"It's called real life, son. It don't cost nothin', just a blast." As Raekwon suggests at the beginning of his second album, Immobilarity, solid hiphop storytelling can be used simultaneously to educate and entertain. The Wu-based Raekwon (a.k.a. Corey Woods, Shallah Raekwon, Lex Diamonds) has a hard act to follow, his own first album, 1995's Only Built for Cuban Links. The debut was immediately loved and long appreciated for its impressive wit and ingenuity, standing out at the time among a wave of much-buzzed-about Wu Tang solo records by Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and the infamous ODB. Like its predecessor, Immobilarity offers vividly detailed accounts of ghetto life and violence, but it's clear that the writer has developed: Rae's low-key-smooth delivery contrasts effectively with the harsh truths he tells.
On “Yae Yo,” Raekwon recounts a frightening interracial confrontation between dealers, full of explicit particulars (“Fernando sent me, yo / Stop acting high style, yo, / And yo don’t point that shit at me / Bad enough I gotta come in the crib / You Spanish niggas using languages and shit / I’m feeling like a dick…”), while producer Carlos Broady lays down a smooth, unstoppable Latinish beat. “100 Rounds” describes the streets as a war zone, warning, “Y’all must not know the work I put in, that’s for real.” But living large can be confusing, “Success make a nigga tremble.” Now, he’s staying in “Abe Lincoln president suites,” and feeling giddy and ironic from all the: “Pinch me / I bought head from Monica Lewinsky.”
Many of his tales are short and powerful: he describes a dealer who “got rocked” in “My Favorite Dred,” a doomed romance in “Live From New York,” the travails of choosing “Sneakers” (produced by Pete Rock), and, with the American Cream Team on “Raw,” he samples from “Disco Nights” to cook up a near-dance tune, about nightlife, violence, and banging. Rae teams with Meth for “Fuck Them,” to caution against aspiring to be thugs, pranksters, gangsters, and dealers, all “the niggers in jail” (“That’s what silly boys are made of”). For all his street-hardness, Rae can gracefully switch up, covering Lionel Ritchie’s “All I Got is You, Pt. 2,” to praise his mother’s apparently infinite patience and strength: “Tell me mama, how I can meet someone like you.”
If Raekwon’s stories are specific and his lyrics tight, the beats on some tracks are fuzzier, less original. “Pop Shit” sounds like you’ve heard it before (with production by Vo and Pop that sounds a little too Ruff Ryderish), and “Heart to Heart” sounds almost canned, though not enough to detract wholly from the lyrics, still vintage Rae: “The Blair Witch rich nigga vision, comprehension / Listen, it’s called slang optimism / Connect dots, niggas is large, you can’t see us.” Raekwon’s poetry, however, so flashy and smart, makes it difficult for you to look away.