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Review

Long-awaited Raekwon sequel delivers

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October 1, 2009

Dormant, anonymous and seemingly forgotten for the better part of the decade, New York rapper Raekwon has returned with his fourth solo album, “Only Built 4 NeCuban Linx… Pt. II”, a follow up to his critically acclaimed 1995 release of the same name. Although the razorsharp lyrical and rhyming skills that have characterized the Wu-Tang Clan member’s career have never dulled, “Cuban Linx… Pt. II” serves as a well-needed return to top form after a somewhat disappointing record in 2003 that barely registered a blip on the hip-hop radar.

Delayed and hyped since it was first announced in 2005, the project is something Raekwon made clear he put his heart and soul into.

“I’m not letting the industry control my destiny on this record,” he said in 2007. “People have been wanting this record for the last 10 years, so I gotta make sure that this shit is bulletproof.”

This long-awaited sequel immediately conjures up nostalgic images of 1990s Brooklyn-a period in time where the city was still the rap Mecca-ruled over by street deities by the names of Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z and Nas. Basically beginning right where the prequel left off, this is an album that comes close to matching the genius of the Wu-Tang Clan’s greatest hits. Dark, grainy and hard, it is a fitting wrap-up of unfinished business that “Rae The Chef” left untouched for fourteen years.

While the protagonist of the “Cuban Linx… Pt. I” expressed feelings of despair and desire to escape the criminal life, the narration provided by Raekwon on this record shares a proud and embracing attitude-one that glorifies a life of hustling and crime, yet spares no rough details.

The track “Gihad” at once jumps out as the creative high point of the record-a witty and explicit mishmash of criminal motifs and sexual boasting—that would be hilarious if it wasn’t so unapologetically gruesome. The final track serves as a fitting conclusion to the album; at 40, Rae is no longer a young man, and a sampling of the lyrics paints a portrait of the sun setting on a gangster edging closer to retirement: “Now he’s an old Mafia don, back when / He managed to survive the game, ducking fame / It’s how he maintained, the state of grace, lept his lab laced, ladies of a fine taste.”

Raekwon is supported by a stellar cast of able and recognizable guests who offer outstanding verbal insight, as well as unique complimentary outlooks on the street life. “My crack spot is still portable / Funerals are still affordable…” Jadakiss brags on the track “Broken Safety.” “Fuck saving hip-hop, we bringing the streets back, what?” The criminally underrated Beanie Sigel offers a dark introspective verse on the song “Have Mercy,” that (although not unique) stands as one of the emotional center points of Raekwon’s 70-minute ghetto storybook. “My days are getting shorter, my nights getting longer / My cell getting smaller, my son getting taller,” he broods. After so many delays in production and postponements of release dates, “Cuban Linx… Pt. II” had to be an extraordinary work of art in order to not be labeled as anything but a disappointment. While it doesn’t quite fall into the “classic” category, the record provides a wide view of the world that Raekwon sees, feels and breathes—a vivid collection of urban life snapshots that should leave listeners tantalized from beginning to end.

Andrew Phelps is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.