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Chef serves up some killer rhymes in new album

By Danielle Gewurz

Section: Arts

September 25, 2009

The hip-hop world received its “Chinese Democracy” this month, when Raekwon finally released the followup to his debut album, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Pt. II.” The return of a Wu-Tang member is not only appreciated, but the album itself is a triumph and a Wu-Tang Clan reunion, packed with guest spots.

The album, first announced in 2005, features executive production from RZA, as well as work from the now-deceased J Dilla and Dr. Dre, though none of the production is especially groundbreaking. It’s Dre who struggles the most to fit in, his tracks sounding far too clean and neat compared to the rest of the production.

But that’s irrelevant, because Raekwon and associates are in top form. Wu-Tang’s style has always been far more organized and composed than, say, Lil Wayne, and after “The Blueprint 3” turned out to be less than classic, here’s an album that lives up to its promise as a sequel to one of rap’s best and most beloved albums.

Much like the original “Only Built For Cuban Linx” Ghostface is the most frequent guest, although every remaining Wu-Tang member except U-God makes an appearance and there’s also work from, among others, Jadakiss and Styles P. Ghostface Killah remains in top form, playing off Raekwon as well as the two did on Raekwon’s debut. The difference here is that Raekwon walks away from a majority of these tracks the clear champion, having honed his verses to sharp points.

Raekwon’s talent is in evocative narratives, and while he hasn’t quite got coke rap down, his broader focus greatly benefits the album, which feels slightly bloated at 22 tracks but is worth the listen.

The album isn’t quite a concept album, but it’s a loose narrative about drug dealing, criminal enterprise, and street life that Raekwon navigates with ease and insouciance. Masta Killa sums up the numerous threads in “Kiss the Ring;” “Now he’s an old Mafia don, from back when/He managed to survive the game, ducking fame…Ya’ll rap cats had your last win, toast the kings.”

On “We Will Rob You,” Slick Rick shows up for the hook’s obvious Queen bite, appreciated though a bit of a waste of an MC who pioneered some of the narrative style that’s proved to be Wu-Tang Clan’s trademark.

Raekwon mourns the passing of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, sampling “Brooklyn Zoo” and humanizing a man who seemed larger than life and far too comic. There’s something deeply moving in Raekwon’s simple honesty about their friendship, a respect that extends far beyond any bluster or mafia narratives and feels intensely revealing of both men.

Clipse see their trademark coke rap style brought down to earth in “Pyrex Vision” where Raekwon destroys the conventional rap narrative of crack as easily, skillfully, and quickly made by explicitly detailing the process of producing it: “Trying to form a rock up and double it…All I see is white stuff, suds in it/It’s on, get the baking soda, dump it.” This attention to detail, the verse style, is what makes this a worthy follow-up, even if it’s not a classic.

“House of Flying Daggers” is a classic posse cut, opening the album with a menacing chorus equaled by the strings and stomp in “Cold Outside.” But the Ghostface/Raekwon interplay is at its peak in “Penitentiary,” one of many notable Ghostface lines on the album.

Ghostface’s best moment is truly “Gihad,” where he describes having sex with a friend’s girlfriend with “Pyrex in one hand, large amount of grams and it rocked up/And she pregnant, my little man got her knocked up.” Though it may not sound it, it’s in fact one of the most lighthearted moments on the album (and it still ends with someone pulling a gun out). But that’s Raekwon and Ghostface’s MO: finding the details, both sad and humorous, in what otherwise might be a far too familiar crime-mob rap.

It’s worthwhile to remember that “Only Built For Cuban Linx” almost singlehandedly brought about this mob/Mafioso, New York centric drug empire that Jay-Z, Nas, and others have continued to explore. Because it’s a narrative style so commonplace now, “Cuban Linx Pt 2” obviously lacks the same impact, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy sequel. It’s an album whose incessant delays are clearly a function of Raekwon the Chef’s willingness to keep returning to the kitchen to adjust the seasoning levels. Thankfully, the dish turned out quite well.

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