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Raekwon

"Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx... Pt. II" (EMI) -- 5 STARS

By Joshua J. Kearney, Crimson Staff Writer

Triumph. This word alone might suffice to describe the long-, long-awaited arrival of “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II,” by Chef Raekwon.

The album—the sequel to Raekwon’s 1995 game-changer “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…”—was initially announced in 2005, but production and label issues left the work dangling in limbo, its public release put on a hitherto apparently interminable hold.

But the day for Wu-heads has finally come, and Raekwon doesn’t disappoint. “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II” is eminently satisfying, unabashedly raw, and on par with the best solo albums by any member of Wu-Tang in this decade or the last.

Raekwon resumes right where he left off with the first Cuban Linx. It was then that he introduced his Mafioso persona, soulful stylings, and violent, gritty themes, helping to shape the genre that grew into the gangsta rap of the late 90s. Adopting the moniker Wu Gambino to emphasize their grisly underground content, the Wu-Tang Clan propelled Raekwon’s success forward on Cuban Linx, and in turn reaped the rewards from the new niche they pioneered and would continue to dominate in the hip-hop world.

As before, the core members of the Wu ballast Raekwon’s Cuban Linx II, but it is the Chef’s rhythmic flow and vivid narratives that shine through the pleasantly understated production and much-touted guest appearances throughout. Though just about any track could be cited to exemplify Raekwon’s particular talents, “Ason Jones,” a tribute to Ol’ Dirty Bastard, is a standout among standouts. “He was a powerful general / The smell from his breath was Ballentine / I think it was the year ’89 / He stayed the freshest…. The nigga could dance to slow music / Outdrink any nigga on the bench / While we hittin’ reefer he so loose / He’s five foot seven / A legend was born / Russel Ason Jones / I know him for his braids and lessons,” raps Kwon almost breathlessly over J. Dilla’s soulful beat.

More often, though, Raekwon’s smooth tenor creates a sensational contrast to his narrative persona; Chef Raekwon derives the first part of his name for his skills in cooking crack, and his raps are generally vignettes portraying the ultra-violence of the streets and the drug trade. “Fat Lady Sings,” for example, tells the story of a drug dealer caught on the wrong corner who, after being beaten and sliced up with razor blades, simply refuses to die. “Sonny’s Missing” has a similar plotline, where a traitor to the Wu Gambino gets himself slowly and torturously whacked for a drug-related indiscretion. These accounts are admittedly brutal, but the combination of the evocative story-telling style and the somewhat fantastical content creates an enthralling scene.

But Raekwon couldn’t have pulled off a 22-track album like this one on his own. Credit is due to Tony Starks, aka Ghostface Killah, who contributes his indefatigable charisma and lyrical wit to about a third of the album’s tracks. “Penitentiary” and “Gihad” are two of his better cameos, the former featuring a seamless back and forth between Raekwon as prisoner and Ghost as corrupt jailer and cohort, the latter an alternative tale of father-son relations soured by a woman. Method Man’s appearance on tracks like “New Wu” and “House of Flying Daggers” make them obvious choices for the album’s first singles, as Meth’s militant rhymes and uniquely enthralling cadence are known to draw the masses (and rightly so). Finally RZA’s production on a number of tracks and involvement with the project as a whole gives the album a raw, understated feel that pairs well with the lyrical content and puts the rapping front and center instead of the beats.

With all its grit and top notch lyricism, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II” is more than just a great sequel. It’s testament to the vibrancy and strength of the gangster hip-hop culture, filling a void left manifestly and painfully vacant with the rise of the Auto-Tune and the increasing move of gangster rappers toward the pop genre in recent years. Raekwon and his Wu-Tang accompaniment dazzle on every track, and demonstrate that they can continue to thrive in the niche they created for themselves in the early 90s without getting dull or dated.

—Staff writer Joshua J. Kearney can be reached at kearney@fas.harvard.edu.

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