20 Years Later: Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx’ Is Still a Wu-Tang Masterpiece
Raekwon's 1995 seminal debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, is a cinematic masterpiece in the same film-related comparison to The Godfather, Scarface and the classic blaxploitation flick Super Fly.
Centered in the mean streets of New York, OB4CL mirrors the premise of Super Fly but there are also shades of the 1991 movie New Jack City. Set in New York as well, the Wesley Snipes-starring flick features a murderous drug gang called the Cash Money Brothers, who had a get-down or lay-down way of doing things. Gunfire and kidnappings were just another day in the life and they ruled the streets of Harlem with an iron fist.
The first two songs on OB4CL enforce those comparisons and set the tone for the musical journey ahead. "Striving for Perfection" introduces us to Raekwon and Ghostface Killah (who serves as the guest star of the album), the main characters in this crime story, and lets their mission statement be known, which is to acquire wealth and to spread prosperity -- by any means necessary.
The beginning of "Knuckleheads" is one of the memorable moments outside of the rapping that helps bring authenticity to the album. Mentions of gunplay are also prevalent from the outset and brings to mind New Jack City's infamous scene of G-Money and crew riding through the Harlem streets and hitting rival crews with the "rock-a-bye, baby" treatment (no infants included).
"Knowledge God" features soundbytes of Raekwon sniffing coke and channeling Priest, whom also partakes in the pasttime. "Fake n----s throw s--- in the drinks / Club nights we snatch links, politic, Africans and chinks," he raps. The song is the sonic equivalent of a rat-infested staircase inside of a crack house. Raekwon continues to go for dolo on "Incarcerated Scarfaces," which is a flawless moment on the album. The song is full of quoteworthy one-liners and features one of the most vivid hooks in rap history.
It only gets better with "Rainy Dayz." Apparently, Ghostface Killah's drug spot is the target of a robbery and has dialed in Raekwon and the rest of his cronies to help offset the losses. Featuring an unforgettable performance from Blue Raspberry on the vocals, the song is solemn and gives the feel of what an actual rainy night while playing the block is like. "Guillotine" features a excellent guest spots by Inspectah Deck and GZA, both of whom pepper the track with their witty couplets of RZA's kung-fu flick inspired production.
"Can It All Be So Simple (Remix)," a reprise of the original version that was included on Wu-Tang Clan's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) album, finds Ghostface getting shot while attempting to mark his territory and catches flashbacks of OT trips gone wrong. Rae and Ghost then take shots at those they deem as swagger jackers on "Shark N----s (Biters)." Most notably they fire at Notorious B.I.G., whom some some believe bit off of Nas' Illmatic album artwork for his Ready to Die cover and helped spark off a rivalry between the Bad Boy Records and Wu Tang factions.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx hits a crescendo with the haunting number, "Ice Water," which the dynamic duo hits on all cylinders. Ghostface puts the onus on himself and comes out with the ill opening bars, "Check out the rap kingpin, the black Jesus I know a few n----s that did coke and caught seizures / Peace to half-moon and all the women on the bleachers / Hot summer, Sex on the Beaches." Cappadonna, the proverbial sixth-man of the Wu, pops up on the second verse and turns in a verse that may have earned him the additional air time he got on Ghostface Killah's 1996 solo album, Ironman, before handing the mic to Raekwon, who takes the track to the rafter with an action-packed showing of his own.
"Glaciers of Ice" is organized noise at its finest, while "Verbal Intercourse" falls in line with Ghost and Rae's collaboration to Mobb Deep's The Infamous album ("Eye For An Eye" and "Back At You") and sees the trio putting in work over The Emotions' "If You Think It (You May As Well Do It)."
OB4CL may be geared more towards the fellas, but the females get attention as well via "Wisdom Body" and the most popular song from the album, "Ice Cream." The former is essentially a Ghostface solo song placed on the OB4CL tracklist and sees him waxing poetic over a new shorty he's come across with the potential to be his "earth."
"Ice Cream," on the other hand, is simply a perfect and timeless rap song. Method Man praises all of the "Caramel, butter pecan, and chocolate deluxe" chicks from around the way and there memorable verses from Ghostface, Raekwon and Cappadonna that will forever be etched in the memory of any rap aficionado worth their salt. Raekwon "splits the pie five ways" on the raucous posse cut "Wu Gambinos," a lyrical battle royal full of hard-hitting rhymes and miscellaneous flows over a grungy soundscape concocted by RZA.
We're also pretty sure that when Ghostface and Raekwon recorded "Heaven and Hell," they had no idea that R&B artists like Ashanti would tap into their sound nearly a decade after the fact because the track is more concrete than plush. One of the few reflective cuts that touch on the ramifications of their actions, the song serves as a proper closeout effort to the album.
If you were lucky enough to buy a version of OB4CL with "North Star (Jewels)" on it, you were hit with a pleasant surprise in the form of commentary from the mysterious Papa Wu and heartfelt rhymes from Raekwon sending a message to a former crony on the other side of the pearly gates and serves as one of the more poignant selections on the LP.
OB4CL is an album that embodies the life of a hustler from an East Coast perspective. While albums like Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt were more detailed and nuanced, OB4CL plays as a tour de force of drug-dealing exploits and sheds light on the turmoil and nihilism associated with the occupation.
Regarded as an instant classic to many hip-hop enthusiasts, it has more than lived up to that billing and stands as one of the definitive albums in hip-hop history. From the fashion cues like the infamous Snow Beach Polo hoodie Raekwon helped make a coveted clothing item to the purple-tinged cassettes that were released during the album's roll-out, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is a game changer and an essential listen for anyone who considers themselves a fan of hip-hop.
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