Only Built For Cuban Linx, released in 1995, was extremely celebrated by both the Wu-Tang and hip-hop communities for several reasons, but to me its best trait was its Fullness, its Richness. In an era where full-length albums have lost traction, Cuban Linx now seems almost ridiculously labored over. By this I mean that a SHITload of work went into the pacing and sequencing of the record (yet it also feels natural and effortless), to the point where it might not only be the best Wu-Tang-affiliated album, but also among the best hip-hop efforts of all time. It all starts with the production, which — along with Return to the 36 Chambers, Ghostface’s debut, and the first Killah Army record — shines as one of RZA’s crowning achievements where maestro-ing is concerned. Each Cuban was rolled differently from the next, a far cry from the somewhat repetitive niche the Wu has settled into since that first wave of solo releases.
Production is only the tipping point, of course, as Linx had a wide range of qualities. It was laced with drug narratives, but the listener never OD’d on references to “blow crushed up into flakes”; soulful samples and singers danced around its edges; it was packed with between-song skits, but, in a rare case of filmic rap sensibility, the skits actually aided the ongoing dialogue of the record; its lively language often required decoding; it was loaded with guest spots, yet Raekwon’s status as Head Chef (and Ghostface’s as Senior Chef) was never questioned; its revolutionary, chanted choruses bolstered the verses with catchy, coke-addled gangsta grit; and, finally, its lurid raps represented the best verses the Wu-Tang camp ever collaborated on. Whether it be RZA’s shell-shocking turn on “Wu-Gambinos,” Cappadonna’s star-making (within Wu circles) turn on “Ice Cream,” U-God’s scene-stealing poetry on “Knuckleheadz,” or any number of spots from Rae and Ghost, the stories, tales, lies, and exaggerations of Cuban Linx wrapped everything up into a can’t-miss package that told an extended story, the sort of narrative you didn’t get with most of the Wu solo blunts.
So why create a sequel when expectations — and, thus, potential for a jolly-green-giant of a letdown — will be not only unrealistic, but charged? More than any other record (save debut 36 Chambers, which started it all), Linx fed into the mythology, dialect, and all-out Legend/Legacy of the Wu-Tang, so why risk the Mothership on a sub-subgenre (the Unnecessary Sequel — think Return of the Liquid Sword) that fails time and time again? To hear Rae tell it (and you did, [here on TMT->http://www.tinymixtapes.com/Raekwon]), Only Built for Cuban Linx 2 is a true continuation of the subjects and characters from Part 1 as he aims “for the head of the first one.” Not only that, he sees the first Linx mostly as a barometer for how “strong” he needs to come, not as a work he feels he can transcend.
I respect those statements, and I understand that he wants the chance to follow up his masterpiece while his mouthpiece is still warm and wet. None of this, however, would have made any sense had Raekwon’s work ethic not remained intact. As Birth of a Prince and Return of the Liquid Sword attest, a half-assed Wu product is as worthless as a half-assed record from anyone else. As I digest Only Built for Cuban Linx 2 over several listens, I find that Rae is absolutely, irrevocably, indelibly on his game, and that’s a good thing, because Cuban Linx 1 is absolutely, irrevocably, indelibly in a league of its own. And so, though its sense of continuity from track to track, its sense of how to open/close the curtain, and its guest spots are all easily inferior to the Original, Cuban Linx 2 sports similar craftsmanship — despite only part-RZA production that boasts the late J Dilla (!), Dr. Dre (!!!), Inspectah Deck (?…!), Pete Rock, and more — that should breathe new life into the Wu apparatus and the troupe’s specific brand of hip-hop.
Simply put, Cuban Linx 2 doesn’t stop. It’s dense, dignified; the motivation of following a genre standard apparently hit Rae hard. Twenty-two times. If you plan to sit down with this edition of Linx, you’d better have about 70 minutes, a blue-’n’-cream joint/blunt/sherm stick, and maybe even an Urban Dictionary to spare. Untethering it from its status as a sequel for a moment, Cuban Linx 2 is flat-out SOLID, its revolving door of guest rappers cycling through the fray like bicyclists at a Tour De Fat winding through a crowded city. Method Man offers nuts he hasn’t truly busted since the second Tical; Jadakiss and Styles P prance into “Broken Safety” with a briefcase full of cash and pay the track in full; and Beanie Siegal delivers some of the best flows on offer. Then there’s Ghostface; always the giddy yin to Raekwon’s tempered yang, ’Face’s voice is as important to the Cuban Linx legacy as Rae’s, and, suffice to say, the pair again manage to tag-team an entire album better than Meth and Red could ever dream.
A minor treat, too, is Linx 2’s debt to soul music, which nods to the first link in the chain, as “Have Mercy” features the female voice from the first Cuban Linx’s “Rainy Days” (also check out the soul radio spot playing in the background as a drink is poured during the intro), while Suga Bang lends his boisterous, pulpit-preaching voice to “Cold Outside,” albeit to lesser effect. These moments and the Baby Jesus tribute aside, Cuban Linx 2 is no doubt an end-to-end-to-end-to-end banger (as opposed to, say, a fucker). Drug deals, flashy robberies, hustilin’/bustlin’/trippin’/flippin’/stealin’/cap-peelin’, unwanted pregnancies, big-head bitches: all served up and weighed on a triple-beam, loaded up and smoked by Raekwon and his accomplices and blown back at the listener.
It’s a form of second-hand that a rap aficionado can get behind, and the aforementioned multi-source production turned out to be the best possible choice, a cascade of ghostly sped-up samples, tinkling pianos, sparkling synths, perfectly timed-out glitches, and other tricks of the trade spicing things up for the discerning ingester of hip-hop audio comestibles. I’d be remiss, of course, if I didn’t go into the raps themselves a little, so I offer you — in lieu of more Gumshoe gushing — a small slice of verbal jousts I found captivating and/or funny in that oh-so-Ghostface way:
- I’m like a crooked cop/ Richard Gere/ Big smirk on/ Getting my dick sucked
- Smoke ’em like Steak ’ems
- Onionhead niggas
- Put some bologna on your face or somethin’ nigga
- Baggin’ every ziploc/ And my people sit around with cops/ Split that/ [???] white Kit-Kats
- Yeah I beat it up but I didn’t seed it up
- Here comes a lethal presentation taking you places you never been/ Deadlier than a combination of coke and heroin
- Half-gorilla half-ape in them track suits
- The economy is down/ So you already know it’s gonna be a lotta homies in the town/ That’s why I’m still bringin’ the seed back/ Sneakers that I can’t pronounce that cost a G-stack/ Niggas in the yard got this on repeat, black/ Fuck savin’ hip-hop we bringin’ the streets back
And with that, I sign off, finally tamping nails into the coffin of a review that brought almost as much stress upon my mug as its creation did upon Raekwon (slight exaggeration), due to both a digital stream-only format (so I can only listen to this on my laptop’s tinny shit-speakers? AWESOME) and the pressure of writing about what amounts to a continuation of an unflagging Landmark in my life (along with those other fantacular Wu debuts; who would have thought Tical and The Pillage would turn out to be the least-compelling achievements of the period?). When Only Built For Cuban Linx 2 fades from the Happening Now blogs/sites and starts really being LISTENED TO, people are going to find more than enough to justify its existence. Furthermore, this — though many will cry “Fishscale” — is the best Wu-affiliated album since that first round of solo joints; it’s as good as it could/should be considering the legend and personnel involved, and that’s a steep compliment Raekwon and his collaborators earned by dint of tireless work. All hotly (strangely this descriptor seems almost an understatement) anticipated albums should deliver so profoundly.
1. Return of the North Star (feat. Papu Wu)
2. House of Flying Daggers (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah and Method Man)
3. Sonny's Missing (Produced by Pete Rock)
4. Pyrex Vision (Produced by Marley Marl)
5. Cold Outside (feat. Ghostface Killah and Sugar Bang)
6. Black Mozart (feat. Inspectah Deck)
7. New Wu (feat. Method Man and Ghostface Killah)
8. Penitentiary (feat. Ghostface Killah)
9. Surgical Gloves
10. Broken Safety (feat. Jadakiss and Styles P)
11. Canal Street
12. Ason Jones
13. Have Mercy (feat. Beanie Sigel and Blue Raspberry)
14. 10 Bricks (feat. Cappadonna and Ghostface Killah)
15. Fat Lady Sings
16. Catalina (feat. Lyfe Jennings)
17. We Will Rob You (feat. Slick Rick, GZA and Masta Killa)
18. About Me
19. Mean Streets (feat. Inspectah Deck and Ghostface Killah)
20. Kiss The Ring (feat. Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa)
21. South Star (feat. Papa Wu)