Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Raekwon Project

As taken from my previous post on Raekwon (

At one point, Raekwon was my favorite member in the Wu-Tang Clan.  Although that spot is held by Ghostface Killah, it's definitely NOT a knock on Rae, as he's the best storyteller in the Clan after Ghost. Raekwon is definitely one of those artists who has gotten better over the years, and while he's always had his own distinct sound, more often than not his style can be classified as a respective cross between Nas (descriptive) and Kool G Rap (cinematic vision on record).

This project will be solely dedicated to "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 1 & 2" and "Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang", respectively. I was going to split it into 2 parts, but for maximum effect and value, I decided to do it as one project on its own. As you all know, OB4CL is my #2 favorite album of all time, and over the last few days (as of this post) OB4CL2 and Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang have been on serious repeat, to a point where I can't stop listening to them! They continue to get better on EACH listen, which is one of the makings of a great album. So with all this being said, let's jump right into this project!!!!!

Release date- August 1, 1995

All songs produced by The RZA

Ghostface Killah a/k/a Tony Starks
The RZA a/k/a Bobby Steels
GZA a/k/a Maximillion
Inspectah Deck a/k/a Rollie Fingers
U-God a/k/a Golden Arms
Method Man a/k/a Johnny Blaze
Masta Killa a/k/a Noodles
Nas a/k/a Nas Escobar
Cappadonna a/k/a Cappachino

To this day I'm not sure why ODB was not part of this album. I still often think about which song would've been best suited for him. Also, there were two firsts: 1) this album marked the first guest appearance by a non Wu-Tang artist in the form of Nas, and 2) Wu-Tang were also the first artists to utilize and popularize the use of aliases in hip hop, and of course it was copied afterwards. Quite a bit of history going into this landmark album.

Personal facts
*My friend Andre bought the tape around the time it was released, and he supplied with a dubbed version. Even though I paid him $1.00, lol, it didn't come out the way I wanted it to.
*I owned the actual "purple tape", as well as the "clear version" also.
*I owned 3 versions of the CD.

1. Striving For Perfection
This intro sets the tone for the album, as Rae and Ghost are pondering their lives at the time and how they want to proceed in their future. Although they clearly know what type of life they're involved in, they want out in the worst way almost. As later mentioned by Ghost, "it's about money, hoes, designer clothes, and shows, as well as an unpredictable life of crime and drugs. This intro serves as quite the storyline for all involved, a hip hop crime/mafioso saga to the fullest.

2. Knuckleheadz (featuring Ghostface Killah & U-God)
After the memorable intro, we head right into our first banger, detailing everything about why these guys are "knuckleheadz" in true Wu fashion (lol)! Ghost says "congratulations Chef, let's celebrate and sniff an 8". 5 out of 5

3. Knowledge God

"The violin on Knowledge God sounded ill." -Ghostface Killah (Iron Maiden)

This is one of my favorite songs on the album, as well as one of my favorite RZA beats. I feel the title speaks for itself, along with the "colorful slang" on full display from Rae. 5 out of 5

4. Criminology (featuring Ghostface Killah)

Yes indeed, another classic banger here! Rae and Ghost's chemistry, among the best in hip hop history, is taken up several notches and the end result is rather impressive. Ghost's verse is pure fire and Rae ends it on a high note. 5 out of 5

5. Incarcerated Scarfaces
I'm not sure why it took me so long to know what (and who) Rae was referring to when he said "peace to incarcerated scarfaces", lol. It didn't hit me until a few years down the road surprisingly. In any event, this is another classic (yes it's a banger too), with Rae continuing to drop colorful gems over a slammin RZA beat. Man! 5 out of 5

6. Rainy Dayz (featuring Ghostface Killah & Blue Raspberry)

Whenever I'm asked what my favorite song on this album is, this apply titled classic is usually the first one I mention. Rainy days, we all have them, literally and figuratively, but it's all about maintaining and staying strong throughout ("waitin on these royalties takes too long/it's like waitin on babies/it makes me want to slay thee", says Ghost). 5 out of 5

7.Guillotine (Swordz) featuring Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, and GZA
Pure WU dopeness personified, as Deck starts this off PROPER and KILLS it completely (he certainly knows how to deliver an opening verse), with Rae, Ghost, and GZA not far behind at all. 5 out of 5

8. Can It Be All So Simple (Remix) featuring Ghostface Killah
This tight remix builds largely on the strength of the original (which is also a classic). With everything that's taking place, you just have to ask yourself that one question, "can it be all so simple"? 5 out of 5

9. Shark Niggas (Biters)
This is a rather famous skit, so I have to talk about it. In short, Rae and Ghost call out those who were biting in hip hop at the time. Specifically, although not mentioned by name, they call out The Notorious BIG for copying Nas' "Illmatic" idea, as in using the child photo for the album cover (Nas did start this). Ghost's tone was more competitive rather than malicious. Overall, the skit made two things perfectly clear:
1) DON'T bite or sound like Ghost or anyone from the Clan
2) In the words of Ghost, "keep it real, getcha own shit man, and BE ORIGINAL!"

10. Ice Water (featuring Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna)
We get one of the first introductions to Cappadonna (then known as Cappachino), as well as a memorable opening verse from Ghost ("check out the rap kingpin, the black Jesus!"). Continuous dopeness. 5 out of 5

11. Glaciers Of Ice (featuring Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, and Blue Raspberry)
To start this we get the funny skit with Ghost talking about the Wallybee Clark shoe (which he made famous) along with a slew of designs he was going to create that summer! ("I'm gon rock niggas this summer, on the real!") From there, we head right into this incredible track, and I've always loved how Rae starts this off as the beat drops ("check it, yo, yo, yo, yo, stand on the block/Bebop, gun cock/Avalanche rock...") 5 out of 5

12. Verbal Intercourse (featuring Ghostface Killah and Nas)
Oh my, what more can be said about this classic?! Nas BLESSES this with one of the best verses of all time, certainly one of his best, and for the first guest spot from a non Wu artist, he DIDN'T disappoint. All 3 MCs drop jewels here and it's one of my favorite collaborations. 5 out of 5

13. Wisdom Body (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Ghost got a solo spot on this album, and when it came to the ladies, well, you knew what to expect. This song may have been meant for laughs, but I'm sure he meant every word he said, lol! 5 out of 5

14. Spot Rusherz
I read a few years ago that Rae was not a fan of this beat. Not sure why, it's pretty good to me. Sounding like something straight out of Kool G Rap's book, we some fine storytelling from Rae, something he would come to be known for. 5 out of 5

15. Ice Cream (featuring Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Cappadonna)

Who said the Wu didn't love the ladies?! This classic was one of the best songs of 1995 featuring largely dope verses from all involved (Rae's verse still has me scratching my head at times, lol) and a memorable hook from Meth. 5 out of 5

16. Wu-Gambinos (featuring Ghostface Killah, The RZA, Method Man, & Masta Killa)
Under their familiar aliases, all 5 MCs bless this tight RZA production, basically leaving you wanting more. 5 out of 5

17. Heaven & Hell (featuring Ghostface Killah)

"What do you believe in, heaven or hell
You don't believe in heaven cause we're livin in hell!"

Well, those two lines can certainly be applied to today's world in certain ways. Rae and Ghost do an effective job painting the verbal picture of "the life", good and bad. 5 out of 5

18. North Star (Jewels) 
If you bought the CD, this closer was a bonus track. It should've been on the cassette too, because it was a great way to close the album. Before and after Rae's verse, we get some words of wisdom from Popa Wu.

This is one of many albums that I've owned since its initial release, and it's SO timeless. This is such a cinematic masterpiece on all levels. Rae and Ghost, along with the rest of the Wu members (except ODB-RIP), essentially delivered in spades on the mic, and The RZA made what is possibly the best produced album ever. It's a classic in every sense of the word.

Rating- 5 stars

 After 1999's "Immobilarity" and 2003's "The Lex Diamond Story", all hip hop eyes were on the sequel to OB4CL. The bar was set SO HIGH with the first OB4CL that it was impossible to top it and I feel Rae knew that as well. It was only right that Rae and everyone else involved did NOT rush this album in any form, and the planning and execution would be handled in the most strategic way possible. When I heard that it would FINALLY see the light of day in 2009, I was thrilled, even though I didn't buy it when it first came out. Also, I didn't see the final tracklisting until I bought it on October 4, 2009 (along with my son Jaheim), so the surprise factor was there also. To say I couldn't wait to bump this is a complete understatement. For the first time ever, allow me to break down this sequel!

Release date- September 8, 2009

Ghostface Killah a/k/a Tony Starks
The RZA a/k/a Bobby Steels
GZA a/k/a Maximillion
Inspectah Deck a/k/a Rollie Fingers
Method Man a/k/a Johnny Blaze
Masta Killa a/k/a Noodles
Cappadonna a/k/a Cappachino
Jadakiss a/k/a Montega Jada
Styles P a/k/a Styles Pinero
Beanie Sigel a/k/a Mack Mittens
Busta Rhymes
Slick Rick
Lyfe Jennings

Dr. Dre
Erick Sermon
J. Dilla
Pete Rock
Marley Marl
True Master
Scram Jones
Ice Water Productions
Justice Kareem
Mark Batson

1. Return of the North Star (Produced By: BT)
Some 14 years after the first OB4CL, things pick up right where they left off. Rae and Popa Wu drop a little science in a 2009 perspective.

2. House of Flying Daggers (featuring Ghostface Killah, Method Man, and Inspectah Deck)
Produced By: J Dilla

A COMPLETE banger sets the RIGHT tone for this album, featuring an awesome opening verse by Deck. Rae and Ghost keep the momentum flowing, and then Meth closes it in fitting fashion. The late J. Dilla did an OUTSTANDING job capturing that vintage Wu sound for this one. 5 out of 5

3. Sonny's Missing (Produced By: Pete Rock)
Although it ends almost abruptly, Rae's excellent storytelling skills are at the forefront again over this tight beat from Pete Rock. 5 out of 5

4. Pyrex Vision (Produced By: Marley Marl)
I don't think Rae was literally high when making this 54 second song, going through the, uh, procedures of "making the crack" (he had to have done a good job changing up his voice to give that "verbal effect"). 3.5 out of 5

5. Cold Outside (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Produced By: Ice Water Productions

As told by GZA and Deck back in 95, it's indeed a cold world out there, and you get that knowledge form Rae and Ghost confirming it again. 4 out of 5

6. Black Mozart (featuring Inspectah Deck, hook by RZA & Tash Mahogany)
Produced By: The RZA

I like this one. Rae and Deck provide the usual lyrics, and RZA's part at the end is quite hilarious. 4 out of 5

7. Gihad (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Produced By: Necro

Whenever Rae & Ghost have teamed up for a track, more often than not you got dopeness. This one is no different. 4 out of 5

8. New Wu (featuring Ghostface Killah and Method Man)
Produced By: The RZA

Starting with this album, you can tell the Wu was heading in a new direction, musically speaking. Rae, Ghost, and Meth, the 3 MCs who would provide us with the "Wu Massacre" album, bring their A game on a dope RZA beat. 5 out of 5

9. Penitentiary (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Produced By: BT

I really like BT's beat for this one, as Rae and Ghost spit nicely over it. 5 out of 5

10. Baggin Crack 
Produced By: Erick Sermon

Clocking in at 1:58, this is a fairly, apply titled song and I believed it marked the first time collaboration between Rae and Erick. 4 out of 5

11. Surgical Gloves
Produced By: Alchemist

Alchemist provides a NICE beat for Rae, and I like how he sort of uses the "surgical gloves" as a metaphor for getting money. 5 out of 5

12. Broken Safety (featuring Jadakiss and Styles P)
Produced By: Scram Jones

Over a bangin beat produced by the underrated Scram Jones, the undeniable chemistry between Wu-Tang and D-Block continues here. Although this is still tight, I feel Ghost's presence was missed on this one. 5 out of 5

13. Canal Street
Produced By: Ice Water Productions

Rae gives us a lyrical account of just about everything that takes place of the aforementioned Canal Street. Listen closely, and you'll notice this is a "reworked version" of the beat Just Blaze made for Jadakiss' "It's Time I See You". 4 out of 5

14. Ason Jones
Produced By: J Dilla

This is a heartfelt tribute to the late Ol Dirty Bastard, as told eloquently by Rae. "Now he wit Allah, that's a blessing". 5 out of 5

15. Have Mercy (featuring Beanie Sigel)
Produced By: MoSS (uncredited)

The subject of redemption is the key to the story being told by Rae and Sigel, who show very good chemistry with each other. 5 out of 5
16. 10 Bricks (featuring Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna)
Produced By: J Dilla

We get the "original" 3 man team from Ghost's "Ironman" album, and man, J Dilla's came correct when supplying Rae with beats for this album. 4 out of 5
17. Fat Lady Sings
Produced By: True Master

I honestly can't recall the last time True Master sampled anything prior to this, but he masterfully samples Zulema's "If This World Were Mine", providing Rae with quite the soulful background. 4.5 out of 5

18. Catalina (featuring Lyfe Jennings)
Produced By: Dr. Dre

One of my favorites on the album, Rae complimented Dre's production so well, and this was the first of two beats on this album. I also liked the job Lyfe Jennings did on the hook. 5 out of 5

19. We Will Rob You (featuring GZA, Masta Killa, and Slick Rick)
Produced By: Justice Kareem

Even with the title of the song, which shouldn't be taken seriously, it's pretty fun and energetic when you listen to it, especially Slick Rick. GZA goes off on this one too. 4 out of 5

20. About Me (featuring Busta Rhymes)
Produced By: Dr. Dre

Much like their collaboration "Goldmine" from Busta's "Big Bang" album, that same chemistry is present here over the second Dre beat. 5 out of 5

21. Mean Streets (featuring Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck)
Produced By: Mathematics

We have all heard about the mean streets in a given city, especially New York. Rae, Ghost, and Deck give us their perspective, in true Wu form. 4 out of 5

22. Kiss The Ring (featuring Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa)
Produced By: Scram Jones

Two things are apparent in this song:
1) This is another fitting closer, as after all we have heard on this album and the first OB4CL, it's time to "kiss the ring" and salute the men providing you with this captivating music.

2) Masta Killa's verse basically sums up everything in nutshell when it comes to Rae and the OB4CL journey.

5 out of 5

This is the true definition of a sequel that deserves the title. It was my pick for 2009's best album and it certainly holds up today. Rae and company did a VERY good job, so much so that shortly after this album, you had other artists follow suit and release sequels to either their debuts or most successful albums, and let's be honest, some were great, some weren't. This will always remain a personal favorite of mine, and as much as I want to give it 5 stars, when I analyze those ratings above, I can't quite go the full monty, just yet. 

Rating- 4.5 stars

In what was initially going to be the title of one of Wu-Tang's group albums (that title became "8 Diagrams"), Rae went ahead and kept the creative title for his fifth studio album ("Shaolin" is the place, "Wu-Tang" is the crew), and I did cop this one when it first came out.

Release date- March 7, 2011

Ghostface Killah
Method Man
Inspectah Deck
Black Thought
Lloyd Banks
Busta Rhymes
Jim Jones
Raheem DeVaughn
Rick Ross

Oh No
Scram Jones
Bronze Nazareth
Sean C & LV
DJ Khalil
Tommy Nova
Kenny Dope

1. Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang 
Produced By: Scram Jones

Rae certainly developed a good relationship with Scram Jones, and that's evident on this opener. I'll tell you one thing, the producers Rae hooked up with that are not under the Wu umbrella did an effective job at creating that Wu sound. Impressive. 5 out of 5

2. Every Soldier In The Hood (featuring Method Man)
Produced By: Oh No

For some reason, this was wrongly credited as being produced by Erick Sermon. With all due respect to the Green Eyed Bandit, it doesn't quite sound like one of his beats. This song is pretty good, and I bet every soldier in the hood would like it. 4 out of 5

3. Silver Rings (featuring Ghostface Killah)
Produced By: Cilvaringz

"Cuban Linx 3 comin/Don't know when, but the time is runnin"

Trust me, I'm always going to remember he said that, because the anticipation will remain. This song is short, clocking in at 1:48, but it's still dope as hell. 5 out of 5

4. Chop Chop Ninja (featuring Inspectah Deck and Estelle)
Produced By: Bluerocks 

First off, Estelle sounds SO natural on this hook, complimenting Bluerocks' beat very nicely, while Rae and Deck provide the lyrical darts. 4 out of 5

5. Butter Knives 
Produced By: Bronze Nazareth

"They say, he's a swordsman!"

Man, this is SO good. Bronze Nazareth cooks up a marvelous beat for Rae and he drops that "colorful slang" oh so well here. 5 out of 5

6. Snake Pond 
Produced By: Selasi

I like Rae's storytelling here, the adventures in the "snake pond" sum this up. 4 out of 5

7. Crane Style (featuring Busta Rhymes)
Produced By: Scram Jones

Rae and Busta continue their very good chemistry with each other over another tight production from Scram Jones. 4 out of 5

8. Rock N Roll (featuring Ghostface Killah, Jim Jones, Kobe on the hook)
Produced By: DJ Khalil

I like this one quite a bit (others I know don't, but it's all good). "Rock N Roll" is that "dope" being sold, can't help but buy it. Jim Jones provided his usual alongside Rae and Ghost. 3.5 out of 5

9. Rich And Black (featuring Nas)
Produced By: Sean C & LV  

Perhaps this was the awesome collaboration that was meant for OB4CL2. Either way, you can't miss this spark that Nas has with Rae, and when you think about it, Rae certainly has a habit of getting the best out of his guests, which is a good thing. 5 out of 5

10. From The Hills (featuring Method Man and Raheem DeVaughn)
Produced By: Kenny Dope

Kenny Dope definitely made a dope beat, pun intended, for Rae and Ghost to bless lyrically and have Mr. DeVaughn provide a good hook. Speaking of Mr. DeVaughn, his and Estelle's guest spots were NOT out of place on this album. They more than added to the songs they participated on. 4 out of 5

11. Last Trip To Scotland (featuring Lloyd Banks)
Produced By: Scram Jones

Leave it to Scram Jones to provide Rae and Banks a thumpin beat to match the story. Say it with me, "I like this one right here". 4 out of 5

12. Ferry Boat Killaz 
Produced By: Alchemist

Alchemist comes through again for Rae with this NICE beat. Unfortunately it ends just as you're getting into it (still dope though). 5 out of 5

13. Dart School
Produced By: Mathematics

Rae is ruggedly smooth as he blesses this tight Mathematics production. 4 out of 5

14. Molasses (featuring Ghostface Killah & Rick Ross)
Produced By: Xtreme

Xtreme's beat KNOCKS in the ride (and through the headphones), and although I'm NOT a fan of Rick Ross, his presence didn't interrupt the flow of the song if you can believe that. 4.5 out of 5

15. The Scroll
Produced By: Evidence

Fellow artist/producer Evidence drops a good beat for Rae, and as I listen to this, I picture Rae actually rapping this from a scroll. 3.5 out of 5

16. Masters of Our Fate (featuring Black Thought)
Produced By: Tommy Nova

There's no doubt that I like Rae's verse here, but Black Thought's verse is SO phenomenal and it has to be heard to be appreciated. I also like really like the idea behind this song title too. 5 out of 5

17. Wu Chant (Outro)

I remember when I first listened to this, I thought it was good and nothing more. It wasn't until a few months down the road (in 2011) when I revisited it and I couldn't believe it I almost slept on this one. It's excellent, a nice, fast paced album without sounding rushed at all.

Rating- 4.5 stars

And there you have it, my complete Raekwon project. The three albums above are SO great that it almost makes you forget that "Immobilarity" and "The Lex Diamond Story" exist, and that's no knock on them because they do exist. I thank Raekwon and everyone involved with the making of these 3 albums so much and I'm likely going to listen to one of them after I complete this review, lol. Overall, these albums will stand the test of time, and although I'm looking forward to Rae's next album, I'm patiently waiting for OB4CL3 and hopefully he takes my idea to create the "Cuban Linx trilogy" box set. Salute to you Rae!!!!!!

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