Review: Raekwon - Only Built for Cuban Linx II

While not exactly a concept album, Raekwon's 1995 solo debut Only Built for Cuban Linx, is considered by many to be one of the greatest gangsta films to ever be put on wax. Even back then, tales of sex, drugs, murder, and betrayal were nothing new to hip-hop; yet no one had been able to illustrate them with quite the cinematic quality that Raekwon was on Cuban Linx (think Scarface: The Musical). It was the album that essentially launched the sub-genre known as Coke-rap, which enjoyed a surge of popularity back in 2006 with Clipse's Hell Hath No Fury, and more recently with Rick Ross' Deeper Than Rap.

Gangster films rarely ever get sequels, though, since the main players usually end up dead or in jail by the end of the film. When they do get made, they often rarely deserve to share shelf-space with their predecessors. After 14 years, the Wu-Tang resident chef returns with his attempt at a true sequel to his own classic, appropriately titled Only Built for Cuban Linx II. But Linx II doesn't so much continue a story more than it continues the themes (deals-gone-bad, treacherous partnerships gone sour, and familial bonds kept strong) that were laced throughout the original. The result is an epic combination of lethal beats, vivid lyrics, and cut-ya-head-off swagger that has been missing from so many of the more recent Wu-tang releases.

The album's lead single, "New Wu" (alternatively titled Wu Ohh), was something that die-hard Wu fans thought they may never hear again after last year's dreadful 8 Diagrams: stunningly soulful production from the RZA himself with guest verses from Ghost and Meth. RZA (who single-handedly produced the first Cuban Linx) is all over Linx II, even when he isn't; J Dilla does his best impression of the Wu Abbot's style on “House of Flying Daggers” (which also features Ghost and Meth along with Inspectah Deck), and returns to handle production on the ODB tribute, “Ason Jones.” Along with the departed Dilla, Raekwon gathered beats from the best producers around; Alchemist, Pete Rock, and even Dr. Dre contribute enough heat to this product to make it harden.

The beats aren't the only reason to tune in, however. Wu-Tang members GZA, Cappadonna, and the ever-reclusive Masta Killa make appearances sprinkled throughout the album. Jadakiss, who seems to be sort of a journeyman of guest appearances these days, shows up along with Styles P on “Broken Safety.” Beanie Sigel drops by on “Have Mercy” to acknowledge and contemplate his own sense of aging. "Gihad" pretty much belongs to Ghostface Killah, who spins a dramatic tale of an altercation with his son in a verse which will remind heads why he belongs in their list of top rappers working today.

If it sounds like Cuban Linx II has the ingredients of a classic album, it's because it does. This is an album that's greater than the sum of its parts; Cuban Linx II should have been a total disappointment, yet it actually exceeds the standards created by its own hype. This isn't some hollow flash-in-the-pan collection of tracks to keep heads bopping only until the next big thing comes along; this is music that lasts. Hip-hop fans will be decoding the wu-slanguistics on this album for years, which hasn't been done with a Wu-tang release since the Forever days. After the recent wave of pretenders to the coke-rap throne, the originator has made a refreshing return to the game to show how it's done.

Grade: A

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