Review Summary: A true classic that almost touches the perfection of its predecessor
What's in the name? It so easy to derive many things from just titles themselves, that complete opinions are either justified or destroyed through them. Many feel that making classics is not that difficult in "Hip-Hop". And when I say Hip-Hop, I am not referring to Rap/Hip-Pop, instead the 'real' Hip-Hop. But the issue is, do these 'classics' have the staying power. Sure any album is easily declared to be 'the ***' or an instant classic (I apologize for the constant labels), but can we say the same about it 2 years after its release? What about 5 years? Or even a decade and so? Not every 'album of the year' is going to remain a cultural influence and stand the test of time. So what does all this have to do with my review? Nothing, except for the title of the album. It was about 15 years ago, that Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon The Chef released an album called "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...", which not only certified his position as a legend in the game, but also led to the album being hailed by many as the greatest masterpiece of Mafioso Rap ever constructed (And yes, this includes The Notorious B.I.G.'s Life After Death and Big Pun's Capital Punishment) So what happens when The Chef, decides to finally release the long-awaited sequel to OB4CL, which was almost a decade in the making, labelling it as Part 2? Did it live up to the hype or did it dash the hopes of many awaiting a time-withstanding classic?
The album picks up exactly where OB4CL left off. The into is a track called Return of the North Star, using the same sample of Barry White, that RZA used on North Star (Jewelz), where we are re-introduced to Raekwon and he still, is up to no good. The production on this album is very glossy, yet has the feeling of a haunting sound. It well polished; yet rough enough to re-create the complexity that was its 1st part. Unlike OB4CL, Wu-Tang leader RZA only blesses two cuts on the album. First, on lead single New Wu, Raekwon reminds us that why he is known for creating paradox in his own rhymes, while still somehow making sense. And then in the other Black Mozart, where RZA channels the main theme from The Godfather, into a electric and eerie beat, on which Raekwon informs us that "I've been hustling, since niggas was bustin guns and scufflin and jumpin niggas over come coats..."
The late great J.Dilla is also comes back from the dead to lace the album with a few tracks he produced prior to his death. The biggest standout amongst them is House of Flying Daggers, where fellow Wu-Tang member, let their presence known. Well-versed, with a haunting bass to it, House of Flying Daggers reminds one of Glaciers of Ice from the first part. It is a perfect complement to Cold Outside, where the tragedy of the streets is well dissected by Raekwon and how it is done to such an extreme degree. There are also the results of Raekwon's stint on Dr. Dre's Aftermath label, in the form of Catalina and About Me, both utilizing a cold, deafening piano loop, with a latter a shoo in for a future Raekwon's "Best Of" album.
Just like the first album, Ghostface is featured throughout entire album, filling his position of the supporting guest in the feature film that is OB4CL2. At times, he is able to outshine his brother Rae, such as on Penitentiary where he lets us know how he will come after those who threaten his position, "True guess that's what it do, but on the low I got two big gem stars who spyin on you, matter fact they gonna hide in your food, all you do is get the grits out the way then you get up and move, go to sleep nigga go ahead and rest, I'ma finish my count I'ma set you out later my dude." Other times on bangers such as Gihad, he and Raekwon combine their opposing, yet philosophical views on crime and gang-banging and show the "up-n-comers" how it's done.
Song wise, this album is filled with gangster-life inspired dexterity, with many topics ranging from cutting and dealing cocaine (10 Bricks) to street life tales (We Will Rob You, where legend Slick Ricks delivers a sick Queen inspired hook). Two of the most standout tracks, however, are the emotional pieces of music. Ason Jones, where Raekwon reminisces about deceased Wu-Tang brother Ol' Dirty Bastard, what he meant to him and what influence he had on Rae, to Have Mercy, which is a direct descendent of Rainy Dayz, featuring Beanie Sigel, who delivers rhymes about how his actions affected his relationships and how he had to cope with friends and family members dying around him because of those actions.
One of the minimal complaints that people had about OB4CL, was that the final cut on the album was not the perfect way to finish the album and there could have been a better track to close the feature. However, learning from his mistakes, Raekwon ends Part 2, with a nail in the coffin of the myth, that sequels can't live up to the original. Kiss the Ring is a perfect way to close-out the album, reminding us all why the Wu came to be so legendary in the first place and how many people it has inspired to this date. "Regardless yo I'm makin a classic, you will witness some of the tactics, some that died in the action, a live general when he walk, if he died then you slide lay me down in the coffin and take the child" speaks Rae over a Scram Jones beat.
Overall, the question still remains; how did Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II stack up against the original one? There are a few off points in the album, such as the fact that Raekwon forgetting the topic at hand sometimes and drops verses that may have nothing to do with the rest of the track. At other times, guests outshine him, such as on Broken Safety, where Styles P and Jadakiss deliver great verses and overshadow the Chef. But as a whole, Rae dominates most of the album and the production, as with Part 1, stands out more than anything, with every beat complimenting his style of delivering and storytelling and does not seem to over-saturate the album with too much gloss. Even old school producers, such as Pete Rock and the bubbling minute beat by Marley Marl called Pyrex Vision, are relevant to the entire theme of the album. As to the question, of whether it lived up or not, one cannot say right now, as only the test of time will prove its strength. But in this humble reviewer's opinion, it's much more damn faithful to the original album, which is more than what could be said about another sequel being released this September. Flawlessness in this day and age is virtually impossible to achieve (as Raekwon told us with Striving for Perfection), but Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II is the closest that has come to it.
This is my first review, so go easy. Constructive criticism is welcomed.