CD review: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II/Ghostdini

rae2009 is shaping up to be some sort of renaissance for the Wu-Tang Clan, with nearly every member releasing some of their strongest work in years in a fruitful bit of rejuvenation for a collective that seemed as if the game had passed them by.

And the winning streak continues with new releases from two of the (arguably) best members of the Clan – one a surprise and the other a continuation of consistency.

I’ve written before that Raekwon’s “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Part II” was rap’s version of “Chinese Democracy,” an album that’s been floating in the winds for nearly a decade.

Only in rap can you say your album is coming out on Date X and have no one believe you. Well, Raekwon was/is the master of this, as he baited fans with glorious tales of Dr. Dre production, throwback verses, the grimy Wu-feel, etc.

And yes, the album did have its share of bumps in the road, notably, Raekwon’s decision to initially release the record through Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, which is the equivalent of going into your backyard, digging a hole, and dropping your wallet into it.

I saw Raekwon in concert in 2007 and he was pimping OB4CLII with no idea when it was going to be released. So, imagine my shock when 1. the album actually did come out and 2. it lives up to the lofty expectations of its seminal predecessor.

Against all odds, Rae has created a modern-day masterpiece – a CD that thematically is the logical next step from the first one yet feels fresh.

Just put on the first real song, “House of Flying Daggers,” and you’ll be immediately transported into that Wu-fever you had way back in 1995. I know that the late, great J. Dilla did the beat, but this has a huge debt to RZA’s sonic landscape. And Rae, Deck, Ghost and Method Man all kill their verses.

As on the original, Ghostface gets co-star billing, and he comes through with lyrical ferocity, dropping a cautionary tale on “Cold Outside,” the ribald rap of the year on “Gihad,” propulsive bars on “10 Bricks” and a top-notch effort on “New Wu,” the first official single from the album (as you can see, even the video has the wrong release date).

As it turns out, the two Dr. Dre tracks that did make the cut, “Catalina” and the Busta Rhymes-assisted “About Me,” are the two worst songs on the album because they don’t fit the vibe of the rest of the album.

Rae saved the best for last, with “Kiss The Ring,” a celebratory cut featuring the always welcome Masta Killa and an Elton John (!) sample that fits the song perfectly. It’s a great way to end a great album.

ghostGhostface has never done anything by the book, but it’s safe to say that as the Wu had faded from mainstream relevancy, it’s been Tony Starks who’s carried the mantle by being the most consistent and critically acclaimed member.

So when word came out that Ghost was going to be releasing an R&B-influenced album, I didn’t bat an eye despite the protestations of others. In anyone else’s hands, the concept has “disaster” written all over it, but Ghost has always included R&B cuts on his albums, from “Camay” to “All That I Got Is You” to “Love Lessons” to “Holla.”

The resulting product, “Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City,” is typical Ghostface; that is, a masterful mix of Ghost’s dense, hilarious wordplay and soul-drenched production. The only difference from one of his “normal” albums is that nearly every song has an R&B chorus, often supplied by notable names such as John Legend, Raheem DeVaughn and Estelle, among others.

Ghostface’s talent as a master storyteller are on display during incredibly detailed songs like “Baby” and “Do Over” – songs that in the hands of a lesser artist would be generic stuff.

Lest you think Ghost has gone soft, he also includes “Stapleton Sex,” an X-rated ode that spares no detail about his bedroom exploits.

I don’t think you could name another “hardcore” rapper that could get away with this, but it works with Ghost because he believes in it; he probably realizes this isn’t going to sell like his other records, but it’s a labor of love that shows in the final product.

Save the unnecessary bonus songs – a horrible Ron Browz collabo and “Back Like That,” which was already released on “More Fish” in 2006 – this is a novelty piece that has earned rightful status along with Ghost’s other classics.

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~ by Elliott on October 1, 2009.

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