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In a complete change to what had been heard on the solo releases from Wu-Tang Clan members Method Man and Ol' Dirty B****d, Raekwon came to show how his musical tastes differed from the other members of the crew. While the posse seemed to mesh together perfectly with the classic "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)" album, as lone rappers it was a different story. Meth had shown ability to make underground sounds work when taken to the commercial world, ODB had the abilities to give complete oddballs a chance, but Raekwon was much more about putting the Mafia style on wax. With his 1995 album he was able to show this. Essentially the Hip Hop 'Scarface' soundtrack, the record is considered to be a classic of its type. Reading as a duo more than just a Raekwon the Chef record, fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah plays an important role in just about every track as they, and a number of the other Clan artists and affiliates make for the ultimate Mafioso Rap album in "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...".
As the Wu-Tang Clan was a crew nine men deep, and had a list of affiliates which went on for days, it's a surprise to see someone from outside of their circle comes in for one special appearance on the record. That person is none other than Nas. His influence is felt hard in the contents of "Verbal Intercourse" as he shows his first steps towards moving away from the character heard on "Illmatic" into a new role under the moniker of Nas Escobar. When it comes to the Wu members who lend assistance here, Cappadonna does extremely well as U-God's replacement (as he's killed off to explain his absence from later cuts, when he was actually in prison) and then GZA and Method Man show that they at home with this approach too. At no point does any feature feel forced or unnecessary.
While earlier it was stated that this is really a two-man show, it would be criminal to claim that truly this is really built on the efforts of three individuals. While Rae and Ghostface may be the most vocal on the record, it's The RZA on the production for each and every track on the record. He conducts things away from the booth. He may tone down the Shaolin-Funk heard through "36 Chambers", but replaces this well with sharp Boom-Bap with an edge laced with suitable Soul to give it a classy gloss. The beats are the backbone to create the atmosphere for the record and make it what it is.
This is an album which never really strays off-topic. As it's a concept release with a story to it, you may expect that perhaps the singles would move away from the main ideas, but all of them are on-point. Even when "Ice Cream" deals with how to really treat a girl, the Mafioso undertones to the track mean that it just adds to the experience. It's a very complete album and Raekwon's able to cover all aspects of what comes with the lifestyle he portrays in the music. It's action-packed and only clams down where it's necessary to do so. All of those involved with the record have a great awareness of how this release needs to sound and together they ensure that it's produced in just that way. Raekwon and Ghostface are the primary MCs and as their lyrical dexterity is difficult to match, it's great to see how they command this record.
The album itself runs as a mobster flick. Listeners are taken from the opening titles on "Striving for Perfection", go through all the action midway through as they try to pull off their big final heist before ultimately getting the job done and have Papa Wu end things with the closing credits to "North Star". It's a flowing body of work and is a concept album like few others. He gives the listener a reason to want to own it and went on to influence a number of acts (many of whom were already established) to change their ways to take on the mobster style. Had Raekwon not recorded this, Jay-Z's début is guaranteed to have sounded completely different and Nas and Biggie probably wouldn't have taken on Nas Escobar and Black Frank White personas (respectively). It's a highly-influential release and although Kool G Rap had to have started this Mafioso Rap style up, this record certainly popularised it.
Overall, this is a killer album from Raekwon. It's completely flawless and it's hard to identify any areas where he could have tried harder. He shows how exactly he's able to bring the modern black New York streets to the days when the Italian mafias ruled with their drug trafficking and grant heists. It's of a high standard that few would have expected him to recreate (as he would with its sequel in 2009) as he puts on such an extravagant show. Rae may need the many guests to make this all work, but in no way does this take away from the experience that is "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..."
1. "Striving For Perfection" (Intro)
2. "Knuckleheadz" (feat. Ghostface Killah and U-God) **Five Stars**
3. "Knowledge God" **Five Stars**
4. "Criminology" (feat. Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
5. "Incarcerated Scarfaces" **Five Stars**
6. "Rainy Dayz" (feat. Blue Raspberry and Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
7. "Guillotine" (Swordz) (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah and GZA) **Five Stars**
8. "Can It All Be So Simple" (Remix) (feat. Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
9. "Shark N***az" (Biters) (Interlude)
10. "Ice Water" (feat. Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna) **Five Stars**
11. "Glaciers of Ice" (feat. Ghostface Killah, Blue Raspberry, 60 Second Assassin and Masta Killa) **Five Stars**
12. "Verbal Intercourse" (feat. Nas and Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
13. "Wisdom Body" (feat. Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
14. "Spot Rusherz" (feat. Ghostface Killah) **Five Stars**
15. "Ice Cream" (feat. Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna) **Five Stars**
16. "Wu-Gaminoes" **Five Stars**
17. "Heaven & Hell" (feat. Ghostface Killah and Blue Raspberry) **Five Stars**
18. "North Star" (Jewels) (Outro)
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Striving For Perfection
3 Knowledge God
5 Incarcerated Scarfaces
6 Rainy Dayz
7 Guillotine (Swordz)
8 Can It All Be So Simple
9 Shark Niggas (Biters)
10 Ice Water
11 Glaciers Of Ice
12 Verbal Intercourse
13 Wisdom Body
14 Spot Rusherz
15 Ice Cream
16 Wu Gambinos
17 Heaven And Hell
18 North Star (Jewels)