It has been well over a decade since Raekwon dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (known by cassette aficionados as The Purple Tape) and ushered in the Wu-Gambino era. Cut from the same grimy cloth as Kool G. Rap, OB4CL was heralded as a bona fide street classic and established Rae as the king of drug rap years before snowmen like Young Jeezys came to dominate the scene. While the record was a huge success, it also proved to be a big set of Wallies to fill. In that time since OB4CL was released, Rae has dropped a couple of lackluster follow-up releases, done a slew of guest shots and even managed a tenure with Dr. Dre and Aftermath. While that union failed to bear fruit, it was during the Aftermath tenure last year that it was confirmed that OB4CL2 was in the works. The pot was sweetened when Busta Rhymes was feted as being executive producer of the project. High profile moves such as these showed Rae as a proud Wu member that was proud of his Shaolin affiliations, but also an artist looking to expand beyond the realms of RZA beats. Few of the Wu have managed to define a post-Wu identity. Obvious exceptions are Method Man and GZA, but in the Raekwon world Ghostface Killah is the go-to guy. Ghostdeini takes time off from his litigation schedule and R&B dalliances to reprise his role as show-stealing grime foil to Rae on OB4CL2.
One of the hardest questions for the aging hip-hop fan to ask him or herself is whether you can still have love for Raekwon while still be being tired of endless Wu-Gambino skits and ridiculous drug talk that is, at best, a vestige of decades-past youthful vagaries. Additionally, I am way over weed-fueled philosophizing about the nature of life in ‘the game’. As such, I approached OB4CL2 with some caution. Sure enough, the opening “Return Of The North Star” is crawling with old head philosophizing from Papa Wu. As unpleasant as it is to listen to, the track does well in establishing the record as a true sequel, reprising the closing track of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx to let us know it’s going to be a whole lot of drug noir before we cross the finish line.
Track two starts with the requisite martial arts movie sample before launching headlong into a ridiculously banging track from the late J. Dilla. Entitled “House Of Flying Daggers”, it features guest verses from Inspectah Deck, GZA, Ghostface, and Method Man, who also drops the hook on what may very well be the posse cut of the year. The players on the track are definitely the best parts of the Wu and it’s obvious that they have kept their swords sharp in the Wu downtime. Ghostface makes his first appearance, dropping a song-stealing verse and establishing a trend that continues for the duration. Ghost is absolutely fierce here, consistently dropping line after rewind-able line in a tone that is positively heated. Raekwon is no slouch on the mike, but pair him with Ghost and you are pretty much always guaranteed pure fire.
Unsurprisingly, the Ghostface pairings are the strongest tracks on OB4CL2, but all the tracks here are pretty top-notch. I will state unequivocally that twenty-two (24 on the digital releases) tracks is far too many, but there is there is definitely an air of quality about the record that sets it above most, if not all of this year’s hip-hop releases. The seeds of his past affiliations with Dre and Busta bear fruit, yielding two Dre tracks for OB4CL2, one of which is with Busta Bus. Beanie Siegel, Jadakiss, Styles P and Lyfe Jennings all make guest appearances and the production roster is equally top-shelf, featuring contributions from Erick Sermon, Necro, Rae’s own Icewater Productions and Pete Rock. The Alchemist contributes some pyrite to the proceedings, while RZA grabs a third of the executive production credits and has two tracks, both of them Ghost collabos that will more than sate heads jonesing for that old-school Wu.
Old heads and new-school fans alike will be more than happy with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. Fourteen years has been a long time to wait, but with today’s ‘one single and a whole lot of filler’ paradigm, it’s refreshing to hear a record, much less a hip-hop one, that is intended to be listened to as a single entity. For that alone, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 deserves high praise. Musically and lyrically, Raekwon has topped himself, removing the stigma of Immobilarity and The Lex Diamonds Story to drop what may be the hip-hop record of the year.
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// Notes from the Road
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