Raekwon Only Built For Cuban Linx Part 2(Ice H2O Records) Buy it from Insound
Despite everything I am about to say, it is important that you understand this: Only Built For Cuban Linx Part 2 is my favorite rap album of 2009. It is an instant classic, and regardless of the negative things I am about to say, you should buy it right now if you are even remotely interested in Rap as an art form.
Yes, Only Built For Cuban Linx Part 2 is good.
Yes, it is very good. Yes, it is probably one assembly of rappers, producers and songs of the year.
But the shit isn't an album. It's a time machine. A very specific, poorly designed time machine that can only go to one place and time in history, no where else. It is a vessel that is capable only of going back, only of traveling to the fall of 1994, and nowhere else.
And, shit, why wouldn't you want to go back to the early 90s, when underground rap was exploding? Why wouldn't you want to go back to a time when the Wu Tang Clan was the driving force in hip hop, east coast or otherwise? Why wouldn't you want to live again when everything was dirty dusty, covered in grime and power and hate and force and confidence and fucking authenticity, when the music dripped and pulsed and storytellers and criminals stood side by side telling their broken stories to an audience drunk, stupid, hungry for more?
Of course you want to go back. I do, too.
But here's the problem: WE CAN'T GO BACK.
Hell yeah it's fun to relive the Cuban Linx of old, but you don't want to get caught in that bear trap where your best days are behind you and all you can do is relive the good times. That just makes you sad and old, like a group of college grads at a kegger or a batch of old construction workers telling stories about fingering cheerleaders after high school football games.
This is the class of person Raekwon has aligned himself with now.
Don't get me wrong, I love OBFCL2. The shit bangs and thumps and rumbles. It's packed to the gills with detail oriented crime stories, boombam thump rap that'll put a spring in your stride, quotables (personal favorite comes from track two when Ghostface Killah spits "Our guns is chunky"), lyrical outbursts and top notch production. But I love it the same way I love looking at signatures in my yearbooks: as distant reminders of past friends and better times. Sure, this album is awesome, but the fact remains that this is a continuation of an old idea in lieu of a new one.
So maybe I'm looking at this the wrong way. Maybe I should just be thankful OBFCL2 is as good as it is. Maybe I should just appreciate the fact that Raekwon can pick up his old lamp, blow the dust off and rub that fucker until the Clan and everything they stand / stood for sounds relevant again.
But a big part of me has a problem with this kind of record making. This, to me, seems like an admission that Rae has nowhere to go but down from here. This is the saddest kind of swan song: the kind from an artist who accepts his decline into the faded, faceless background of mediocrity and rather than scream into the darkness, coughs up a photocopied image of what once made them great.
Go buy Only Built For Cuban Linx Part 2. Listen to House of Flying Daggers, the J-Dilla produced battle track that features three of the Clan's best throwing heat like they used to (and Inspectah Deck). Listen to the crime stories of Cold Outside, Penitentiary and Sonny's Missing and appreciate them for their ability to put you at the scene and fill your head with images the way that great fiction always can. Listen to the mournful Ason Jones and the batshit crazy We Will Rob You and miss ODB for two totally separate reasons. Listen to Gihad and New Wu, and realize that the year's best rap album is also the saddest.
Because that, in the end, is what Part 2 really is: A bittersweet victory. A successful last grasp. A beautiful, tragic goodbye of a banger.