'Chef in the kitchen cookin' up with the crimeys...'
It's 100 percent unfair to compare Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2 to its stone-cold classic predecessor. It just is. No matter how loud you go "OHHHHHH!" when you hear the familiar, ill loop on "Pyrex Vision" (an old Premier beat copped from one of my all-time favorite LPs, OC's Jewelz), it's not going to be the same as that first time you heard "Verbal Intercourse." Believe me, I want it to. I'm boom-bap to the bone, but the Golden Age has passed.
That said, Pt. 2 is every bit as great as I hoped it would or could be. It's easily the second-best album of Raekwon's career, and hearkens back to the original as much as it can without being deliberately backward-looking.
As someone who judges most rap songs based primarily on their production, I don't know if Rae dropped any of his best verses on the albums between the two Cuban Linx, because I truthfully have never listened to any of them in their entirety. All I know is that he dropped some sick guest verses over the past year (on Doom's joint in particular, over another old-school sample), threw down some equally excellent rhymes on two mixtapes, Blood on Chef's Apron and Cuban Revolution, and topped all three with Pt. 2. From the eerie organ on "Black Mozart" to the wavery, paranoid bassline of "Have Mercy," the record captures what I suppose I'd metaphorically call that "Usual Suspects" vibe that provided the backdrop for such intricate crime storytelling the first time around.
Rae shows that same attention to detail on tracks like "Catalina," the plucky "10 Bricks" and the hollow "laaaa's" of "Gihad." He even gets a little emotional over the perfect Dilla track in the ODB tribute "Ason Jones."
And it wouldn't be a proper Cuban Linx sequel if it wasn't guest-starring (billed right on the cover) Ghostface on at least a third of the tracks. He doesn't disappoint, blasting away on the the Clan-cut opener, "House of Flying Daggers" and the greatest Wu track in a decade, "New Wu," which will have you pulling out Enter the 36 Chambers all over again.
Some of the production exhibits a little of the clunkiness that caused older Wu records like The W and Iron Flag to drag on occasion, but it's so refreshing to hear Rae back in the saddle that it doesn't really matter. In fact, I'm gonna go ahead and dub this period of mid-'00s resurgence, from Masta Killa's No Said Date up through now, the Wu-Tang Renaissance. In that roughly five-year span, you have No Said Date, Made In Brooklyn, Fishscale (and More Fish and Another One I Can't Think Of), Chamber Music, Pro Tools, Dopium (debatable, I grant you, but still... a decent U-God solo record? That's almost a miracle), Cuban Linx II and even solid joints from former weed-carriers I had written off, like Bronze Nazareth and particularly Hell Razah (Killah Priest, I've just given up on... either he's just too deep for me, or he's the most boring intelligent rapper I've ever fucking heard. I'm also writing off Rza's Digi Snax, for reasons which should be obvious to anyone unfortunate enough to have heard it. Rza should tell Bobby Digital that he needs to stick to writing the script for the second season of "Afro Samurai").
So... welcome back, Chef. You cooked up another tasty batch.