Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II (Album Review)

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Before Jay-Z vividly painted Mafioso murals on Reasonable Doubt, before The Notorious B.I.G. rose to prominence as a kingpin on Life After Death, the Chef from Staten Island cooked up some his hardest white…. the gritty cinematic masterpiece, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Similar to Nas, few hip hop heads will say that Raekwon has ever topped the impossible standards crafted with his immaculate debut. When it comes to sequels, it has been documented that it is next to impossible to top the experience created by the original so it only goes that a sequel can only be slightly worse or significantly worse than its predecessor. The only question is can Raekwon catch lightning in a bottle for a second time or is he doomed to overcook his famed white substance?

Picking up where the original left off, the sequel sees a return to the North Star as Papa Wu drops some of his age-old wisdom before being devoured by a soulful beat and the return of the Chef as he plots his return to the Cuban Linx formula. Familiar Kung Fu samples signal the return of the Wu-Gambinos as Rae, Ghost, Deck and Meth arrive perfectly on cue to decapitate “House of Flying Daggers”, a gem crafted by the late beatmaker J Dilla. The architects of the original Purple Tape, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon shine brightest throughout Cuban Linx II, contributing some of their detailed and grimy narratives to Raekwon’s latest release.

Unlike the original album, which was produced entirely by in-house producer RZA, Raekwon enlists a bevy of producers including Erick Sermon, Marley Marl, The Alchemist and even the perfectionist, Dr. Dre, who all offer masterful soundscapes while still remaining true to Raekwon’s vision and the Cuban Linx sound. Raekwon maintains his namesake as “The Chef” throughout the album, never directly leaves the topic of cooking up that white unless it’s to bear his soul on the “Ason Jones”, a touching tribute and memorial to the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard, arguably the crown gem of CL2.

On the few occasions in which Raekwon calls for help outside of the Wu conglomerate, they rarely fail. Jadakiss and Styles P grace “Broken Safety” appropriately, not quite reaching Rae’s level though standing as able compliments. Beanie Sigel stands toe-to-toe with the Chef on the Icewater composition, “Have Mercy” delivering a verse that only strengthens the argument that he’s a possible legend in the making. The album concludes similar to the original: with the fantastic “Mean Streets” and the inspiring Scram Jones-produced “Kiss The Ring”. From bagging up the cocaine to the introspection of a seasoned individual, the overall greatness of the original Purple Tape is apparent throughout the sequel.

While Cuban Linx II is definitely a spectacular follow-up to the original, the expanded tracklisting of the 2nd installment alone makes for unnecessary filler, however good it may be. The vast assortment of guests ultimately weighs down CL2 (the Wu members do not count as guest seeing as how the Wu act as a unit) and none of the appearances are those that would account for a musical orgasm (example: Nas’ appearance on “Verbal Intercourse”). At the end of the day, while not touching Rae’s cinematic masterpiece from 1995, he comes dangerously close. From the graphic interrogation scene on “Sonny’s Missing” to recounting the intimate details of cooking the finest cocaine on “Pyrex Visions” (in under a minute, no less), Raekwon lives up to his moniker as “The Chef” and though the album saw numerous delays, he proves that which a chef already knows: rushing greatness can only spoil the finest product.

4.5 (out of 5 spins)

*NOTE: For the full, unabridged album review, click here.

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