Only Built 4 Cuban Linx chronicled a hustler trying to make one last score to finance his exit from the game. Over the years, Raekwon has found, like many players that the game has a siren like call that lures you back in, and that the only real way out is death or cold turkey. As Rae along with his Wu affiliates have remained in the music over a decade beyond their brightest moment, that whole cold turkey thing is for the birds. Cuban Linx 2 finds Raekwon back on the block, back in the thick of it, and back down the white brick road, armed with the pistol and the Pyrex. Can he recreate that classic feel that was the purple tape, or is it true that you can’t go home again?
Firstly, this album continues the narrative feel of the original, and presents a very tight narrative of the aforementioned return to the hustle. The cast of characters is a bit more ensemble than the heavy lifting done by Ghostface Killah on the original edition, but with the length of this work, that actually works to Rae’s advantage.
OB4CL2 begins as its predecessor ended with the North Star narrative and blasts off with “House of the Flying Daggers,” a frenetic grouping which features perhaps the 4 most dynamic remaining Wu members. It’s suitable for getting the album in motion and building forward momentum.
One thing you immediately notice is that the production on this album is far more somber and soulful than the original; perhaps a reflection of the darker times faced both by the streets and the Hip-Hop scene in general. These are not good times to return to the block and the eerie production conveys that mood. The bass lines are lower and slower, and the drums are less rocky and flatter. Songs like “Pyrex” bring that slow steady burn and bring home the feel of these trying times.
The album production-wise almost plays like the score of a movie, creating its own world of moods and feel, driven by rapidly changing beats per minute and even pronounced production style as you can clearly hear the Dre-produced tracks like “Catalina”and the Wu-styled musical backdrops. The interludes serve as garnish that pulls you further into the cinema of the album.
Raekwon is very strong delivery-wise, perhaps bolstered by the myriad of guest appearances. He has a couple more solo tracks on this album such as “Surgical Gloves” and “Canal Street” where he takes it to the mud and experiments with flow with face frowning, ice grill inducing, head nodding results. The touching tribute to Wu-legend Ol’ Dirty Bastard “Ason Jones” is a personal Rae that we have rarely if ever been exposed to, and it works. “Fat Lady Sings” is also richly descriptive and entrancing as a short, but sweet tale.
It feels like Rae and Ghost never stopped rapping together. Their chemistry is once again amazingly natural and balanced. While Method Man and Inspectah Deck get more face time that they did the first time around, Ghostface Killah once again steals the show with frenetic delivery, colorful language, and lush visceral imagery in his rhymes. “This ain’t for the love of Ray-J, it’s for the love of the AK cause you can get scratched like AJ.” You are immediately pulled in by his charisma and he pretty much owns every track on which he appears. Cappadona has also returned from the bottom more coherent than we’ve heard him in a minute.
The group pressure to perform on such an ensemble album seems to have brought out the best of just about every guest on this album. Jadakiss (“Broken Safety”) and Busta (“About Me”) drop better heat on this than they have on their own albums, both released earlier this year. Beans drops by with a verse that has him sounding like the heir to Brad Jordan (“Have Mercy”) with his reality weighted crisp flow and the great Slick Rick assists on the hook for the Queen inspired “We Will Rob You.”
OB4CL2 is not flawless. While the interludes do add to the cinematic feel, they lengthen an already long album. A couple of songs are solid but a bit redundant, but when all you can say bad is that an album runs a bit long, you know you’re dealing with a superior quality piece of work. The closing salvo “Kiss the Ring” is entirely appropriate.
As a work, there isn’t a weak beat or lyrical performance on this album. A few of the samples and interludes draw you back to the feel of the original, but this is not an attempt to recreate a classic or retread previously stepped on work. It’s a continuation of an ongoing saga nuanced for its time. You get the sign of the times delivered by perhaps the finest storytellers of the moment. If you don’t get this album, you’re making a mistake. It’s not the purple tape, because there are time and place variables that contribute to a true classic, and this album recalls an era rather than defines one. But it is perhaps as good an album as can be made with its parts in this time. Salute. Long Live The Wu. The Pyrex still burns.Out of 5
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