When groups break apart and the members separate, often is a disjointed road of records that spawn up but can never capture the same energy that the original group had. Wu-Tang Clan was a different story, most of their records that popped up after members had gone in solo directions were still considered success in both numbers and sound. Raekwon bounces into the frame off the backboard and picks up his own rebounds with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… where Wu-Tang makes appearances, but the real W’s come from Raekwon’s ill lyricism and relentless performances.
After the first skit “Striving for Perfection,” Raekwon takes a stroll down memory lane with some of the strongest openings to a record. Hearing those piano jumps on “Knuckleheadz,” or the strings of a macabre opera on “Knowledge God,” Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a standout one-two punch for 18-total tracks. “Yo, why’s my niggas always yelling that broke shit? Let’s get money son, now you wanna smoke shit. Chill God, yo the son don’t chill Allah. What’s today’s mathematics son, Knowledge God,” explains Raekwon over this memorizing percussive stomp. Known for his expert rhymes and ability to smirk after every punchline, he continues with Ghostface Killah on “Criminology,” an explosive track for the record.
With a sample from Scarface that sets the money-making tone, Ghostface Killah opens the pits with a verse that sticks to the mind like a pure Columbian line. “The 9th chamber, leave you trapped inside my hallway, you try to flee but you got smoked up by the doorway…While I’ll be trapped by sounds, locked behind loops. Throwing niggas off airplanes cause cash rules everything around me black, as you can see. Swallow this murder one verse like God Degree,” he explains in this animalistic fashion. Ghostface and Raekwon are both iconic members in rap’s history, and they prove why with this trade back and forth between verses on “Criminology.”
Almost at every single turn there is a rather recognizable sound that comes from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… even at times, without trying to draw attention. Tracks that reach the middle point like “Ice Water” hold these instrumentals that shatter spines and create a deeper dive into the grit of New York hip-hop with each boom-bap snap. Even on the records low points, there is something to be learned from and repurposed into modern style of musical form.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is just one of those records to throw on and spend the entire time focusing on it. The record demands the listener’s attention as a study piece rather than a casual listen. The intricate rhymes and instrumentation begs to be heard and has this respectable factor for being a technical debut record that slices through thin air and teams up one of the most influential sounds of a generation.