Raekwon changed the game when he dropped Only Built 4 Cuban Linx in August 1995. This project meant alot to me. Lets first break down the title.
The title itself refers to the target audience. Back then everyone wore cuban link chains. And if you had one, you know they were the hardest to break. It’s been rumored that the original title was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz. This project was for the “real niggas”.
The title warned you of it’s raw lyrical content and subject matter. Informed anyone looking for pop lyrics and club beats to look elsewhere. They decided to drop the “Niggaz” and go with a more commercially friendly title.
But the album was not commercial. Sure, it had a couple of hits including Ice Cream and Incarcerated Scarfaces, but Raekwon was not aiming for mainstream success. The album sold around 120,000 copies the first week and was certified gold that year. It eventually went platinum, but Raekwon’s focus was his core audience.
What resonated with me was the story telling. The album played like a movie with Raekwon as the star , Ghostface Killah as the guest star and RZA as the director. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is often commemorated for its introduction to a distinctive slang unique to Raekwon and Ghostface; heavy use of the Supreme Alphabet and Supreme Mathematics, as often used by the Wu-Tang Clan, blended with terms picked up on the inner-city streets of New York, as well as several songs based around detailed, loosely-connected stories
Though this album wasn’t as commercially successful as 36 Chambers, it eventually garnered more critical acclaim. Raekwon proved you could still move units without going pop. He even had Nas, the only non Wu-Tang affiliated feature artist on a song called Verbal Intercourse. The features on the album enhanced the project without interrupting the undeniable chemistry between Raekwon and Ghostface.
Pitchfork summed it up perfectly:
Raekwon established a unique rhyming style on Cuban Linx. He uses short staccato bars laced with internal rhymes to deliver fragmented stories, ones for which there is a range of interpretations.
And while Ghost was his equal in terms of pure ability, he was more liable to just bulldoze through everything, letting his intuition, aggression and unmatchable sense of humor guide his bars. While many of Rae’s verses are relatively stoic (see “Incarcerated Scarfaces”), Starks brings an unparalleled energy: On “Criminology,” he talks about being “trapped by sounds/Locked behind loops,” and his verses often feel like he’s giving his all to just get the hell out of the booth, out of the basement.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was one of the hottest albums of 95. Raekwon delivered on his first solo project and had fans waiting for more of Wu-Tang. This album still slaps and is worth listening to even today.
What are your thoughts on this week’s Throwback Thursday, and where were you when you first heard this project?