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Second solo album from "The Chef" has critics talking

Wu-Tang fans unite! Raekwon “The Chef” has led the group back to the hip-hop forefront with his latest solo album, “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II.  The album, released on Sept. 8, features guest performances from all seven living members of the original Wu-Tang Clan and has been hailed by many industry insiders as the return of the gritty, raw style of hip-hop that launched the group into popularity in the 1990s.

Raekwon’s Northampton show will promote his first solo album since 1995. During the nearly 15 year solo hiatus, The Chef has put out three albums with the Wu and spent the last few years cooking up his latest masterpiece. It remains to be seen if this installation of “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” will match the critical acclaim of his first project. But his evolution as an MC has got a lot of critics talking.

The album features 22 tracks, all of which showcase an elevated style of lyricism while staying true to the raw street rap that Raekwon is known for. Now in his late 30s, Raekwon said in an interview with MTV News that he’s in a much “different frame of mind” than he was when he made his first album.

When it comes to album production, Raekwon went with nothing but the best. The majority of beats on “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Part II” are produced by RZA, Dr. Dre., and the late great J Dilla. No auto-tune or phony synthesizers here. This is nothing but raw, base-thumping hip-hop with a roster of artists that looks like a rapper all-star team.

The album features verses from over 10 prominent artists, including Jadakiss, Styles P, Busta Rhymes, Slick Rick, Beanie Sigel and of course, the entire Wu-Tang Clan. Their performances add to the album’s surprising diversity and help Raekwon assert himself as one of the most talented MCs in the game.

One of the most popular songs on the album, “New Wu,” featuring Method Man and Ghostface Killah, serves as an emblematic example of Wu’s evolution over the years. In a murderous third verse, Method Man outlines the clash of the gangsta’ lifestyle versus family and responsibilities. “This what the block missing/ the two-seater with the top missing/ and two divas with the tops missing/ now that’s living to me, I’m what these kids is killing to be/ but I don’t want my children to be.”  

A new side of Raekwon is on display on the track “Ason Jones,” a tribute to Wu member and hip-hop icon ODB ( Ol’ Dirty Bastard), who died of a drug overdose in 1994. The melodic, tear-jerking ode to ODB sharply contrasts the cutthroat force of the other tracks on the album.

In a music genre that is still somewhat adolescent, Raekwon and his fellow Wu-Tang members can boast a staying power that other rappers can only dream of. The amazing thing is, after all the success and praise, they continue to improve and adapt to their audience. “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx …Part II” is a prime example of that adaptation.

In the song “Kiss the Ring,” Raekwon sends a subtle message to young rappers and lyrically speaks on his status as a veteran in the game. “So salute and toast to the best who done it/ murder rap I spit for the vets who love it.” Tip your New-Era caps to the Chef and put your lighters in the air. Raekwon is back on the scene with a raw compilation that will remind you what real hip-hop is.

Noah Steinberg-Di Stefano can be reached at steinber@student.umass.edu

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