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A First Listen: Raekwon – Only Built For Cuban Linx 2

by Travis on September 2, 2009

Every so often, an album comes a long that will have the ‘net buzzin. Like wildfire, opinions and the such spread from site to site. One thing I think is wrong with today’s technology is people form opinions waaaay to fast. After one listen they tend to say an album sucks or the claim it as “Album Of The Year”. I’m guilty of myself, but lately I try to really give it a lot of listens before I form an opinion. It’s one reason I’m so damn slow doing reviews. Which means this whole “First Listen” thing that I’ve done in the past (Jay-Z’s American Gangster and Wu-Tang’s 8th Diagram) is kind of hypocritical in nature, but I’ll join the flock and follow like sheep as I take a listen to the new buzz joint to drop, Raekwon’s Only Built For 4 Cuban Linx 2. Some of you may remember the way I do this, but since it’s been almost two years since I done a review like this, I’ll recap it. I take the download unheard and write while I listen to it. No preformed opinions (not really at least), no millions of listens, just a virgin run through and my first impression. Easy enough? Well, you would think.

In two days this week, we’ve had two of the most anticipated releases find themselves being plastered across the internet. Not being one to sit on twitter or whatever the hot forum is for the newest leaks, I rely on others to tip me off of their release with a link or what not in my email (Thanks to Has and Khal for hooking a homie up). Jay dropped yesterday and in actuality I was planning on doing “A First Listen” for the Blueprint 3 album, but curiosity got the best of me today at work and I listened to it. My feelings on it? Slightly disappointed to be short. Great start, weak middle and a decent ending. Only one listen though and I’m sure I’ll give it a few more spins before casting my final opinion upon it. That left me with the Raekwon release, which honestly I wasn’t expecting to leak so soon, but it’s here. I’m at my desk, with headphones and a cold Sam Adams Cream Stout, ready to check out Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2.

What do I expect out of this album. To be honest, I’ve tried not to get my expectations up to high for this release. It’s been rumored for oh so long and let’s face it, Rae’s track record since the original OB4CL isn’t really all that great. A lot of hype has been surrounding the album and after the Jay release, I can’t really think of anything that can rival the anticipation this year (and it’s not even the fourth quarter). I’ve only heard two songs from it, “House of Flying Daggers” and “10 Bricks”, which both songs living up to the hype. But two songs don’t make an album, and too many times I been burnt like a man with a hooker addiction. I’m going in with a clean man, low expectations and a good beer to boot. Fire up the headphones and lets get going…..

1. “Return of the North Star” (featuring Papa Wu) Produced by BT

A slow sample kicks off after a few seconds of talking about being “bad”. The dude is giving it up to Raekwon and is talking about the past, “devils” and other assorted nuisances. I’m taking it that this is your prototypical intro. Nice horns, but ho hum otherwise. Nothing gained, nothing lost.

2. “House of Flying Daggers” (featuring Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, Method Man) Prod by J Dilla

Although I’ve already heard the song and seen the video, I haven’t heard it enough to derive a solid opinion on it. The first impression is that it’s dope as fuck. The kung fu samples kick it off, then the beat begins to bang. It’s almost hard to believe that Dilla did this beat, it would give RZA a run for his Wu sound back in the day. Deck, probably my favorite of the non major Wu members, kicks it off and delivers a nice verse. Rae follows and sounds like the Rae of old as he takes the beat like a man takes the least of a pitbull. The chorus is nothing new, but I can see it growing on me. The more I go with this, the doper it gets. Wow. Ghost does nothing to take away from the frenzy that is growing in my gut. Next Method gives me the goosebumps on why he is better than Joe Buddens could ever wish he was. Not a damn thing wrong with this song and could very easily be one of the top 10 songs of the year when it’s all said and done.

3. “Sonny’s Missing” Produced by Pete Rock

I’m not an expert on the Kung-Fu samples by this same sample can be found on the original OB4CL, I believed right before “Incarcerated Scarfaces”. A Pete Rock beat follows it up with a dark and swirly beat, with keys and a wicked bassline as it rumbles in my Bose headphones. Rae starts to tell a story, apparently of Sonny, who is missing. The beat matches to story perfectly and Rae does an admirable job of spitting a story that is both captivating and dope.

4. “Pyrex Visions” Produced by Marley Marl

Marley next? Are you kidding? I didn’t read the producer lineup before hand, again as part of my plan of not getting my hopes up to high. It was probably a good thing, because how can you not have expectations with Dilla, Pete and Marley basically producing your first three songs on your “come back” album. The beat almost reminds me of a Primo beat. An ill guitar lick is what catches my ear at first, adds to the atmosphere of the song. Rae is spitting kind of lazily but quickly at the same time, then before I know it, it’s over….whaaaaa????

5. “Cold Outside” (featuring Ghostface Killah, Suga Bang) Produced by ATL

More Kung-Fu samples, which I thought added to the overall feel of the original OB4CL and so far is doing the same with it’s predecessor. A soul singer or a sample kicks into the horns of unknown producer ATL. Starting off kinda slow, but it adds to whole mood. Then the heavy bassline kicks in, leaving the memories of “Rainy Dayz” dancing in my head. Rae starts spitting and I can’t help to notice that he hasn’t lost a step. Ghost adds his own flavor to it and the dynamic duo of Rae and Ghost is in full effect. This is a song that will probably need to grown on me a bit as I found myself getting kind of bored with it before it was over, but it’s still not a bad song by any means.

6. “Black Mozart” (featuring Inspectah Deck) Produced by RZA

Next comes the first of two(?) RZA beats. Not knowing what to expect with this, I brace myself for the worse as the movie sample plays out for the intro. Nothing great, an electric guitar stabs as kind of a 8th Diagram beat kicks in. Not sure how I feel about this one. It just doesn’t seem up to par with the other stuff I’ve heard on the album so far. The chorus is kind of cold, which is a good thing. But then it seems to be growing on me about the time Deck steps in. Kind of a twisted kaleidoscope type of feel to it, not sure if Deck just sounded better over it, but its got better the more it played out. The chrous is one that I can see sticking in my head for next few months if nothing else.

7. “Gihad” (featuring Ghostface Killah) produced by Necro

I’ve never been a big Necro fan in any capacity, so I brace myself for the worse with this one well. It starts off surprisingly good. Some kind of weird vocal sample that adds a lot to it and all over a dope bassline, which sounds real good in the headphones. Nothing wrong with the beat. Rae does his thing and then tags off to Ghost, who adds to the track and sounds better over this type of thing than Rae does. I listen to Ghost spit his verse and remember he is probably one of the better lyricists in the game.

8. “New Wu” (featuring Ghostface Killah, Method Man) Produced by RZA

Missed this track when I mentioned what tracks I had heard already. I’ve played this track a shit load this spring. The beat sticks in your head and all three MCs kill the mic. Flying Daggers might have beaten out for my favorite track so far, but this is a close second and will be on the year end list.

9. “Penitentiary” (featuring Ghostface Killah) Produced By BT

A jail tale, it’s kind of a hard to get into after “New Wu” as the mood is a complete 180 from what we were listening to. Once you get used to it though, it’s dope. Not sure it brings anything major to the table, but it doesn’t take away anything neither.

10. “Bagging Crack”

No production credit on the source I’m using, but I would almost say a Dre beat? Rae does his best work over the quicker beats such as this as he flows to them so effortlessly. The beat is merely a canvas for Rae to paint his words over. Okay, cliche on my part, but it’s Rae doing his thing on this beat that really makes this track work. The beat is cool, but because Rae makes it that way.

11. “Surgical Gloves” Produced by The Alchemist

After two shorter joints that make me question the how they fit into the album, it’s time for an Alchemist joint. One thing I can say so far, there are a lot of different sounds found on the album so far and I’m not sure how it’s all going to play out as far as cohesiveness goes, as long as Rae keeps that Kung-Fu/Wu-Tang vibe going with it, it should be okay, but only RZA (and his beats were completely different from each other) and BT show up more than once so far. Al brings a type of funk to the table then brings that stuttering beat crap that kinda of annoyed me on his own album. The beat is too busy to really hear what Rae has to say. I think if Al would just let the guitar lick play out, it would sound a lot bette
r. This song doesn’t do much for me.

12. “Broken Safety” (featuring Jadakiss, Styles P) Produced by Scram Jones

Scram Jones does a nice RZA (old school) impression with this beat. Jadakiss leads it off and does good over this type of beat. The bass is loud and thumping, and rattles my inner ear drum a bit. Rae throws his two cents over the beat and both benefit from it. I’ve never been a Styles P fan, and this performance won’t do anything to change that, but it’s not bad neither. Solid track in the end, more than filler, but probably won’t be a stand out track in the end.

13. “Canal Street” Produced by Icewater

Menacing horns blare in the background as Rae talks his shit over some city scapes in the background, but then the horns start to grow. It’s a good minute before the track really gets going. Unfortunately, the last few tracks although sounding good kinda start bleeding together to me. I’m diggin’ it and they will probably separate themselves with more listens, but right now it’s kind of a turn off. I’m digging the horns here, we haven’t really heard strong horns until now. But he follows the path of the last several tracks, short and to the point over similar sounding basslines and the such.

14. “Ason Jones” Produced by J Dilla

This is looking like the switch up I was looking for. Strings, some soulful vocal samples which leaves Rae sounding a little more nimble yet somber (is that possible?). The Ol Dirty tribute track and it’s quite fitting for Ol Dirty. The more I listen, the more I’m enjoying the tribute track. With the beat and the way Rae is delivering his tribute, it’s a great track. RIP ODB!

15. “Have Mercy” (featuring Beanie Sigel) Produced by Icewater

With Beanie as one of my love/hate artists, it should be interesting to see what becomes of this track. A familiar sample (Ant sampled it on a recent Atmosphere track) comes in after some singing. Beanie sounds like he swallowed some gravel and it works great over the sample and the tweaked bassline. Definitely feeling this track. The same subject matter again, but it’s tracks like this that make it worthwhile listening to it over again and the reason why I listened to it in the first place. The haunting singing by Blue Raspberry is a perfect fit. One of my favorite tracks so far.

16. “10 Bricks” (featuring Cappadonna, Ghostface) Prod by J. Dilla

This was another track I had already heard and loved. Nothing changes here, as all involved completely and totally rip shit down without notice. Dilla was the king of turning something you might find annoying and making it sound completely dope. And the beauty of it all is this is different from the rest of the album sonically, but it still fits well onto the album. It’s one of the better tracks on the album so far, which is saying a lot at this point in time.

17. “Fat Lady Sings” Production by Icewater

Another Icewater joint and relatively short. It takes sometime to get going, but once he does it sounds relatively dope. But in the end, I don’t see as anything more than an interlude.

18. “Catalina” (featuring Lyfe Jennings) Production by Dr. Dre

Finally, one of those much publicized Dr. Dre beats. Will it live up to the hype. Right off the bat, I like the beat, but I question how it fits in with the rest of the album. I like breaking up the monotony, but you can’t go to far over the mood you are trying to portray to the listener. Sparse piano keys scatter over clashing cymbals and horns at a timed rhythm. It’s cool. Like I said, it comes off more as a party jam that the dark drug tale beats found on most of the album. I can do without the singing on the hook, kind of ruins it for me. I’m on the fence with this song, but that chorus is almost god horrible. I don’t think this song belongs on the album.

19. “We Will Rob You” (featuring Slick Rick, GZA, Masta Killa) Production by Allah Justice

Slick Rick is the man in my book, so I’m interested to see how this turns out. The beat is one of those that isn’t supposed to be ear grabbing, just a solid foundation for the emcees to laid down their bars. It’s good to hear GZA and he sounds ill over this beat, this is after Rae spits bars about the drug game, but it’s kind of in the vein of Rick’s fun stories of years past. Rick supplies the hook, which is an interpolation of “We Will Rock You” from Queen. Masta Killa is kind of a snoozer, but doesn’t drag the song down too much. The only thing disappointing about this song is that Ricky D doesn’t play a bigger part in it.

20. “About Me” Production by Dr. Dre

Another Dre beat and I’m still not sure his production fits this album. It’s a step above the last beat, but I think I would rather hear Dre himself rhyming over this. Rae does his damn thing on it though, over the bouncy piano keys and slick production. Busta adds some of his famous adlibs while Rae kicks the chorus. I actually really like this song. Then Busta actually spits a verse. So much for trusting the track listing. Busta sounds damn good over this type of beat as well. He is subdued, which is works on this. Really like the track, but I still question how it fits into the overall production of the album.

21. “Mean Streets” (featuring Inspectah Deck & Ghostface) Production by Allah Mathematics

A strong soul sample kicks of this track after some posturing before hand. I get an apocalyptic feel from this track, although it sounds like another song/beat out there from somewhere else. It’s busy as Rae uses the same flow that he has used most of the album, but it works and it works well on tracks like this. Deck makes me wonder why his albums aren’t better than they are as he drops another memorable performance. This track is a nice one to start wrapping up the album.

22. “Kiss the Ring”
(featuring Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa) Production by Scram Jones

I accidentally had my winamp on random when I first started the album and this was the first song that started and I was doing flip flops over it then. Twenty-two songs later, it serves as the closer for what’s been a really good album. Incorporating a 70′s rock song sample that I can’t seem to place, it serves as the major backbone as the big beat bangs. Banging track that I can’t wait to hear in the car with a little boom in it. Great way to wrap it all up.

First Impression:

I’m not going to say it’s the best album I’ve heard all year, but on the first listen, I definitely want to hear this more and get a better listen on it. There are no “bad” songs on this really, “Catalina” might be the closest thing. In the middle things get kind of muddled and some songs start bleeding into each other as far as sound, but it pulls out of that before the end of the album. It might have benefited from shaving a handful of tracks off the final track listing. While there are very few stinkers to be found, like a movie preview that shows all the good parts, most of the bangers are songs that have previously leaked as well. In the end, there is a lot to digest here and I’m sure time barring, I’ll have a better handle on this entire work in a month or two, but I’m looking forward to it, because this exceeded my small expectations I had for it.

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Bosshog September 2, 2009 at 2:35 pm

Interesting read, I kinda like these 'first thought' reviews, as they tend to cut through the crap and get to the core of what matters – how the album sounds. Obviously the problem is that you need to live with an album for a while to really form an opinion on it. I'd love to see you review this again in say 12 months and see what's changed and what's stayed the same.

Asanto September 2, 2009 at 5:42 pm

Propz on your first listen (review)!

First of all, I have been waitin so long for this so I'm goin to cop it no matter what. Still I agree that there may be too many producers on it so it sounds like a compilation sometimes. And some of the beats don't seem to be up to par but the good tracks really make up for it. By the way, everybody seems to like "Kiss the ring" while I can't get into this track. Just not feelin the beat…

Anonymous September 2, 2009 at 10:01 pm

sorry the album is a c- at best

Smut September 3, 2009 at 11:42 am

the best beats on the album are by far the icewater and dilla beats. rae really sounds wu-ish on them and the way i want him to sound.

on baggin crack, that`s erick sermon, not dre.

Smut September 3, 2009 at 11:46 am

the great producers who appear on this album like alc, pete rock or dre only deliver some of the cheapest leftover beats they found…

Anonymous September 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm

The sample on "Kiss the Ring" is no other than Elton John's 'Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" they sped it up, I caught it right away, great review, I agree with you, this is one of my fave blogs, keep it up One L

GetIt September 6, 2009 at 1:23 am

have mercy (track featured beanie) is produced by MoSS.

Custamato September 6, 2009 at 5:47 am

hated it. pfft @ your review. i hated it i hate all of this. wake your daughter up- with hate.

Anonymous September 8, 2009 at 9:15 am

it just is not a classic! simple as. what happened to the days where you persevered with an album to form an opinion? people didnt say part 1 was a classic until it set in proper. this dropped, and literally half a minute later, the stans were all over it like it was manna from heaven. average at best. album of the year for me so far is deeskee. this is not fit to sit on the same shelf as that.

Anonymous September 11, 2009 at 1:36 am

it is a good album, I think it is one of the best I listened to…Old Wu fans are impressed from what I heard and "surgical gloves" is probably the best on the album. Why? Im a beat head and that track bangs so sssshhhh. Not average at all since lyrics and beats were more then par…but Rae will have haters.

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