Chef Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
August 1, 1995
Loud Records/ RCA Records/ BMG Music Group/ SME
1. Striving For Protection (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 2. Knuckleheadz (feat. Ghostface Killah & U-God) // 3. Knowledge God // 4. Criminology (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 5. Incarcerated Scarfaces // 6. Rainy Dayz (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 7. Guillotine (Swordz) (feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & GZA) // 8. Can It All Be So Simple [Remix] (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 9. Shark Niggas (Biters) (feat. Ghostface Kilah) // 10. Ice Water (feat. Ghostface Killah & Cappadonna) // 11. Glaciers of Ice (feat. Masta Killah, Ghostface Killah, Blue Raspberry & 60 Seconds Assasin) // 12. Verbal Intercourse (feat. NaS & Ghostface Killah) // 13. Wisdom Body (performed by Ghostface Killah) // 14. Spot Rusherz (feat. Ghostface Killah) // 15. Ice Cream (feat. Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna & Method Man) // 16. Wu Gambinos (feat. Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah & Ghostface Killah) // 17. Heaven & Hell (feat. Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry) // 18. North Star (Jewels) (feat. Popa Wu)
That album cover leads one to believe two things.
1.) Ghostface Killah wasn’t originally intended to be featured as often on what originally was, and eventually sort of still is, supposed to be a Raekwon solo-album.
2.) They only made the decision to change the billing to “Raekwon Guest Starring Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah)” last minute after taking a glance at the overall package and discovering that this in fact was not a Rae solo-album, by default, when it was too late already to change it to something more truthful like
Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon Rae & Ghost, because it wasn’t as easy to digitally process images in 1995 as it is today. And since they were at it anyway they added the word “Chef” for the hell of making things longer and wordier.
Now I realise that one could say the same thing about Dr. Dre’s “solo” debut the Chronic, and its copious employment of “guest rapper” Snoop Doggy Dogg, but Dre produced that album wall-to-wall making him at the very least the undeniable ringleader of that crowded party, which sort of justifies calling it a Dr. Dre solo album. RZA fulfills that role here, which means Rae is is definitely only a part of the OB4CL equation.
At least it would seem that they made an honest but half-assed attempt at rectifying that shit, so they do earn some honest but half-assed praise for that. Someone should really get on that…
On with the review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… sold less copies than either Tical or Return to the 36 Chambers did, which makes sense since it’s not as fit for fraternity parties as those two albums are, but it recieved more praise by critics, a tradition that we of this blog are happy to continue. This discrepancy between how consumers rated it and how critics rated it makes it somewhat similar to NaS’ Illmatic (although unlike Illmatic OB4CL did go gold the year it was released). Besides the critics liking this album Rae and Ghost’s fellow hip-hop recording artists took notice. Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt and NaS’ It Was Written, as well as the Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death all showing its influences. Gangsta rap before OB4CL was a bunch of gun-toting rebels without a cause, after this album dropped for a while it became all about cinematically depicting organised crime in rhymes. 40 oz. bottles of malt licquor were traded in for bottles of Christal, Moët and Dom Perignon. And Dickies pants and Jerseys were traded in for tailored suits. (This must‘ve pissed off Rae immensely since he riffs a bit about rappers jacking other rappers style on Shark Niggas (Biters), a mid-album skit, which is kind of ironic since that whole mafia-rap thing was originally Kool G Rap’s idea.) This mobster movie thing is another explanation of why Ghost is credited as a guest star, although by that logic RZA should be somewhere on that same cover as the “director”.
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of its derivatives is the fact that it actually has a story line that runs across all of the songs. As RZA put it in a XXL Magazine interview on the making of this album: “The theme of the album is two guys that had enough of the negative life and was ready to move on, but had one more sting to pull off. They’re tired of doing what they doing, but they’re trying to make this last quarter million. That’s a lot of money in the streets. We gonna retire and see our grandbabies and get our lives together.”
One thing that sets apart this album from a lot of other hip-hop concept albums is that everyone involved appears to take it seriously enough to put in some effort and that it doesn’t suck balls because of it or seem far-fetched.
As good as Tical and Return to the 36 Chambers were, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was the first Wu-solo album to actually live up to the original 36 Chambers‘ hype. It may very well be the only Wu-solo album, and one of the few hip-hop albums in existence to actually be equally good, even if it is essentially a completely different creature.
Rae and Ghost’s emotion-filled first person narratives of lucrative narcotics trade and Afro-American drug kingpins living large of these dope deals, rising and falling, do have a cinematic quality to them that could be compared to the similarly themed Godfather Trilogy. RZA’s instrumentals can be compared musically with a mob movie score and definitely serve the same purpose of setting the mood for these stories being told, whether reflective, anxious, raucous, menacing or otherwise. If Return to the 36 Chambers didn’t convince one that RZA was well capable of adjusting his signature sound to his collaborators (I’m guilty as charged) this album doesn’t leave a shadow of a doubt. It’s not as dusty or as 36 Chambers or Tical, it’s not as batshit insane or chaotic as Return or 36 Chambers (although I still choose to believe that the craziness was mostly contained in Ol’ Dirty) and the sounds are a bit richer, with string sections and more melody than we were accustomed to hearing from him, while maintaining RZA’s typical less is more-attitude to music making.
Another thing that helps cement Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… classic status is the chemistry between Rae and his co-star Ghostface Killah. They both have a similar dense rhyme style, but Rae has a low to mid range voice and a cool mastermind delivery while Ghost has the higher voice and the exuberance. The two mesh well enough to sound like natural partners in crime rhyming together, yet they sound distinct enough to each be instantly indentifyable. In other words: They’re a perfect combination, not unimportant considering that OB4CL is a de facto 75 minute duet between the two.
It is rather difficult to choose any highlights when everything is this good and flows this seamlessly (As is usual with the Wu a lot of the songs here are tied together with dialogue from kung-fu movies like Shaolin Vs Lama, crime movies such as Scarface, The Mack, Carlito’s Way, and John Woo’s The Killer, which is both.)
Knuckleheadz, Knowledge God, Criminology are classic crime tales, Rainy Dayz and Heaven and Hell offers a glimpse into the minds of young poor people in the big city, the difficulties of making it in life and what makes them resort to crime. (Unlike a lot of the albums that follow it in its creative direction this one can never be said to glorify crime or ghetto life.)
Verbal Intercourse has Nasir Jones, still hot of Illmatic, recieving the honourable distinction of being the first non-Wu rapper to appear on a Wu-project and not wasting the opportunity.
Ice Cream is the one song that isn’t reall about the cocain bricks and the money stacks and is an ode Rae, Ghost, Meth and Cappadonna’s type of ladies, comparing different races to ice cream flavours, and does so without compromising the Wu-sound.
Wu Gambinos is the song that lead every rapper and his weedcarriers to create an alternative rap name for their alter ego (Nas – Escobar, 2pac – Makaveli, Eminem – Slim Shady, Notorious B.I.G. – Frank White etc.) with Method Man, RZA, Masta Killah and Ghostface Killah each taking a mob-related alias for themselves.
These songs are all notable, but they’re not much better than the rest of what’s contained in this album, which is quite impressive for an album over seventy minutes long.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is one of the genre’s undeniable high points, it has vision, it has Rae and Ghost rhyming their asses off, it has RZA producing some of the best, if not the best, beats of his career. It’s a landmark album for Rae, Ghost, RZA, the Wu, the East-Coast, the Hip-hop community and, dare I say it, music in general. It stands out as essential amongs the required listening even.
Heaven and Hell
What do you think!?