How Classic Is Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx? | Album Review
How Classic: 5 out of 6
released: august 1, 1995
The album's title refers to the Cuban link chain, which is one of the hardest to break. It was originally going to be titled Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz. Which meant real niggas, strong niggas. Eventually, they decided to go with the more commercial-friendly Only Built 4 Cuban Linx when it was released on August 1, 1995.
On the cassette version, the tape was purple, which spawned the nickname "The Purple Tape". The reason for this was to distinguish the album from other albums, the same way drug-dealers tag their products to separate their product from other dealers. Raekwon wanted to stand out, and he did. His album spearheaded a wave of mafioso rap from major artists like Nas (It Was Written), Jay-Z (Reasonable Doubt), and The Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death).
Originally Raekwon and Ghostface wanted to record in Barbados but once they arrived there the racism was so strong that they decided to return to the United States. Instead, they did the album in RZA's basement studio in Staten Island.
The Best Tracks
OB4CL begins with the cinematic intro skit "Striving For Perfection" which sets the mood and theme for the album. It's the tale of two street guys who sick of "the life" but they need to do one more job before they move on to better things such as establishing a family etc. The first track is "Knuckleheadz" and it has a dope bass sound and a melodic and catchy piano loop which is not somber like many of the other tracks. In fact, it's kind of cheery, and it's a great way to start the album because it's energetic. The fifth track, "Incarcerated Scarfaces", is drum driven and only has a simple sample behind the hard beat. Not an overly exciting track, but it has a neat flow to it.
Next, we have "Rainy Dayz" which is one of RZA's personal favorites on the album. It's understandable why because it has a very dynamic mix of musical elements. It starts off acapella with Blue Raspberry singing by herself, then in come some emotional strings and we get a short movie dialogue. It's all very cinematic. When the beat comes in, it's a string-driven track and lyrically (and musically) it's the logical continuation of the intro. If this was the second track (following the intro) it would've been an amazing cinematic moment in music. This song could be the basis of a classic movie like The Godfather.
This album is shaping up to be really strong despite a few early mediocre tracks and the following track "Guillotine (Swordz)" is a great Wu-Tang posse cut with guests Ghostface (of course), Inspectah Deck, and GZA blazing the mic. The beat is a very, for a lack of words, Wu-Tang sounding track. It's has a hard beat, a simple yet unique bass line (very high notes), and a suspenseful string part for good measure. After another few solid tracks and a skit, we get to the uptempo "Glaciers of Ice". which features Masta Killa and Ghostface. This song got the music video treatment and one can see why, because it has an energetic beat and all the MCs deliver envigorated verses.
"Verbal Intercourse" sees a visit from Raekwon's friend Nas, who he used to hang out with in Queensbridge (and Nas would come to Staten Island) and smoke blunts with all night. Nas delivers a really good verse over the super laid back RZA beat which alone might conjure up images of grazing cows in the Swiss countryside. An unusual but very good track. Following that track, we get a few mediocre numbers before we the big hit on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Namely "Ice Cream" which reached number 35 on the Billboard Hot 100. It features Method Man who delivers the recognizable chorus and Cappadonna who was a newcomer on this album.
The album is ending really strong at this moment as we get yet another posse cut, this time with Method Man, RZA, Masta Killa & Ghostface Killah on hard-hitting "Wu-Gambinos - Hidden Chamber Remix". Especially Method Man comes out gun blazing on this one and his verse is fire with plenty of pop culture references. The rest of guys do their job as well, but RZA stands out with his rapid and super technical flow and lyricism full of concepts.
The last track on OB4CL, "Heaven & Hell", is mellow and has a really nice vibe to it, which is totally hip-hop, yet has R&B vocals. It's also really melodic for a rap song, and it has keyboard, organ, and a nice organic bassline. Not surprisingly this was the lead single for Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. You really get a New York summer vibe when listening to this song and especially Blue Raspberry's vocals give off good vibes despite the serious subject matter.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is one of the best hip hop albums of the 90s and arguably the best of any Wu-Tang solo album. It just has an abundance of great material despite being pretty lengthy with 16 tracks (18 with skits) but it barely loses a beat. As RZA promised, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx changed the game although it brought with it "the demons" associated with the criminal life according to RZA's own words.
The outro track "North Star (Jewels)" is the logical outro for the album with the theme of moving on from a crazy life during one's early life. Also speaking on the song we have Popa Wu who's an expert on the philosophy of the Five Percent Nation and he drops knowledge here and gives Raekwon coming of age advice.
Overall Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is an amazing album with a purposefully cinematic feel.