What Millennials Should Know About… Raekwon’s ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…’


VIBE spotlights some of music’s most essential timepieces for Gen Y

‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995)

Features: The RZA as Bobby Steele, U-God as Golden Arms, Nas as Nas Escobar, The GZA as Maximillion, Cappadonna as Cappuccino, Masta Killa as Noodles, Inspectah Deck as Rollie Fingers, Method Man as Johnny Blaze

Executive Producers: The RZA, Oli Grant, and Mitchell Diggs

Elevator Pitch: Raekwon’s OB4CL is a hood tale that rises from the grime of New York, whose cinematic style made it a hip-hop gem. Linx even spawned a sequel.

The Hits:
“Heaven and Hell” featuring Ghostface Killah and Blue Raspberry
Sampling Syl Johnson’s “Could I Be Falling In Love,” the album’s first single shows Staten Island reps Ghostface and Raekwon trading bars about having rich dreams while still living in poverty. It also made the cut for the Fresh soundtrack.

“Ice Cream” featuring Method Man, Ghostface Killah, and Cappadonna:
This lusty ode to beautiful women of all creeds and ethnicities was a radio smash in 1995. Serving as his breakout hit, it made sense to have Method Man—the biggest solo member of the Clan at the time—on the hook.

“Incarcerated Scarfaces”
“Incarcerated Scarfaces” is one of Rae’s more well-known street records from the album, dedicated to all of incarcerated homies. Its crafty wordplay and imagery is reminiscent of Nas’ “One Love.”

Most Slept On:
“Glaciers of Ice” featuring Ghostface Killah and Masta Killa
This high-octane song about holding heists and slanging crack rocks was featured as the B-side of the other single, “Criminology.” It also gave Clarks shoes free promo.

Bet You Didn’t Know: Samples from the John Woo’s 1989 classic, The Killer, staring Chow Yun Fat, seep into Cuban Linx. The RZA-produced soundscape includes his signature martial arts and soul samples but uitilized scenes from The Killer adding to the LP’s big-screen feels.

Bet You Really Didn’t Know: The hit single, “Ice Cream,” was inspired by RZA using women’s breasts as “imaginary ice cream cones.”

Lines Best For Status Updates:
“I’m ‘bout to make moves and slide like grease” – “Knowledge God”
“I love you like I love my d*ck size” – “Ice Cream”
“Yo, I’m lounging, big d*ck style” – “Ice Cream”
“F**k rap, hip-hop for me off top” – “Criminology”
“Pardon the French, so let me speak Italian” – “Incarcerated Scarfaces”

Synopsis: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx was a cinematic adventure through the streets of New York City in 1995. A gangster’s tale that brought listeners into the inner city of the Big Apple by way of their unique slang and metaphors that details the crack trade, pulling stick-up kid moves, and coming up from hustling in the Park Hill projects. Vivid lyrics “Yo, Africans denying n***as up in yellow cabs/ Musty like funk, waving they arms, to Arabs,” made any listener a native New Yorker.

The Chef’s style of coke rap revolutionized East Coast hip-hop decades later. When it comes to the Mafioso-style of spitting, Rae paved the way for artists like Jay Z, The Clipse, Lil Wayne, Dipset, Rick Ross, French Montana, and many more. It even influenced other contemporaries like The Notorious B.I.G., Nas and Mobb Deep, to switch their styles up in the late ‘90s, channeling larger-than-life kingpins on wax.

OB4CL also saw some of RZA’s finest production to date. Given its perfect sequencing and cohesive selection, you can feel the way-up highs and down-low lows provided in every skit and song as Raekwon as Lex Diamond and Ghostface as Tony Starks pursue their dreams. From “Striving To Perfection” to “North Star,” the sounds of RZA adds that melodic boost to Rae and Ghost’s superior and creative lyrical content.

The hype for OB4CL may have been a slow burn but its impact has been everlasting. Think of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 classic debut Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City. The cinematic style of story-telling in rap could have taken a cue from Rae’s masterpiece. With Cuban Linx’s 20-year anniversary (it was released on Aug. 1), traces of the OG project can be heard on today’s FM rotation. If that isn’t enough bait, Ghostface gives a stern warning to folks “biting” his and the Clan’s style, one that still applies today.—Mark Braboy (@DRD_Poetry17)

Cop Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx on iTunes here.