Review Summary: Raekwon gives us a sprawling Hip-Hop epic, which lines up besides Liquid Swords and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) as a pinnacle of the Wu-Tang's career.
Raekwon's debut solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
, was part of the first round of Wu-Tang solo efforts that appeared in the three years following Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
. It's an exclusive club, sitting alongside albums such as Liquid Swords
, which are not just excellent spinoffs from the Clan but are Hip-Hop classics in their own right.
Not unlike the rest of Wu-Tang's early material, the production here is credited solely to the RZA. Where previous Wu-Tang albums like Method Man's Tical
and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
were short, raw and relatively focused affairs, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
is a long, theatrical and over-the-top epic. It sees RZA moving away from the gritty style of earlier Wu-Tang projects, and embracing a cinematic lustre which relies heavily on strings and classic soul samples.
While the production is the obvious exponent of the cinematic quality I've been rambling about, it wouldn't really work without a talented group of MCs to tell the tales, and Raekwon and Co. deliver the goods. Lex Diamonds (aka Raekwon) and his sidekick Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah) present rhymes telling stories of drug trafficking, street life and even a stealthy diss directed toward The Notorious B.I.G. They are assisted by their fellow "Wu-Gambinos" Maximillion (GZA), Bobby Steels (RZA), Johnny Blaze (Method Man) and the rest of the family. Ghostface in particular is in career best form.
While many Hip-Hop albums can struggle when they get past the 60 minute mark, for the most part Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
manages to keep the listeners attention throughout eighteen songs, with only two of those being skits. While I could do without a few tracks in the second half of the album, the fact it seems to drag is more to do with the brilliance of the first half. From the intro Striving For Perfection through to Guillotine (Swordz) is an amazing run of songs, the highlight of which is probably Rainy Dayz, with Ghostface and Raekwon delivering musings on the street life which are complemented perfectly by Blue Raspberry's sublime vocals. Another highlight is Verbal Intercourse, particularly Nas' fantastic guest spot which gave birth to his "Nas Escobar" persona and is a glimpse of the lyrical style and overall sound his It Was Written
album would contain just a year later. GZA and Inspectah Deck also have guest verses which should be noted for their excellence. Amongst all the guest spots and verses from his partner in crime (Ghost is even on the album cover, such is his contribution to the record) sits Raekwon. He might not be the most spectacular of the nine MCs that make up the Wu-Tang Clan, but he is the backbone of the album and provides consistently great verses throughout. He might not be as over the top as Ghostface, or as skilled a wordsmith as GZA, but his words carry a genuine conviction, and he is the perfect foil for Ghostface.
While Raekwon and Co. weren’t the first to rap about Mafioso themes (that accolade goes to Kool G Rap on his albums with DJ Polo in the late '80s/early '90s), he certainly popularised it. In wake of this album, records such as Nas' It Was Written
, Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt
and AZ's Doe or Die
all showed the influence of this album’s atmosphere, lyricism and production. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
was the beginning of a brief but memorable era in Hip-Hop, and stands proudly alongside Liquid Swords
and Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
as one of the Wu-Tang’s finest moments.