[Time has come for another guest post. What do we have this time? Something really unusual for M&J: an album review. The man in control is Reiser from the significant Rugged Neva Smoove blog. You can definitely count on him to teach you a thing or two about Hip Hop!]
When Marty first asked me if I wanted to write a guest entry on his (and Joppa’s) blog, at first I was honored but then I got somewhat worried. I mean, what could I come up with, being the snobbish bourgeois that I am? It’s like, I don’t feel entitled to explore the depths of hip hop as if I was a Davey D or something; also, even though I’ve been a fan of rap music for over 15 years and I do know two or three things about it, I’m such an enthusiastic connoisseur as anybody who wrote on this blog before me. Of course, I could rant all day about the state of contemporary hip hop and shit on 2/3 of the industry, and eventually wipe my ass with the remaining third, and… and then, what?
That’s why I decided to stick to my guns and give an in-depth review of Raekwon’s latest masterpiece, which is one of my personal nominees for the “Best album of 2009″ award along with DJ Honda & Problemz’ All Killa No Filla and Cormega’s upcoming Build & Raised. Usually, my ethic makes me buy an album before reviewing it, but since this is Music Selections and not Rugged Neva Smoove I hope I’ll get a pass from the almighty god of all rap Stans. But I digress.
You see, in my blog I’ve been complaining for nine months that this year has been one of the worst ever in rap history. There have been some decent releases, even solid ones, yes, but until this September there has also been a lack of really spectacular albums. Stuff that I had been waiting for has been more or less disappointing (Slaughterhouse, Doom… you name it) while there was no trace of No Black Milks, Elzhis or Q-Tips to be seen… But on the flipside -appreciate life’s irony- we’ve still had our fair amount of bullshit: nothing in the vein of that humongous clusterfuck that was 808′s & Heartbreak -thank god- but the wave of Southern b.s. never seems to stop. So here I was, at the end of August, sitting at my office desk (again!) waiting for the download to end. Before that moment I had never heard any leaked songs so I really didn’t know what to expect; actually, I was pretty sure that Cuban Linx II would’ve been a huge disappointment, as everyone knows that industry rule #4082 says: “If you recycle the title of your most successful album, chances are that it will suck big time”.
Boy, was I wrong. Rae and all the guests deliver performances that range from “very good” to “FUCK YEAH!!!”, but, most notably, it’s the producers who try to outdo each other by supplying Rae with some of the grittiest and atmospheric beats I’ve heard in a long time. And even though there are many of them whose styles usually differ very much from one another (Dilla, Pete Rock, Necro, RZA, Dre, Erick Sermon, Alchemist…) the overall feeling is that of a cohesive soundtrack to Rae’s best hood tales since its debut. And even though I think that a 40-year old man who raps about cooking and selling coke as if he don’t know no better is kinda weird, it’s still better than hearing LL’s sex brags (which, by now, sound a bit R. Kellyish to me). And now follow me track by track – a reviewing technique that I’ve never done before, so forgive me for being verbose.
1. Return Of The North Star
A long and pointless introduction which should serve as the perfect link between the two Cuban Linxes (?). In fact, it uses the same Barry White sample and we get our share of Poppa Wu going mad philosophical about Rae and life in general, as if we could care less.
2. House Of The Flying Daggers
Why did it take so long!?! Why did I have to wait literally for YEARS to hear a dope wu posse cut? Much like Triumph, it’s Deck’s first verse that steals the show, but only to be followed by stellar performances by Rae, Ghost and Meth. Dilla comes correct as always and maybe even more: the thumping bass, along with a nice vocal sample and some repetitive (in a good way) strings, create a certified headbanger that will please both Dilla and RZA fans. Both thumbs up.
3. Sonny’s Missing
Aside from the fact that Pete Rock shamelessly recycles the same beat he used for Royal Flush’s Questions (one of the best tracks on NY’s Finest, BTW), this is Rae at his storytelling’s finest, which is saying much. While flutes wail in the background in order to create the right mood, the Chef tells the tale of a drug deal gone bad and even though this is the uumpteenth time that I hear the same story, hearing it from him makes a big difference. It’s like the difference between Hoodlum and Goodfellas: the first can be enjoyable, but the second is a masterpiece.
4. Pyrex Vision
Same story here: Marley Marl takes the same JJ Band sample used for O.C.’s Jewelz, and while being uncreative as much as you want, in the end it works. I still prefer Finesse’s version because it actually has a beat, drums and all, but this is good enough for a drugged out-sounding Rae and his coke raps, which are all over the place. By the way: did I mention the fact that most of the songs here clock in under the standard 3’40”? Usually, this easily gets on my nerves but in this case it works quite well.
5. Cold Outside
If I’m not wrong, this samples some movie theme and it shows: it sounds too epic for my taste and the sung hook leaves much to be desired. Still, Rae and Ghost take a more down-to-earth approach in their lyrics by touching on various subjects that range from poverty, to the state of current hip hop and even some politics.
6. Black Mozart
The Godfather theme? Again? Well, at least it’s not the piano section so I can tolerate it. Anyway, this is a song about hip hop, more or less, and about the lack of money in the game, so the content isn’t exactly the prominent factor here. Instead, we can focus on the Chef’s performance, which is more than simply “good” but still gets overshadowed by Deck’s guest verse -I’m starting to notice that he’s always been a better rapper when sharing the booth with somebody else, you agree?
One of my favorites: Necro’s always been one my favorite producers and this track reminds me why. The chant in the background is looped in his classic fashion and, being melodic and all, it doesn’t need anything more than a thumping bassline and some regular sounding drums. I’m not sure about what the title means -if it’s a misspelling of “jihad” or something- but I guess it doesn’t really matter at all, for both the host and his partner in rhyme talk shit in their always entertaining style, especially Ghost, who almost tops the hardcore brilliance shown on Wildflower. His entrance made me laugh just on the strength of him saying “this white bitch wanna gargle my nuts”: you must know that for us Italians many English terms sound very onomatopeic (yawn, burp, barf etc.) and this here makes no difference. Besides, his pr0n game must be pretty deep, if you think about it, ’cause I don’t think that many readers here have had the pleasure of having their balls gargled even though we all know what that means.
8. New Wu
When RZA reminds himself that his prime occupation is to be a producer, and possibly a nice one at that, the outcome is always positive. And while he definitely wasn’t in that state of mind when he produced 8 Diagrams, on OB4CLII he seems to be pretty in shape -especially when it comes to picking up dusty soul samples and putting them on top of lo-fi sounding drums. Another winner here.
The dynamic duo of Rae and Ghost get their Ed Bunker on and tell a short tale about life in prison. Fortunately, not only do they avoid any reference to tossed salads and such, but they also manage to keep the listener’s interest alive by twisting the plot in the last minute (I won’t spoil it here). Beatwise it’s nothing special per se, but the rapid piano loop and guitar strings add some tension that contributes to the overall purpose.
10. Baggin’ Crack
…for Erick Sermon, who almost manages to ruin an otherwise dope beat by using some of the worst hi-hats I’ve heard in history. I mean, are those even supposed to be hi-hats? They sound like a badly chopped sample, you’ll recognize them when you hear it. Other than that, I can’t complain.
11. Surgical Gloves
In the short intro Rae points out that we’ve never heard anybody rap like that. While this isn’t the case, I must admit that these verses are the closest thing to that criminology rap he fed us with back in ’95 and, of course, this is a positive fact. Alchemist’s beat doesn’t do much for me but I guess it’s pretty ok for his current standards.
12. Broken Safety
It may be a coincidence, but anytime I hear some fool from Yonkers rhymin on a track it inexplicably (well, not really) ruins the whole experience, as for example in the latest M.O.P. opus. Well, this here makes no difference. Jadakiss and Styles P drop the same verses they’ve been doing over and over again since ’97, and sadly Rae’s performance isn’t enough to make me enjoy this cut, especially with a meh beat like this.
13. Canal Street
Remember that Yae Yo song by the Beatnuts? Remember the song’s bridge? OK, then you know exactly how this beat will sound, just not as good; in fact, I’m starting to think that the dopeness has come to an end, with this being the third almost-mediocre beat in a row.
14. Ason Jones
Fortunately, Dilla manages to put things back on track and with his most RZA-sounding beat to date he brings back the “ooomph” in the album. Also, Rae takes a pause from all the coke rap bonanza and dedicates the song, well you guessed it, to the late ODB. While being lyrically as good as the other dedication GZA made a few years ago, the combination between the lyrics and the beat is perfect and therefore surpasses the aforementioned All In Together Now.
15. Have Mercy
Having Beanie Sigel as a guest on one of the Wu’s jazziest tracks I’ve ever heard may sound like a bad idea, but the Philly native doesn’t disappoint, and this, along with some classy singing by Blue Raspberry, makes Have Mercy one of the standouts in OB4CLII. Actually, since there are so many great tracks on this album, speaking of standouts hardly makes any sense, but still…
A crazy guitar twang for more than three minutes? Thefuckouttahere. Easily the worst beat on the album, it makes it hard to even just listen to the verses, even though the hook somehow kinda works thanks to some trumpets coming in just when you thought it was too late.
17. Fat Lady Sings
I don’t even know if I should consider this a song or a skit… either way, it works really good.
An opening dialogue from The Killer? Yeeeshhh… Dre’s on the boards here, and even though this deosn’t even come close to the masterpiece that was Incarcerated Scarfaces, it’s still good enough for Rae to rip the track apart. Frankly, I would’ve avoided the sung hook, but since I can’t stand them AT ALL (I’m a backpacker like that) I guess that this doesn’t count as “objective criticism”
19. We Will Rob You
Newsflash: Raekwon and his friends are thugs who can and will go medieval on your ass and rob you of everything just for livin’. Wow. Speaking of shockers, we get to hear the not-so-prolific GZA and Masta Killa, too, while some sadist relegated Slick Rick to “singing” a hook that is so incredibly bad (starting from the idea: a parody of Queen’s We Will Rock You) that it makes you wonder why this hasn’t been dumped in the quality control process.
20. About Me
This beat screams DR. DRE, which is good: his piano stabs are as simple as exciting, and that, along with an incredibly thumping bass and some appropriate handclaps, should make everyone snap their necks as if there was no tomorrow. Busta Rhymes is featured on this, too, and while his tough talk is ludicrous (in a bad way) he’s still able to drop a good verse every once in a while. Rae delivers, too, but at this point it shouldn’t be a surprise.
21. Mean Streets
Standard OB4CLII material (read: fucking GOOD).
22. Kiss The Ring
The leaked version’s final track. What can I say? If somebody somehow manages to make an Elton John sample sound really good without having me thinking about the Englishman’s glittery videos and sappy lyrics, then I’m all for it. One could argue that using Yellow Brick Road doesn’t exactly match with a cratedigger’s ethic, but since the result is so shamelessly enjoyable I couldn’t care less. The combination between Rae, Deck and Masta Killa has always been one of the best, unfortunately the hook is beyond asinine; not as bad as We Will Rob You, but too simple and unimaginative for what I’ve come to expect from such a trio.
OK, so here we are in the 3rd quarter and finally somebody dropped a classic. Now, I’m not saying that Cuban Linx II tops his ideal predecessor -how could that be?- but what is certain is that this is the best Wu-related album that has come out for, what, about ten years? Yes, it’s that good. So forget the much overhyped and semiwack album that is Blueprint III (which ranks as Jigga’s overall worst album, IMHO) and go cop this one instead. What else is there to say? Unless ‘Mega comes through with that really classic ish, OB4CLII is definitely album of the year. Not much of an accomplishment, given the circumstances, but hey…