Review Summary: The Pyrex is bubbling, the stove is broke; fuck it, use the flame from the oven - the famous dozen about to hit the streets, they buzzing...
Although developed in the early 90s by Kool G Rap and improved by Scarface, so-called "Mafioso Rap" wasn't truly perfected until 1995 with Raekwon's Wu-Tang saturated Only Built 4 Cuban Linx
. With the help of compatriots Ghostface and the RZA, The Chef made a genuine musical analogue to his handle - a stark tale of the New York powder game told from the eyes of a fish-frying (cocaine cooking), culinary mastermind. Widely considered a classic in many circles, this record not only bolstered the Wu-Tang legacy of the 90s, but also paved the way for many aspiring stars from a lyrical perspective (see Jay-Z's Reasonable Doubt
, absolutely). Two solo duds, countless posse trainwrecks, and fourteen years later, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
has finally hit shelves to resounding critical acclaim. Hailed as the best Wu affiliated cut since Ghostface's Supreme Clientele
(nine years ago), it's hard to believe such hyperbolic claims as a jaded hip-hop fanatic - especially considering New York's relative stagnation as of late. So is this praise warranted? In short, yes, and then some. Just give this a try as a short primer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nR7kVnh3PlI
To find the root of why Cuban Linx II
is a worthy follow-up one must make a quick jaunt back in time. The defining aspect of golden age Wu celebrity wasn't the Kung-Fu lore, lyricism, and definitely wasn't U-God. In fact, members U-God, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, and Masta Killa really were nothing singularly spectacular and sit passenger to the verbal gymnastics of GZA, Ghost, and Rae. The binding glue here (and one of the most genre shifting forces of the era) was the RZA's spectacular production. His beats were revolutionary in their employ of tension-building atmospherics; juxtaposed brilliantly with the ghetto-centric lyricism, the original Cuban Linx
was undoubtedly the producer's defining moment. The sequel takes this knowledge into account with its strategic assortment of producers: arguably the hottest beatsmith right now in the late Dilla, NYC legend Pete Rock, new age RZA on a seemingly good day, Dre, Alchemist, and even the 'E' from EPMD lending a non-country fried interpretation of the 808. And where the original is a difficult piece to follow up from a composition perspective, the final mix turns out well and not only casts a spotlight on each and every verse, but demands applauds for its artistic cohesion amidst the multiple credits. From the heartbeat-come-rapocalypse of "House of Flying Daggers" to the foreboding horns of "Sonny's Missing" and the bubbling clarity of "Pyrex Vision", it's immediately apparent - we're not here merely to revisit the Purple Tape's "North Star" as much as to update the journey for the 21st century. The bass hits harder, the symphonic samples are sharper, and the mood pulses between dark...darker... and grit; RZA should be proud of this evolution (but probably wishes he didn't waste his life the past decade obsessed with Bobby Digital).
Every cut is worth its weight here; every lyrical performance is equally inspired as its production counterpart. While obvious that some Wu members are weaker than others, these guests turn in some of their best verses in years and truly build anticipation for another group joint... if approached with the same focus. Non-affiliates Jadakiss, Styles P, and the legendary Slick Rick further enhance Cuban Linx II with alternating perspectives of old and new New York icons. Most notably, the chemistry between Raekwon and Ghostface Killah is as much of a thing of beauty as ever - only this time around Ghost refrains from stealing the show completely. For some this might not be a good thing, as the Rae of 1999's Immobilarity
and 2003's The Lex Diamond Story
didn't exactly put on a show worth watching - but such misgivings are unnecessary this time around. When on the top of his game, The Chef decimates the mic with complex rhyme schemes, excellent alliteration, and overall lyricism that, for sake of comparison, fits more within the realm of DOOM especially on cuts like "Surgical Gloves" and "Canal Street". On the other hand, Rae proves he can still ride a hot beat-and-hook in the catchy Dre-produced island romp, "Catalina". He owns his record this time around (to favorable results), yet still puts on the best performance this side of 2000 when paired with Tony Starks; the pressure cooker steeped dissonance of "Penitentiary" is a steady, dynamic climb that builds in tension through each traded verse (not to mention the incredibly atmospheric, Blue Sky Black Death-esque beat from BT).
Likely no coincidence, most of the production has a cinematic feel, drawing heavily from theatrical scores and gangster flicks; RZA's post-good-record era is heavily influenced by this theme. It's a complete relief that, this time around, it's done well with near spaghetti western sweeping strings on cuts like Dilla's "10 Bricks", the foreboding symphony of "Mean Streets", and a preeminent gangster score closer in "Kiss the Ring". Everything about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II
demands worship and solidifies Raekwon as one of history's best with a continuation that exceeds his original debut in every way imaginable. This is a more mature and intelligent Wu Tang and proves that one truly does improve their verbal skills with age.