Much has been written about Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II in the week since it’s release. I hope (and think) there’s still more to be said, so I’m back. This post is a spiritual successor to my post on Slaughterhouse from a month ago.
When Slaughterhouse dropped their album, they promised unfiltered, dope Hip Hop. They hit the Brita somewhere in between, and came out with an album that definitely tasted like Hip Hop but it wasn’t good Hip Hop. Sure there were some great lines (Joell Ortiz probably gets line of the year “now I’m having a whale of a good time–I’ma free Willy”), but it still felt slapdash, a random collection of songs from a week of studio sessions culling beats from all corners of the Hip Hop universe. There’s no internal consistency to the album, no theme that runs through it. It fails, ultimately, not because the music is horrendous, but rather because it is undercooked. It is easy to see that this “supergroup” idea and the momentum that came with it carried the members of Slaughterhouse into the studio, but it is also clear that they were not united by any interesting thematic similarities (we get it, you all rip mics, you all kill it lyrically–15 tracks of that and we should understand).
Enter OB4CL II.
Just in time for the end of year Oscar push, Raekwon releases his own spectacular crime movie. I’m not going to compare it to the original OB4CL. This is a fruitless exercise. Though OB4CL is not my favorite Wu Tang solo album, its presence in the Hip Hop landscape is monolithic. Attempting to create a sequel to it is foolhardy. As far as sequels go, OB4Cl II is no Godfather II–more like Crank 2. Like the directors of the Crank films, Rae looked at his fan base and said: oh, you liked what happened on the first one? Well here it is again, but more this time.
And that’s what OB4CL II is. More guns. More crack. More prison. More gold. More toasts. More grimy beats. More more more. And it works. It works because Rae chose beats from different producers that, while distinct, fit together wonderfully (with the exception of Dr. Dre’s two awkwardly clean, mechanical contributions). It works because EVERY guest delivers (GZA steals the show in his one appearance and all of Ghostface’s verses kill). It works because Rae sounds so wise and calm now, filtering his previous street escapades through mellowing years and the travails of the industry.
A discussion of OB4Cl’s sales is almost irrelevant, but it did debut 5th on the Billboard charts this week with 65,000 sold (Jay-Z, of course, sold 465,000, but we’re talking apples and oranges there). Rae’s release only proves that there are still fans of his rugged brand of Hip Hop who are looking to support an established product. The problem Slaughterhouse may have encountered: their brand is not quite as vaunted as the W, their album not as anticipated as another promised classic from Raekwon. Raekwon’s sales really tell us nothing about the landscape of the industry. They are a blip in what is still a dying world. They’re an exciting blip, but not a saving balm or signpost of the way to save the industry.
And maybe it’s not a true medicine for music’s ills because it is not a revolutionary album. It is in no way innovative. You’re still going to hear dusty beats, kung-fu samples, outlandish metaphors, and references to the 5 Percent Nation. And if you like classic Wu Tang, none of the aforementioned will be a problem. But if you’re a new fan of Hip Hop, you might even find this album inaccessible with its densely layered references and aggressive beats. As far as I’m concerned, this is the album of the year thus far and the only well considered album to come out of Hip Hop’s ailing corner. I have high hopes for Brother Ali’s forthcoming effort Us, but until next week at least Raekwon is the king of 09.
BONUS: Second single “House of Flying Daggers.”
The video is pretty awful, but this song bumps harder than anything in recent memory. And GOD DAMN Ghost goes in.