I don't really think this album needs much of an introduction, but what the heck; I'll do it anyway.
Basically, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... took the world by storm when it was released in the summer of '95. Backed by the thumping single "Ice Cream," this classic record is regarded by many to not only be a top two album in the Wu-Tang solo catalog (most people consider Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and GZA's Liquid Swords to be the top two, with GZA's album generally taking the top spot), but one of the best of all-time.
Not many albums have earned themselves a nickname, but Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was so phenomenal that it did, and it is still affectionately dubbed "The Purple Tape" 15 years later. On the relatively long album, Raekwon establishes himself as one of the best storytellers in the history of hip-hop, deftly illustrating life on the streets of New York, and RZA solidifies his position as one of the top producers in the rap game.
If you like hip-hop at all, chances are, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... gets heavy rotation on your music player, whatever that may be. Actually I shouldn't even say "chances are," because if you truly enjoy rap, this album will receive constant play by you.
Anyway, enough with the pretenses. Let's get to the review.
The album kicks off with a real head-nodder, and Ghostface Killah and U-God make appearances on the track (if you don't like Ghostface, prepare to be disappointed, as he is omnipresent on this album [but who doesn't like Ghostface?]). "Knuckleheadz" encompasses the theme of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., a mafioso/gangsta style record with a similar lyrical style throughout. That said, it really isn't one of the album's stronger tracks.
2. Knowledge God
You've really gotta love RZA's beat on this one, with a heavy bassline and short piano riffs throughout. "Knowledge God" actually represents only one of two tracks that Raekwon is alone on on the album, and he rips it: "Niggas projects filled with fiends injectin', morphine, the God seen more C.R.E.A.M., and upstate Cousin Reek, almost got hit with fourteen." Great cut.
This was the album's second single, and, consequently, one of its most popular songs. Ghostface Killah comes through with authority on the first verse, spitting: "Yo, first of all son, peep the arson, many brothers I be sparkin' and bustin' mad light inside the dark, call me dough snatcher, just the brother for the rapture, I handglide, holdin' on strong, hard to capture." The beat possesses an eerie, street quality to it, undeniably suitable for Ghost and Rae.
4. Incarcerated Scarfaces
Here embodies the second and final track where Raekwon is by himself (that was quick). It also delineates one of the stronger records on the album. The beat is carried by the hats and heavy cymbals and is ridiculously addictive. Warning: persistent listening of "Incarcerated Scarfaces" may cause a broken neck from too much head-nodding.
5. Rainy Dayz
This was the fourth and final single from the album. You may recognize the sample as being the same one that was used in Fabolous and Ne-Yo's 2007 hit, "Make Me Better." The main difference? Ghostface and Raekwon are on the cut instead of Fab and Ne-Yo, and as much as I like the latter two artists, let's be real; this beat was made for Ghost and Rae. I will say, though, that at certain points, the beat becomes somewhat piercing and sounds like a teapot announcing that its water is boiling.
6. Guillotine (Swordz)
Sick. Sick. SICK. That's the best way I can wholly describe this track, which is clearly one of the best on the album. The beat is out of control, and it contains verses from not only Raekwon and Ghostface, but also from arguably Wu-Tang's best lyricists, Inspectah Deck and GZA. Inspectah opens up the track with these ill lines: "Poisonous paragraphs, smash ya phonograph in half, it be the Inspectah Deck on the warpath, first class leavin' mics with a cast, causin' ruckus like the aftermath when guns blast." Then, toward the song's climax, GZA spits: "Sky's the limit, niggaz are timid, and nobody knows, how we move like wolves in sheep's clothes." One of the best tracks in Wu-Tang's illustrious history.
7. Can It All Be So Simple (Remix)
This is a remix of the "Can It Be So Simple" track off of the Wu-Tang Clan's classic album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Unfortunately, I'm not too crazy about either version.
8. Ice Water
For some reason, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna, and Raekwon decided to make their voices entirely monotonous throughout this entire track, and, for some reason, it works. I won't say this is one of the album's finer moments, but "Ice Water" is definitely a good track.
9. Glaciers Of Ice
A whole mess of Wu-Tang members and affiliates make appearances on this cut (Ghost, Rae, Masta Killa, 60 Second Assassin, and Blue Raspberry), and of all of them, Masta Killa is the one who really shines: "Proceed with caution as you enter the symphony, degrees of pulse will increase intensely, syndrome was caused by the deadly drums, but the battle was won by swords being swung." I've always felt Masta Killa was the most underrated of the Wu-Tang members, and his verse here confirms why. Also, on this track in particular, he sounds a lot like a cross between Method Man and GZA.
10. Verbal Intercourse
Leave it to Nas to rip off arguably the album's best verse: "Through the lights, cameras, and action, glitters and gold, I unfold the scroll, plant seeds to stampede the globe, when I'm deceased, by then the beast arise like yeast, to conquer peace leaving savages to roam in the streets." Phew. The beat on this track is great, too, even if there isn't too much going on with it.
11. Wisdom Body
I really like the beat here, containing one deep and repeating piano key, some hats, and a snare. Strangely enough, though, Raekwon is nowhere to be found on this track, as Ghostface Killah takes this one by himself. This is Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... and not Ironman, right?
12. Spot Rusherz
This track is pretty short, thanks to 53 seconds of talking in the beginning (that's the only thing I dislike about Wu-Tang albums). Still, the beat is nice, and Raekwon freely flows over it without any issues whatsoever.
13. Ice Cream
Finally; the best song on the album. "Ice Cream" is one of my favorite songs period. RZA produced an absolute banger of a beat here, so much so that it still gets airplay on the radio from time to time. Method Man actually makes his first appearance on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... here, too, as he raps the hook, and what I'm wondering is, what took so long? Anyway, this is by far the album's most popular song, and with good reason. I really don't see how this wasn't the lead single, as this was actually the third. Also, for those who are interested, the sample RZA used for this beat was just discovered this past January. It's "A Time For Love," by Earl Klugh. Props to RZA for keeping that under wraps for a decade-and-a-half.
And here is the second-best song on the album. Method Man once again drops by, and this time, he actually drops a verse. So do Rae, Ghostface, Masta Killa, and even RZA (who should really just stick to producing). The beat on this is ridiculous and is perfect rider music, but seriously, let's focus on how much Method Man kills this: "Scriptures hit the body like sawed off shotties, like my hair knotty and my nosepiece snotty, fuck a nigga hottie, that whole pussy probably, burn like the deserts of Mogabi, for real."
15. Heaven & Hell
This was the lead single, and although it's solid, I really don't understand why this was chosen over "Ice Cream" for that role. The beat is light and pretty soulful, as Raekwon and Ghostface explain how we're actually living in hell. Ordinary, but still good.
16. North Star (Jewels)
I absolutely love the beat that was used here, but unfortunately (and at the same time, unsurprisingly), the actual rapping doesn't start until the one-minute, fifty-two second mark of the song. Despite that, the beat alone is enough to carry this track and make it one of the best on Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... This track also represents a change of pace on the album (even though I don't know if I could classify an album's final cut as being a "change of pace"), as Raekwon abandons the street tales and focuses more on the soul, and Ol' Dirty Bastard provides some deep backing vocals. Once again, it's the outstanding production that really makes this record.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... is widely considered to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time for good reason. The production remains consistently great from start-to-finish, and Raekwon and Ghostface Killah's storytelling abilities never skip a beat.
After dropping his debut album in '95, Raekwon took four years off and then came back with Immobilarity in 1999. While it sold fairly well (it was certified gold), it was not received very well by critics and Wu-Tang fans alike. For some reason, RZA did not produce a single track on the album, leading some to wonder whether Raekwon was simply a product of RZA's phenomenal beats. That notion did not cease when Rae released The Lex Diamond Story in 2003, as, once again, the record did not feature a single track by RZA and, in turn, is considered by most to be Raekwon's worst album.
Raekwon then took a six-year hiatus and came back with a vengeance in '09, dropping the hyped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt II. While the album only contained two RZA productions (three if you include deluxe bonus tracks), it was thought by many to be the best rap album of the year 2009 and easily Rae's second-best project to date. Thankfully for "The Chef," any more lingering doubts about his true MC ability were squelched due to the success of this record.
Going back to the original point, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... will forever be revered as one of the best albums to ever grace the hip-hop world. If you don't like it, then sorry; you do not like hip-hop. Real hip-hop, anyway.
TOP FIVE TRACKS
1. Ice Cream
3. Guillotine (Swordz)
4. Verbal Intercourse
5. North Star (Jewels)
If you skip any of these tracks, then may God have mercy on your soul.