"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Raekwon - Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II: Review

"His price is 26, son."

I am 26 years old and that places me at an age in which I’m old enough to start thinking seriously about my future but still have a yearning for the childhood obsessions that occupied my youth. I spend hours researching old Saturday morning cartoons on Wikipedia, watch old WWF (Fuck-a-World-Wildlife-Fund…it will always be the WWF to me!) matches on Youtube and cop X-Files DVDs at Best Buy. My world is rapidly changing around me as my friends start to slowly pair off and get engaged, advance in their careers and become fully function members of the vile cult known as adulthood. Meanwhile, I’m beginning to think if my reverence for the glorious, permanent juvenilia that has become my modus operandi is something that I should abandon for something approximately approaching societal norms. (I can’t keep delaying law school forever. Ugh.) All this means is that nostalgia has particular death grip on my psyche at this moment in my life. I don’t want to grow up but am self-aware enough to know that this is not a particular healthy notion to be harboring.

For me, Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II” is soaked in a particularly palpable nostalgia that evokes a particular slice of my adolescence that I have nothing but fond memories of. As a teenager, hip hop was the music I used to escape from the world and 10 years later, it is the music that I choose to examine and frame my worldview about. (write these long, winding narratives as a way to reconcile my thoughts and feelings about the world around me at large.) In regards to my long-standing love affair with hip hop, Wu-Tang has been the love of my life. The group that makes all other rap groups look second-rate.

On the surface, Cuban Linx II is an ostensibly perfect record. For an album that took nearly 14 years to make and is the sequel to one of the most highly acclaimed records in the history of the art form, it works way better than I can possibly have hoped for. It works as the type of perfect ‘90s crime epic that used to be the norm until it was abandoned for the cartoonish, uber-violent, half-baked crack rap fantasy of the Young Jeezy’s and the 50 Cent’s of the world. It is meticulous and grounded in details. It is loaded with pathos and drama and it makes the delusion of “Deeper Than Rap” seem like the highest of high comedy. And boy does it ever bang. Raekwon has not only brought out the heaviest of heavy production artillery (Dilla, Dre, RZA, Rock, Marley fuckin’ Marl) but the Wu-Tang cavalry out as well. There isn’t a wasted beat, half-assed verse or a solitary half-baked idea on the entire record. It is the type of hard-as-nails, gritty rap album that they don’t make anymore. It’s the best rap album of the year by a wide margin and that is where the problem lies.

Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II” relies too much on nostalgia. It is so rooted in ‘90s rap minutiae that it sounds alien in this modern rap environment and from a philosophical standpoint the record sounds almost regressive to the needs of the future of hip hop. It appeals to me because it sounds like a throwback Wu-Tang record, “No Said Date” with a more talented lead, and had this record been realized in ’99, it would be on par with the best of the Wu-Tang solos. Unfortunately, it’s 2009 and thus all this nostalgia (the kung-fu samples, the RZA and RZA-esque beats, the “Killer” dialogue) makes it inherently a limited record. It’s sort of the equivalent of a late-period Scorsese crime film. It’s highly enjoyable and well-made but it lacks the raw grit and originality of his earlier works. Its appeal is entirely based on the familiar and thus it cheapens its greatness. What does it say when the best record of 2009 sounds dated? That its success is because it’s consciously re-creating the past? You begin to wonder as a fan what that speaks about you when the big artists of the day leave you unsatisfied and what you crave most deeply is the nostalgia of your youth. Is this healthy? Or does this signal an unhealthy obsession for pangs of youth? (And why am I ending all my sentences as a rhetorical question like a Carrie Bradshaw column? And why am I making Sex in the City references in a Raekwon review? Should I cut my balls off? Is this healthy?)

I feel strange writing a seemingly negative review for a record that I happen to love. It is a record that I have been banging for a week straight and it reminds of me all the things that I miss about hip hop. I just don’t know if this is the record that I should love after all these years. Hip Hop needs more than older artists mining the exploits of their older, better records. It needs innovation. It needs somebody trying to push its boundaries. It needs to find the future. (It needs Jay Electronica to release an album.) Perhaps, this was always coming. For a genre built on the mining the works of other artists to create new, it may have been inevitable that it would run out of ideas and that eventually come to eat itself. I hope not but I’ll being “Cuban Linx II” as I stare wistfully into the past.

Random Notes:

-Who did U-God piss off to get left off the album? Even Masta Killa got two features!

-It doesn’t remotely bother me that some of these beats/samples have been used elsewhere. Nobody cared about O.C.’s second record in 1997. Nobody cares now.

- At this point, anybody who is in doubt that Ghostface is the best human being alive working in the profession of rapper is seriously kidding themselves. Everybody brings their A-game on this record and Ghost still dominates like LeBron James at a pick-up with Mark Madsen and Yi Jianlian’s practice chair.

- J Dilla should have been producing all Wu-Tang efforts from ’99 on. “House Of Flying Daggers”, “Ason Jones”, and “10 Bricks” are the three best beats on the entire album. RZA should be ashamed of himself for Dilla’s beat-making corpse sonning him on his own shit.

- How big of a fool is Dr. Dre for refusing to release this album on Aftermath? It’s not like he’s doing anything but Dr. Pepper commercials, anyway.

- Nas lost.

- If mobster bosses’ don’t pop off with lobster-sauced angel hair then they seriously need to reconsider what they are doing with their lives. I’m glad to see Deck is still bombing atomically 10 years after he mysteriously had his voice stolen by the Gentleman.

- “They found a two year old, strangled to death/with a love daddy t-shirt/ in a bag/ at the top of the steps.” Need I say more… Verse of the decade material.


douglas martin said...

i said it when fishscale dropped, and his verses on this record absolutely affirm it: ghostface is more than a rapper. way more.

Sach O said...

You need to get laid wigga, ain't no rap album solving your existential malaise. Shots!!!!!

Then again, I'm writing about this thing for a week which is a brilliant showcase of MY mental health and stability.

DocZeus said...

"You need to get laid wigga, ain't no rap album solving your existential malaise. Shots!!!!!"

I'm thinking about getting into the Kabbalah and/or buying a Porsche.

JK said...

Listening to OB4CL2 for about the 4th time, as we speak. Still think it's good. Still can't say it's great. Still can't say it's clearly the best hip hop album of the year.

I guess I'm holding out hope for an album that isn't coming out. So yeah, this probably will be the best album released.

And damn, why not just let Marley Marl produce the whole thing with the spirit of Dilla. Pyrex Vision was hard.

tray said...

I guess I would say that this is a four-to-five star album and the original Cuban Linx is, like, a twenty-star album. There is something a little forced about the retro-ism of the kung fu samples and the Killer dialogue. But yeah, it definitely succeeds way beyond what anyone, or anyone reasonable anyway, could've imagined. How much of it, though, can stand up next to 'Glaciers Of Ice'? Only a sliver, if that.

As for my childhood obsessions, they actually run more in the direction of the World Wildlife Fund. Never seen a wrestling bout or whatever you folks refer to them as in your life, whereas as a little boy (3-6 yrs. old) I used to take great enjoyment in reading mailings from the various environmental clubs of which my mother was a member. So I feel oddly nostalgic whenever I see the WWF panda.

gooo said...

This album, if it came out right after the first cuban linx, would have made Rae a legend essentially.
It sounds soooo like the Wu. A bit too much to be honest, it felt like he was biting his own style.

It is good only listend a couple times and the WU Tang stuff all takes me longer to digest thn other peoples with their (unnecessary?) slang and termanology that I still do not fully understand. I need to give it a few more listens still to grasp is properly.

The hook on the very first song gave a perfect indiciation of what was to come I think. With the "Clan in da front" type hook. But its a bit toooooo much like trying to recapture past glory. I agree with the part of the review that talks about how the best rap coming out should be innovative. And this is clearly far from that. Which is really what will keep it from being "classis". But if it came out 10 years ago it would have still been on the cusp of when the Wu style and sound was original.

I think that partly speaks to the inhrerent limitations of rap though, as there are only so many rhytmic rhyme schemes and sampled beats that you can use and sound dervitive. This coming from a huge hip hop fan.

Also the samples being the same really did bug me. I have heard t least three of them before. Which to me speaks to Rae and co. running out of ideas and trying to bring back an era that is really far gone.

Badmon3333 said...

Bacdafucup on blasting O.C.'s 'Jewelz.' It's on par with just about any other record of that era, with great beats from Primo, Buckwild and the Beatminerz. I'll grant you that not that many people know about it. Doesn't mean it isn't great.

DocZeus said...


O.C. was a tier-two New York rapper even in his prime. I mean "Jewelz" has its moments but its not like its essential listening or anything. As a hip hop fan, you could live your life and not really miss anything ALL that significant.

I'm not trying to throw O.C. under a bus or anything but it's really hard to make a sample-based hip hop record without running into a sample that some artist has used before.

Is "Heart Of The City" any less of a great song because it uses the same sample as Real Live's "Ain't No Love?"

goooooooooooo said...

I think its just annoying to hear. Its basically just a mixtape cut to me then almost. And O.C "Word... life" is a great album I think. One of my all time favorites. I think that one is essential listening for anyone.

And part of the reason I think sampling has run its course is because all of them have been used/ people are getting too lazy to find new ones. Go the live instrument route and rap will be better for it.

DocZeus said...

"Word...Life" is gerat. I'm not fronting on that album.

gooooooooooooo said...

So O.C has a great album and a solid follow up and he is irrelevant in hip hop history?

DocZeus said...

That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying in the greater context, O.C.'s impact was rather small compared to other rappers of his generation. You could paint a picture of hip hop in the 90s in New York and exclude O.C. and not lose a significant part of history.

That doesn't mean his music wasn't great.

gooooooooooooo said...

Perhaps you are right. But it does not stop the fact that using recycled beats essentially, is not cool. If someone who was not part of the WU did that with a record off "Forever" or even "36 Chambers" would you look at it with the same indifference?

DocZeus said...

Using the same sample is not the same as using the same beat, though. Think about how many times somebody has jacked "Nautilus" and still made a dope song.

gooooooooo said...

It feels like a mixtape track though in a lot of ways. And mixtape style tracks do not need to be on albums. It screams lazy to me. Not saying the song can;t stil be good. Producers just need to start creating beats from scratch and using / playing live music. There is much more room for creativity and originalty. Samples are inherently limiting.

Badmon3333 said...

Respect on the Real Live reference. Now THERE is a truly underrated album. Marley put in some solid work on that joint as well, and K-Def has put out a couple tight beat records, too.

Badmon3333 said...

I completely disagree with Gooooo about samples being inherently limiting. I'm all for working with live instrumentation, but with the palette of tools available to even the most novice beatmaker nowadays (I use Garageband for mine: www.soundclick.com/thebeatdoctor) allows you to completely transform a sample and bend it into something altogether new.

gooooooooooooo said...

So why do all these samples used by "professional " producers sound so reminicent of ways the sample was used before?

tray said...

I think OC was a first-tier talent who just fell off kinda fast and made some bad artistic choices. Being first-tier doesn't mean that you're necessarily an essential part of 90s East Coast hip-hop history (and conversely, being an essential part of 90s East Coast hip-hop history doesn't make you first-tier). Can we really say that OC is of a lower tier than, say, Raekwon himself?

Christopher said...

Did you really combine Wu-stannery with a Buffy reference?

I'm flabbergasted by the sheer geekery. Applaud this man.

DocZeus said...


Sarah Michelle Gellar was the love of my life from ages 14 to 17.

Badmon3333 said...

'Poor artistic choices' is putting it mildly. 'Smoke and Mirrors' is baaaad beyond baaaaaad. 'Starchild' is a real nice record.

gooooooo said...

I agree with what tray I think said aout OC being first tier.

I can not enjoy have mercy off this record though, the beat is tooo simliar to records I have heard before and enjoyed. Which is unfortunate cause Sigel really kills that track.

Trey Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trey Stone said...

this post is like DocZeus with a hint of tray. not meant as an insult either, good that you're not so caught up in the album that you can acknowledge it might not be all that big in the current grand scheme of things.

you planning a Kid Cudi review at any point?

DocZeus said...

"you planning a Kid Cudi review at any point?"

Actually, no. I think the album is truly atrocious but I'd rather not savage a guy I went to high school with.

It's all kinds of bad.

Curly Morris said...

Great review!