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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

[Article] An alternative version of RAEKWON's "OB4CL2"

On a personal level I have always held Raekwon's marvelous '95 debut "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..." to be the single greatest album ever created. An opinion that is not all that unpopular amongst hip-hop heads and music critics, so when the Chef announced plans to produce a true sequel to hsi masterpiece in collaboration with most of the supporting cast of the original music fans everywhere were ecstastic at the prospect. Though the initial recording sessions went down as early as 2005 the project faced label and distribution problems that caused it to be delayed until mid-2009. Within that time a whole lot of changes occured that would transform the original idea behind the project into something else, while the countless recording sessions allowed Raekwon to release a huge amount of mixtapes that made sure the hype didn't die down. I was following the developement of the LP rather fiendishly at the time, snapping up any media reports and digging through every article and interview that I came across. The early articles was also some of the best in increasing the hopes of listeners getting a sequel that could live up to its name. Two of my favorites, and also those who I base much of my own conclusions on, is two interviews with RZA from SCRATCH and Hip Hop Connection, respectively. The piece in SCRATCH is based on a listening session and breakdown of several key songs together with RZA, while the HHC interview only slightly touches upon "OB4CL2" but in doing so reveals important pieces to the puzzle. Both articles were published already back in 2006, giving credence to the fact that a full album was basically completed and ultimately remade before it reached the public. This is the basis for my own writing today, to use all the information available to recreate a possible interpretation of what "OB4CL2" might have been like had it been released when it was originally intended to.

To clarify, I think that "OB4CL2" indeed is a very good album that stands on its own, but that being said it is not, unlike its predecessor, without flaws. In its initial stages, the concept of the album was to have RZA be the main producer steering the ship while additional tracks would be supplied by J Dilla,  Scram Jones, Erick Sermon and a couple of others. However, by the time Raekwon was able to release it this had changed drastically as only two RZA tracks remained on the album ("Fat Lady Sings" was in fact produced by True Master). Now, to me RZA was every bit as integral to the original "Cuban Linx" sound as Raekwon was - and so was Ghostface. To then make a sequel barely carrying RZA's sound is just wrong, like making a sequel to "Carlito's Way" and having Jay Hernandez and Puff Daddy play the leads. However, a big reason for this is that many of the cuts recorded for "OB4CL2" was snatched up, in some cases remixed, and put out as Wu-Tang Clan tracks on "8 Diagrams". I personally believe that is the main reason for Rae's public resentment against that LP, which is totally understandable. So without a main producer and years of building the album, leaving Raekwon with tons of material to consider, the 24 tracks deep LP that was finally released comes off as a heavy, but disjointed almost mixtape like album. This didn't stop me from banging the shit out of it for months after it dropped though as almost everything on it is pure crack and an unbelivable step up from Raekwon's previous outing, 2003:s "The Lex Diamond Story". With that being said I did miss a central sound and the always sharp on-record chemistry between Raekwon and RZA. That begs the question - had it actually been better had the original vision been kept in tact, had RZA not given away tracks for "8 Diagrams", etc.? I personally think the version that I am about to present y'all with, based only on songs confirmed to have been recorded by 2006 or at the very latest 2007, answers that question in the affirmative but you'll be the judge for yourself!

01. "Baggage Handlers" Ft. Busta Rhymes
This was originally pegged as an early single from "Cuban Linx II" and made an apperance on the first installment of Chef's "The Vatican" mixtape series (2006). I initially figured this as more of a street single to build up hype, but conversations about this topic with Seamuz made me change my mind. As an album opener I think it works really well; beginning with a Scarface sample that leads into a real hard knocking banger of pure energy that builds up the anticipation of what's to come... An anticipation that is doubled up with Busta Rhymes raw hook - "YO IT'S CUBAN LINX II MOTHERFUCKERS!!". Some debate about whether this was produced by ?uestlove or J Dilla, however it is clear that Busta figured it a Jay Dee beat (which he, in his role as executive producer, probably presented to Raekwon together with the other Dilla beats that he picked) as he included it as such on "Dillagence".

02. "House Of Flying Daggers" Ft. GZA/Genius, Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah & Method Man
Another J Dilla production, structured around a one bar loop that I believe is sampled from RZA's "Ghost Dog" score and mixed down in a real lo-fi manner with the drums and bass line booming and blasting at you. In other words this song is raw as fuck! "House Of Flying Daggers" was mentioned early on as a posse cut with the Clan. In the VIBE article it mentions how GZA and Inspectah Deck had recorded a lot of material for the LP, playing a similiar position as that of Ghost on the first one, and here they make their first, out of several, apperances.

03. "Black Mozart" Ft. Inspectah Deck
Originally titled "Secret Indictment" this Inspectah Deck collaboration was at one point considered to be the next single from the LP, following "State Of Grace". RZA's flip of 'The Godfather' theme is neither original or very creative, but the track has an aura of dark mystique, an intense hook and killer verses from both parties. Great success!

04. "Sonny's Missing"
Produced by Pete Rock, this song was never mentioned in any of the early interviews, though it clearly was recorded back then (perhaps in the same session as "Kids That's Rich"). The reason I know this is because the beat was first heard in early 2008 on Pete's "NY's Finest" where Royal Flush made a great track called "Questions" out of it. Mr. Philips put a light on the situation - "I gave the beat to Raekwon, and it was just lingering for years and years ... I didn't think he wanted the beat anymore, so I used it for my album" (Complex, 2011).

05. "Broken Safety" Ft. Jadakiss & Styles P
This was often mentioned in earlier articles under the title of "Forty Deuce" and is produced by Scram Jones. Jones was also one of the first outside producers, together with Jay Dee, whose work was confirmed for the album, hence their inclusion here. It also fits the vibe of the album very well if you ask me, and hearing The LOX and Wu is always a good thing.

06. "Rockstars & Smoking Barrels" Ft. GZA/Genius & Inspectah Deck
"Rockstars" (which it was renamed for) was discussed in the SCRATCH article and the description made it sound like the most awesome song ever recorded. In 2009 when we were getting real close to the release, Raekwon and the Ice Water team kept posting the tracklist, albeit with slight changes and "Rockstars" was deleted only at the last minute, which is a true shame. This is without a doubt the song that I'm the most disapointed with not being included on the LP. The team of Raekwon, GZA and Inspectah Deck over RZA's laid back, blues inspired production is just fantastic. GZA's storytelling abilities is on another level as proven here.

07. "New WU" Ft. Method Man & Ghostface Killah
Classic Wu vibes on this, the lead single from the 2009 release, and I remember I was gobsmacked hearing this monster jam for the first time. I never saw this track mentioned in interviews back in '06/'07 but since it's a RZA production I figured that it might very well have been done then as all songs obviously wasn't revealed at the time.

08. "10 Bricks" Ft. Ghostface Killah & Cappadonna
Yessir, the Ghost/Rae/Cappa collaboration is definitely a must for a proper "Cuban Linx..." sequel, and "10 Bricks" delivers in every sense. J Dilla is behind the production, and the beat would later be pciked up from a beat tape and modeled into "The Red" remix for Madlib. Once again this particular title was not mentioned to my knowledge but I remember reading an interview with Busta who revealed that Jay Dee had several tracks on there.

09. "Kareem Khan" Ft. GZA/Genius, Masta Killa & Slick Rick
Real stripped down, pounding track that put the emphasis on thick DRUMS and a beautifully structured bridge sampled from Bobby Womack's classic "Across 110th Street". "Kareem Khan" was described in the SCRATCH Magazine article and was luckily kept for inclusion on the final album, although renamed "We Will Rob You". The aforementioned article states that this song was a co-production between RZA and Young Justice (the son of GZA) though the linear notes only credits the latter. I think the first scenario is the more plausible one but who knows. Very ill track nontheless, and I love the intro with Slick Rick ("...no, but I'ma tell you one of them old, Raekwon crime joints").

10. "Baggin' Crack"
As with "Rockstars" this song appeared and disappeared between the various tracklists Raekwon posted before the release of the album - it did survive however. Erick Sermon's involvement with the album was announced in 2006 and as far as I know this is the only known song from them (save for "Goldmine" on Busta's Aftermath LP and the "We Mean Business" cameo). Interesting fact - the constant hacking hi-hat sound is created from looping a razor hitting the table, It does have a West Coast vibe to it which makes for a nice transition into...

11. "About Me"
When Raekwon signed to Aftermath in '06 he went in the studio to record with Dr. Dre. At one point it was said that The Good Doctor would be responsible for a large percentage of the beats on the LP, but to my knowledge only three songs has been revealed to have came out of those sessions. Two of them appeared on "CL2" while a third track, supposedly featuring Busta Rhymes have yet to be released. Although "Catalina" fits the time frame I decided to cut it, simply on personal taste as I never been big on it nor do I find it very "Cuban Linx"-esque. "About Me" is a heavy track though, and more in line with the sound of the LP.

12. "Thug World" Ft. Inspectah Deck & RZA
"Thug World", which was mentioned in the SCRATCH article, is the very definition of a Wu banger; sparse, hard hitting, dark, opens on a movie sample, etc. For this very reason I found it extremely frustrating that RZA completely reworked and remixed it into the psychadelic rock-rap experiment "Unpredictable" on "8 Diagrams": Luckily DJ Allah Mathematics included the first 2:30 of the song on the official promo mixtape preceding the Clan album. This version has been expanded two times by creative and talented fans. The first version extends the snippet by repeating the chorus after RZA's verse and including the full movie sample. The second version, created by Rusty WU Chain on my request, adds the acapellas to Raekwon and U-GOD's verses on "Execution in Autumn" as these verses followed RZA according to Cilvaringz. The only problem is that there's not any clean parts to allow the beat to be looped up in a proper way, so a part of the movie dialouge plays under the two last verses. It's good in the way that you'll get an idea of what the complete original track sounded like. I included the extended version by Hom1e, but be sure to check out the Rae/Uey version HERE (again many thanks to Rusty and Hom1e for their respective mixes).

13. "Weak Spot" Ft. RZA & GZA/Genius
Another song that ended up on "8 Diagrams" but unlike "Thug World" did so virtually unchanged from the mixtape version. In an interview with HipHopConnection in 2006 RZA mentions a track called "Weed Spotz" (probably a misinterpretation by the interviewer) that he produced during the "Cuban Linx II" sessions. Already here RZA was not sure whether they should include it on "CL2" or save it for the next Clan album as it was heavy on the Kung Fu vibe and he wasn't sure if he wanted to mix the Mafia and martial art themes. The version that appeared on the "8D" mixtape in 2007 is different in the way that it is a different mix of the song with a whole lot more emphasis on the strings which is placed a lot more far back on the album version. You can download the mixtape version here (it's actually the superior version, although I went with the album version due to sound quality).

14. "State Of Grace"
This song is correctly titled for sure, it's got a truly majestic vibe although it is based around a simple loop. This reminds me a bit of LL Cool J's comeback single/LP "Mama Said Knock You Out" in that some people had counted Rae out as a solo artist and this track, the first single from the album, let everyone know that he's back and not going anywhere. The chemistry that I mentioned between Rae and RZA is truly in effect here, and despite it having been out for years when "CL2" was finally released it's a shame that this was cut. "Halftime" had been out for a few years when "Illmatic" dropped, imagine they had deleted that because everybody already having heard it.

15. "Mean Streets" Ft. Inspectah Deck & Ghostface Killah
Yet another Inspectah Deck collaboration, underlining the notion that INS and GZA taking on the role of Starks for this sequel. Rebel INS appears on a total of six tracks on this version, while GZA kicks knowledge on four joints (about the same amount of songs he usually rhymes over on Clan LP:s). Produced by Allah Mathematics I remember this joint catching some flack from Wu-Tang fans when the LP was first heard, likely because of the chorus, but for me this is an all around winner. I think the first time I saw this song title mentioned might've been in 2007.

16. "Kiss The Ring" Ft. Inspectah Deck & Masta Killa
"Kiss The Ring" closes the album on the official version which I think is a great choice, as it is a triumphant celebration of a mission completed. Scram Jones on the beat again, and Inspectah Deck is joined by Masta Killa, making sure it's a family affair.

17. "Sunlight" Ft. RZA
Here's one that is likely to suprise a whole lot of people who didn't know about this. Remember the RZA solo track on "8 Diagrams" where he's rapping about the greatness and grace of God, Allah, over a really dark, strange track without drums. This was in fact originally recorded and intended for inclusion on "Cuban Linx II" as some sort of intermission. That is why you'll hear Raekwon on the intro saying "It's fat man, it's fat!". Kind of strange how RZA wasn't sure about mixing the martial arts theme with drug rhymes, but Coke and the goodness of God works fine.

18. "Ason Jones"
Raekwon was at one point listed as one of the guest features on J Dilla's still unreleased (in official format) "Jay Loves Japan" release around 2005. That album is where the instrumental for "Ason Jones" belongs, titled "Believe in God", which makes it possible that "Ason Jones" would've appeared on "Jay Loves Japan". I don't believe that Raekwon would not have included such a personal song on his own album as well, however. A beautiful tribute to the late Russel Jones, this makes for a very powerful outro to the album, something that Raekwon too would agree with as early 2009 tracklists often placed this as the final cut.

00. "No Matter How Hard You Try" Ft. RZA & Inspectah Deck
The song which appeared on RZA's solo album "Digi Snacks" in 2008 had a long journey before ending up as a Bob Digi single. Originally mentioned as part of "OB4CL2" in the SCRATCH article, it was then moved over for inclusion on "8 Diagrams" before being exercised and resurrected for "Digi Snacks". If I remember correctly it also featured Ghostface but as their was quite some turmoil between RZA, Ghost and Rae around that time it's easy to see why their verses were cut. As those verses never have been made available to the public I decided against including it here, but I highly recommend including this somewhere in the middle of "8 Diagrams" whenever you listen to that in digital format.

So there you have it! My revisit of "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Part 2" which I personally think makes for an almost flawless album, and one that is more reminiscent of classic Wu albums - especially "Supreme Clientele". It has a cohessive sound created by having The RZA producing a large chunk of the album (producing eight of the eighteen records), while Jay Dilla and Scram Jones stick to the script by contributing beats that fits the project like a glove. Again bringing up "Supreme Clientele", RZA and Raekwon collaborated on "CL2" in much the same vein. As Raekwon explained to WaxPoetics - "We kept the same vibe. I ain't stupid. I went back and made sure that shit was compatible. RZA sat for hours and guided everyone through exactly what we needed" (WaxPoetics, 2008).' I would love to hear some comments on this to see if people appreciate this alternative version as much as I do, and while you're at it I would strongly recommend checking out my Raekwon compilation "Enter The Vatican". That's a great companion piece to this as it collects all of the, to me, illest mixtape songs by Chef from around 2005-2007. Last but not least, PEACE to Seamuz for the good discussions that led to this post and compilation.

[on the down low]

11 comments:

  1. What's up homie, Punch from WUCORP here.
    Awesome work putting this together and a great read.
    A few things though-
    -House Of The Flying Daggers samples The Four Tops version of the Beatles'
    Eleanor Rigby
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=414CN96KX-w
    -In a promotional interview for the Roland MV8000 sampler RZA previewed a snippet of the Rockstars beat in its original, sample-based ( and superior in my opinion) version.
    Go to 10:02
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=VLygwYTd_Uc

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  2. Thanks for this first of all. Anyway, I'm just curious, is the "About Me" you put in the the comp the Busta Rhymes version or the the original version (according the the OB4CL2 Gold Edition) with The Game? Also I happen to like "Catalina," where would have put that in the comp?

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  3. real glad to hear y'all are enjoying this, to me this so far superior!
    Mono Jones: wow, thanks for that info and the original "Rockstars". i love both though..

    Anonymous: the "About Me" track is the Busta Rhymes version from "Ob4cl2" instead of The Game track since i feel The Game sounds out of place on the album, which i guess is why he deleted it from the retail release.

    001: i saw your post on ""Enter The Vatican", i wish i could still use Mediafire but you need to sign up and become a member these days.

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  4. FYI....there was an article with RZA explaining that Rae told RZA all the beats he would NO LONGER be using for CL2. RZA explained he gave them all to Rae, let him choose first...thats why some of those tracks were available for 8D...so I would hope thats not one of the main reasons Rae is salty about 8D. RZA didnt just take them back.

    This is great work here. Thanks a lot!! Def would've been better w/ mostly RZA joints.

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  5. Yo, thanks for this comp and all the info! Do you know where to get a jpeg of that Rza Scratch interview and the Hip Hop Connection interview?

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  6. Anonymous: Many thanks for that valuable information, that is definitely something i haven't read.. you don't happen to have a link to that? however i sometime get the feeling that RZA doesn't put it beyond himself to twist a story to put him in the better light but who knows.

    Scjoha: Unfortunately i don't have the scans for the Scratch interview anymore, i used to have all of them along with some other articles on my old hard drive that crashed.. trying to find them again though. i have the HipHopConnection issue in my apartment, maybe i can scan it at the library or something

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  7. Is it possible to re-up? I didn't have internet back when you dropped this, but I always kept it in the back on my mind. Major props on your Enter the Vatican comp btw, great selection.

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  8. would love a re up brotha, thanks for putting this together

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  9. i need this re up so bad :(

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