raekwon’s material. With the production alone, you get a sense of story. Songs like “Glaciers of Ice” and “Incarcerated Scarfaces” roll in a murky vibe that’s complementary to the song’s content, and with each measure you can see yourself looking over your shoulder on high-alert, as if the music is slowly trotting behind you. On the lyrical level, Raekwon makes Linx a mafioso masterpiece. “Spot Rusherz” is an example of Rae’s many Cristal references in a mob-like scenario (“Pulling mints out son had mad clientele/ Order me Cristal twice Kion, chill”); “Verbal Intercourse,” which features Nas (the first non-related Wu artist to appear on a Wu record), glides majestically with braggadocious lines in a mafia-like street concept (“In the woodwork, crack sales bubble like Woolworth’s”); and “Knuckleheadz” presents a unique dialogue driven intro to feature Raekwon’s big conceptual swells. On a production scale, Linx is a symphony of mafioso street-level sound, with beats, progressions and sounds that emulate the feel of the concept. Lyrically, Raekwon and his guests add the nitty gritty details to complete the album’s packaging.

What makes Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… one of the greatest hip-hop records has a lot to do with its influence and what it spawned, but it’s also great because it’s a deep and dense record.

If you’re a novice when it comes to the Wu-culture, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a must for your collection.

Gus’ Thought (Part Two)

Back in the early 90’s, the Wu-Tang Clan began with big dreams and with friends that were skilled at rapping about the streets of Staten Island, aka Shaolin. Since the start of it all, over twenty years ago, Wu-Tang has exploded into an international brand that continues to hold sway amongst hip-hop heads all over the world. In my estimation, what was recorded and mixed into an album for 36 Chambers will never be duplicated. This success eventually would launch the solo careers of RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, M-e-t-h-o-d Man and many others. By now each artist has their own individual accomplishments and style that can be traced back to the origins of Wu-Tang but also exists in and of themselves. With Raekwon, there is a certain lyrical deliberateness that follows his rhyme scheme. He will tell you a damn good story, but he’ll take his time and give you every small, potentially gruesome detail until the story is complete. This is what you hear on Raekwon’s album from 2009, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II, the long-awaited sequel to the first Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… that came out in 1995.

On OB4CL, Raekwon follows the familiar cinematic concept that is aided by well placed intro and outro skits, setting to the tone and overall vibe of the record. The Chef is no longer the young man of the 90s, but rather an older perhaps wiser version of himself. He has seen more and done more all the while surviving the harsh realities of the street. Lyfe Jennings moans on the hook of “Catalina,” the haunting track produced by Dr. Dre:

“I was trying to get home/ Leave a couple mil’ to my kids when I’m gone/ Nigga, that ain’t cologne, it’s the smell of this money/ I was trying to get home/ Cuz I don’t know when my karma gon’ catch up/ I don’t know when the toilet gon’ back up/ And put me in some shit, that I can’t get out of.”

The brilliance of Rae’s records is how he is able to blend fiction with the reality of his own experiences within his raps, creating vivid illustrations with his words.

With a slew of producers and guest appearances including Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Cappadonna, Dr. Dre, Mathematics, RZA and the Alchemist, Part two moves with a precision that is cold, calculated and heavy. On Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Part II, Raekwon comes across as an experienced and bitter mafioso that is no longer surprised about what he does and what he has seen. Given the Chef’s career as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan, this is clearly analogous to his life.

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