Saturday, August 9, 2014

Revisiting Raekwon's "Immobilarity" and "The Lex Diamond Story"

With the CLASSIC "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" album, Raekwon delivered what I considered to be the best album of 1995. It's my #2 favorite album of all time; saying that it holds up today is a COMPLETE understatement, as well as the best produced album ever, from top to bottom. Directly or indirectly, Raekwon set the bar so high for himself that whatever he came out with next, it was going to be practically impossible to top or even match the quality of OB4CL, and with hindsight being 20/20, I feel he knew that as well. So, four years after that masterpiece, he released his sophomore album, "Immobilarity." I'll share a few thoughts even though I'm going to save the majority of them for the review. I was hyped for this release at the time, probably moreso than anyone else I knew. For a while, it was in heavy rotation, and while I immediately knew it was going to be nowhere near the strong album that OB4CL was, it was still very good to these ears. Two of the very noticeable absences here were no production from The RZA and no appearances from Ghostface Killah (talk about two quick disappointments from the start). Does it hold up today? Well, we'll take a look during the first part of this revisit.

Release date: November 16, 1999

1. Intro
Produced By The Infinite Arkatechz
This "Godfather 3" influenced intro finds Rae giving his meaning of what "immobilarity" is, channeling the iconic Michael Corleone character.

2. Yae Yo
Produced By Carlos "Six-July" Broady

This was quite the banger to set the right tone for the album. It took me a while to recognize that Rae was equating "cooking up coke" to cooking up something marvelous in the studio, to borrow half a quote from Method Man. Interesting, dope, and fast paced.
*4.5 out of 5*

3. Casablanca
Produced By The Infinite Arkatechz

"Wise niggas wake up, dead niggas lose"

There seemed to be a storyline of sorts on this one, but all in all it's a dope, RZA esque banger.
*4 out of 5*

4. 100 Rounds
Produced By Triflyn    

Much like the previous song, this was another banger, a little something more than your usual "gun play" talk.
*4 out of 5*

5. Real Life
Produced By DJ Devastator

"Action packed thriller." That's how Rae describes this song at the beginning. I know I used the word "banger" to describe the previous three songs, but this one really does bang, complete with some fine storytelling.
*4 out of 5*

6. Power 
Featuring American Cream Team
Produced By Triflyn

Even though Rae drops a verse, this joint was more or less a showcase for the American Cream Team, a crew he was trying to put on at the time. All involved come pretty good on this one.
*4 out of 5*

7. Skit No. 1

8. All That I Got Is You Pt. II
Featuring Big Bub
Produced By Vo and Pop  

I gotta back up on this one. Now, back then I used to unfairly compare this to Ghostface's version, which had me liking this one less. Rae's version, which finds him reminiscing about the past with the fam, is very good and sentimental, plus Big Bub did a decent job on the hook and the sampling of Lionel Richie's "Penny Lover" was a nice touch.
*4 out of 5*

9. Jury
Featuring Kim Stephens
Produced By Mike "Trauma" D. and Jugrnaut
Co-Produced By Sean "Black" Baker

This was a good, introspective type song.
*3 out of 5*

10. Fuck Them
Featuring Method Man
Produced By Triflyn

Rae and Meth thumb their collective noses at any and all haters in true Wu fashion.
*4 out of 5*

11. Skit No. 2

12. Live From New York
Produced By Mike "Trauma" D. and Jugrnaut

This is an apply titled highlight right here (and of course it bangs), definitely one of Rae's best lyrical performances on this album.
*5 out of 5*

13. My Favorite Dred
Produced By Triflyn

Decent song, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

14. Friday
Produced By Triflyn

This one reminds me of "Spot Rusherz" from the "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" album: fast paced song, storytelling mode, and a dope beat.
*4 out of 5*

15. The Table
Featuring Masta Killa
Produced By Mike "Trauma" D. and Jugrnaut

Fellow Clan member Masta Killa drops a very brief verse on an otherwise good song.
*3 out of 5*

16. Sneakers
Produced By Pete Rock

Rae's love for the flyest kicks is on full display on this Pete Rock produced banger, another clear highlight.
*5 out of 5*

17. Raw
Featuring American Cream Team
Produced By Vo and Pop

Well, this was definitely not on the level of "Power," which isn't saying too much. It sounded like they were aiming for some radio play here
*3 out of 5*

18. Pop Shit
Produced By Vo and Pop

When I first played this song, I had to look at the album insert again to make sure it wasn't Swizz Beatz in the production credits, and it wasn't. Vo and Pop, unknowingly or not, tried their best Swizz impression and it came off very flat, definitely the weakest song on the album. Even Rae was brought down a bit unfortunately.
*2 out of 5*

19. Heart To Heart
Produced By Vo and Pop

Even in 1999 this was considered a "throwback," largely thanks to the Grover Washington sample ("Mister Magic"). Rae also came off like he was freestyling here in my view.
*3 out of 5*

20. Forecast
Produced By Triflyn

Rae shows mad love to all the places he's been to all over the world. It would've been a very good closer to the album, but we do have an outro to go.
*4 out of 5*

21. Outro

Ok, I have a lot to say about this album. Let me start with the lyrics. While not on the level of practically anything pre-1999( and that's NO knock), Rae was still sharp on the mic and that really has always been overlooked due to the album's production. And speaking of the production, well, it was not the best. Outside of Pete Rock and Carlos Broady, everyone else who contributed were largely new and unproven. The beats here ranged from average to good and at times it brought Rae down along with the song, and you could hear it. Looking back, I'm sure Rae probably wanted to go with some new blood behind the boards, but when you consider the variety of producers in hip hop at the time (and that includes RZA, whose presence was missed here), if this album had better production, the results would've been drastically different. Also, Ghostface Killah was indeed missed on this album and to this day I'm not sure why he didn't make an appearance. He could've brought a little more life to the album, but now when I think about it, the only songs he would've fit on were "Fuck Them," probably "Yae Yo" and "Live From New York." Does it hold up in 2014? I would say yes, and part of that is nostalgia because I bought it a few weeks after it dropped. It's not wack, it's not great, but it's right there in the middle, leading slightly towards "very good." I'm also sure Rae knew that following up the epic "OB4CL" was literally impossible, but with "Immobilarity" he did his best. A solid 3.5 star rating for this album.       

This album was initially not on my radar when it first came out. I didn't get around to checking it out until months after its release. This is by far the least promoted album in Rae's discography, and does it hold up at all today? We shall see.

Release date: December 16, 2003

1. The Lex Diamond Intro
Most of you know that Lex Diamonds is one of the nicknames Rae has used since 1995. We get a mafia styled intro to set things off.

2. Pit Bull Fights
Featuring Polite
Produced By Mizza

Oh man, this joint right here is quite the fast paced banger. Just when you're getting into it, the song ends almost abruptly.
*4 out of 5*

3. Hitman Salary Skit

4. King Of Kings
Featuring Havoc
Produced By Crummie Beats

When the Wu and the Mobb connected, it usually resulted in some dope music. This one was decent, but it felt like a certain spark was missing, and that was likely due to the beat.
*3 out of 5*

5. Missing Watch
Featuring Ghostface Killah and Polite
Produced By Mizza

I'm sure the watch in question had to have been a nice Rolex, no question. Rae's verse alone tells you all you need to know about this one, and the welcomed addition of Ghostface was definitely not out of place.
*4 out of 5*

6. All Over Again
Produced By Mercury

This is what I would call Rae's moment of clarity. I really liked the first verse, where he talked about the beginnings of the Clan and how they went from life on the streets to life in hip hop, as well as apologizing to the fans for the long wait between the "Immobilarity" album and this one.
*4 out of 5*

7. Clientele Kidd
Featuring Ghostface Killah, Fat Joe, and Polite
Produced By Andy C.

To this day I'm not sure why American Cream Team member Polite was not credited for his appearances on this album, but I guess that'll remain a mystery. Overall, I like this one right here. Fat Joe normally wouldn't be out of place on a song with the Wu, but man his verse was just so uninspired that it interrupts the song briefly until Ghostface's verse.
*3.5 out of 5*

8. Smith Bros.
Produced By Smith Bros.

I know Rae didn't get lazy with the naming of this song. Simply put, this is a good song, nothing more or less.
*3 out of 5*

9. Restaurant Skit

10. Robbery
Featuring Ice Water Inc.
Produced By Emile

Rae doesn't appear here, as this was a showcase for Ice Water Inc., which would've been the first act on his Ice Water imprint. This was ok, but nothing special, and after a while the "tough guy" raps began to wear thin.
*3 out of 5*

11. Fuck You Skit

12. Pa-Blow Escablow
Featuring Polite
Produced By Zephlon

Rae's storytelling gets creative. Not only does he somewhat detail the rise and fall of reputed cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, it also seems like he's coming from a perspective where you *think* he's rapping about himself as Pablo. Interesting right here.
*4 out of 5*

13. Musketeers of Pig Alley
Featuring Inspectah Deck and Masta Killa
Produced By Brutal Bill

With its throwback vibe, this came off more like a freestyle than an actual song.
*3 out of 5*

14. Ice Cream Pt. 2
Featuring Method Man and Cappadonna
Produced By DJ Khalil

I can see why some fans took issue with this one, and I honestly can see why. This is not wack by any means, but if there ever was a song that didn't need a sequel, "Ice Cream" was it, plus Ghostface wasn't on this one. It's ok if nothing else, but nothing special.
*3 out of 5*

15. Hood
Featuring Tiffany Villarreal
Produced By EZ-Elpee

Family love is on full display here.
*4 out of 5*

16. Wild Chimpanzees Skit

17. Planet Of The Apes
Featuring Capone, Sheek Louch, and Polite
Produced By Hangman 3

Wu, D-Block, and CNN is represented quite nicely on this one. Pretty good song.
*4 out of 5*

18. Wyld In Da Club
Featuring Ultra and Ice Water Inc.
Produced By Punch

Again, this was a showcase for Ice Water Inc. (and Ultra to a certain extent). This really could've been left on the cutting room floor and it's nothing we haven't heard before and done better.
*2 out of 5*

19. Once Upon A Time
Featuring Tekitha
Produced By Spontaneous

A song clearly intended for the female listeners. Tekitha sounded more soulful on this one than on anything she had done previously.
*3 out of 5*

20. Lex Diamond Story Outro

Well, for all intents and purposes, this album was fairly decent, obviously not on the level of "OB4CL" and also a step below "Immobilarity." It started off well, but after "All Over Again", the remainder of the album was up and down in quality, creating a somewhat disjointed listening experience, plus the skits were asunnecessary as they come. It also had the same issue that "Immobilarity" had, and that's average to good production (again mostly featuring new producers). When you add in more filler this time around, no true buzzworthy single, etc, it's easy to see why this album wasn't on anyone's radar in 2003. There are a few good songs throughout, but other than that, this is a 3 star album at best, no true replay value. Considering the time in between this release and "Immobilarity," Rae had all the time in the world to cook up something noteworthy (this even could've been a concept album with the Lex Diamond alias), but ultimately that didn't happen here.

There's a reason why when most people talk about Rae's discography, it's often said that it's "OB4CL," "OB4CL2," "Shaolin vs. Wu-Tang," and that's it. I understand that 100 percent, and I'm sure with hindsight being 20/20, Rae has looked at his 2nd and 3rd albums and wondered what went wrong and how he could've done better (and if you're reading this Rae, you can let me know too). It wasn't that he "fell off," it was that the aforementioned two albums suffered largely because of the production (the lack of buzz didn't help matters either). Post 2003, Rae would rebound in a MAJOR way when he returned in 2009 with the long awaited "OB4CL" sequel, which I talked about in great detail on my project on Rae, which you can check out in the archives. Even during his down periods, Rae was still good. Thanks for everything.

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