Friday, 2 October 2009


We attend the same educational institute, albeit differently, and share many of the same visions on the way music works, and the way we must work to achieve our goals. And a shared penchant for those old school jams... An incredibly interesting person to talk it up with (about whatever...), and a very talented man with the pen - I hope this is the first of many contributions, not just to NDM, but to the www. by my good friend Leke.


There comes a time when student becomes teacher and boy becomes man. Growth brings about change and hopefully improvement, if not some degree of continuity. Continuity in quality. For the fan’s sake. Definitely for the Stan’s sake. In the case of martial arts obsessed Wu Gambinos, the hope is that Raekwon, born Corey Woods, goes from a young hungry Daniel LaRusso to a masterly Mr Miyagi. Only Built For Cuban Linx… Pt. II heralds the return of one of the Wu Tang Clan’s most critically acclaimed and revered Karate Kids. The question is: Can he (still) kick it?

Part-time chef, part-time emcee, the indomitable Wu Tang’s Raekwon returns with a mouth watering offering. A long awaited sequel fourteen years in the making. As with all follow-ups the foreboding prospect of sequel syndrome blighting the stellar reputation of a venerated original leaves all loyal fans and respectful admirers jittery with pessimism and skepticism. Cooling out to Rae’s Blood on Chef’s Apron mixtape, all fears were summarily allayed and hushed. The message? Fall back, ease up, unbuckle your belt and set your napkins on your lap - The Chef is cooking. He’s got this.

The Wu are some cool as ninjas. Listeners accustomed to chopping blocks with Rae the microphone sensei know he runs with a team of deadly assassins as potent as the Seven Samurai. Hop on a track with any one of them and you better step up to the plate and scrape it or just give in and dead yourself – hara-kiri style. Listening to the Purple Tape Pt II this still rings true. Rae is still a black belt.

Wu intros are consistently cinematic and play like Tarantino flicks. Return Of The North Star is no different. Smooth mellow. Cold, harrowing and vengeful with the horns of vindication blowing silently but loud and clear. The skits on the album make for the consummate cinematic experience, tying songs scene by scene. This first is followed up with a few familiar guests being welcomed into Rae’s House of Flying Daggers. Joined by Wu Gambinos Ghostface Killah, Method Man and Inspectah Deck, Raekwon slices this four-man posse cut to shreds ensuring a promising start to an album that has promised so much.

He blasts, using the mic like a kendo stick –

And speak with the youth in the spot, eat the fresh fruit in the crop/
All these hip hoppers eat cock/
You can see me in the street or the yacht/
I'd rather be promoting your block or buying fresh sneakers with gwops/
Yo, I'm an ill dude, always been a real dude/
Don't fuck around, I will spill on you and kill you in the field, boo/

Though well worth the listen, it’s outshone by the track that comes up right after it: The Pete Rock laced Sonny’s Missing. The beat is knavish. Scandalous. Don’t trust it. It haunts villainously with evil intent, making me feel all callow and impressionable. The anthem for every dark New York alley. With Rae’s storytelling at it’s finest putting the listener right in the middle of the scene he paints, mafioso rap meets martial arts flick resulting in kung fu killer rap.

Cue the next scene – the kitchen. This might as well be the bedroom. Close the door, dim the lights, shut the blinds, unwind and undress. Put on something comfortable as Rae pens an ode to cookin’ cookin’ cookin’ (crack no doubt). Short and insanely sweet, the low tone of Pyrex Vision is as smooth as it gets. Marly Marl and Berry Gordy would have swooned up a storm back in the day.

A pattern of consistency is developed as Cold Outside displays a ghostly Ghost, indignant as ever, shocking and horrifying the listener with a stirring soliloquy of 16 bars that comes across with the anger of a broke, hapless frustrated 30 something year old, but the exploited innocence of a round the way 16 year old. It almost sounds like a pissed off version of All I Got Is You. Ghost jumps on the beat right after Rae like two old friends spittin’ sorrow-filled tales back and forth. He lashes his tongue against the beat like a pair of nun chucks:

They found a two-year-old strangled to death/
With a Love Daddy shirt on in a bag on the top of the steps/
Police blowin' niggas, narcs and judges/
Me and son had beef, I had to murk him we supposed to be brothers/

Inevitably, this high is followed by a come down. Not quite the nadir of the album, Black Mozart induces a weirdly nightmarish vision of my mother going: “Hustle hard young man. Hustle hard” Rza will forever be poetically scary but it just doesn’t knock the way I really want it to. It doesn’t really hit and doesn’t completely miss. It’s here and there. Maybe everywhere. All over the place. Gihad, though decent, is equally skippable. As is Have Mercy. The beat is a little too somber and the overall end product is underwhelming for a Raekwon/Beans collabo.

Just when you feel like the OB4CL2 has stepped down a notch or two, you get the urge to dance a lil ditty. A little one-two step. I don’t think RZA has ever really made me want to dance like this. Well, not dance. Just move back and forth. OG Wu style. The only problem is I’d probably be too busy paying attention to the rhyme and flow calisthenics of the three hip hop legends, trying to decide who gets the better of who on a banger of a beauty called New Wu – Meth, Rae or Ghost? Ill shit. When Wu do catchy they do it better, cooler and more stylish than anyone and everyone else. Period. These three have more chemistry than a science lab.

Baggin Cracks marks a return to the crux of what the core of Raekwon’s fanbase crave like fiends: hardcore. It’s a drug-fuelled sermon packaged by Eric sermon, a la Biggie’s crack commandments. One of those seemingly informative tracks in the same vein of the late Big L’s Ebonics that teach u a little sumthin’ sumthin’. For the lovers of The Wire.

The consistency abounds with the next offering. I LOVE ALCHEMIST. Surgical Gloves is pure alchemy. The production and Chef’s storytelling ensures this is Wu gold in words. Al the Chemist and Rae the Chef work well but if you’re into bubble gum rap I’ll burst your bubble for you – this song and this album aint for u. This isn’t for Billboard and the message isn’t “conscious” (why do they call it that???) but it’s dope nonetheless.

That is very much the tale of the Purple Tape II. Hard knocking beats and street savvy lyricism.

You’ve got a plethora of tracks to send you running down memory lane as Raekwon and his Wu teammates rekindle some flames over a couple of flamers for beats. The producers give them a run for their money. For example, Broken Safety sees Scram Jones making em scram. And making em scram fast. Who knew Jada, Styles Pacino and Raekwon were such athletes? Three kings. Three titans. One unfuckwitable track The result? Terminally ill.

Similarly, Canal Street is mobster movie theme music. Mafioso rap at its most operatic. Ason Jones proves everyday is Dilla day. Even in Shaolin. This touching paen of a dirge beggars the question, why mourn a life when you can celebrate it?

These lovely digi bites do not excuse a few missteps. On Catalina Dre is explosive. You can tell it’s a Dre beat a gazillion miles away. Lyfe’s voice suits it well and Rae rides it just as well. The track is hot and will be steaming many a Wu fans’ car windows for a long minute. Still, I can’t help but think it’s a bit out of place. Not in keeping with the rest of the album in tone or overall point. Recorded before the creative differences that led to his spilt with Aftermath, it comes across as a bit of a red herring for the Purple Tape 2. The same could only be said of About Me, whilst Mean Streets feels like filler, with its chipmunk soul-harmonising coming across as a little dated.

The sequel to the Purple Tape leaves listeners black and blue as the lyrics, structure and beats beat a resounding message credibly and indelibly into the heads and hearts of all listening fans, new and old - the chef still has THAT recipe. Its quality and historical appeal ensure Only Built For Cuban Linx…Pt. II isn’t only built for die-hard fans. It is a fitting return because it fits in with the classic/very good/good Wu discography. Where the songs are banging, which most of them are – they’re really good. Sure-fire dopeness for your ears. The problem is it’ll take the test of time to determine if it really stands out with the rest of the truly bona fide classics of the Wu annals.

No comments: