This review is part of the Colossus Guest Time Series. Some weeks will have one, some will have two, others will have none. At Colossus we are committed to be for the people and by the people! If you are interested in writing a review of your favorite album, DM us on Twitter at @music_colossus!
Fifteen years before appearing on Kanye’s iconic My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Raekwon was a member of the biggest group in the game at the time, the Wu-Tang Clan, and in a collective of 9 MCs he was one of the top generals, holding down the top tier of the crew alongside Method Man, Ghostface Killah and GZA. The Wu debuted in 1993 and by the summer of ’95 we’d gotten solo albums from immediate superstar Method Man and the people’s champ Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Just around the corner was the lyrical masterpiece from the GZA whose alias was, appropriately, The Genius, but the summer belonged to Raekwon (with Ghostface in a supporting role, although arguably the MVP), as the Chef served up his debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…
This album is not just a classic, it also helped elevate a style known as “mafioso rap” which included AZ, Kool G Rap (the originator of the style) as well as the debut of a young MC by the name of Jay-Z. Many rappers today owe their careers to this album including Pusha T who has acknowledged (both in interviews and on record) that this album influenced his recent DAYTONA project and, with the guidance and production of Wu founder RZA, this album is more than just music, its cinematic feel makes it play out like a movie as stars’ rhymes are so descriptive you can see the pictures they paint while RZA’s production is as dusty as the residue that fills the coke-fumed room.
The record opens with Rae and Ghost discussing the desire to leave the life of crime and their hope for a better future for themselves and their kids but then it quickly descends into the dark depths of their reality as the first song is a grim account of a day in the life of kingpins for whom coke and dollar bills are the means to fly riches. The next joint begins with a long sniff which then leads into Raekwon delivering slang wizardry on “Knowledge God”, showcasing why he’s considered the slickest of the Clan. What follows is the back and forth brilliance of “Criminology” as well as more verbal gymnastics on the street anthem “Incarcerated Scarfaces”.
The highlight of the album (which says a lot considering many call this album flawless) is the trifecta of “Ice Water”, “Glaciers of Ice” and “Verbal Intercourse”. The first song is slow and haunting and it introduces us to the proverbial 6th man (really 10th man) of the crew, Cappadonna, who would go on to deliver one of the most iconic verses of all time on Ghostface’s solo album the following year but who delivers a fiery introduction here, while the second track is a frantic marathon with Rae, Ghost and fellow Wu-member Masta Killa flipping bars over the hype beat. The trilogy closes with the first non-Wu feature on a record and who better than for it to be than a lyrical assassin himself, Nas, who bodies the opening verse of “Verbal Intercourse” leaving Rae and Ghost to try their best to clean up the slaughter that the Nasty one left for them.
There are two posse cuts, “Wu-Gambinos” and “Guillotine [Swords]”, the former having more generals but the latter being the better track as everyone delivers razor-sharp verses over the simplistic yet fury filled RZA beat. Deck sets it off with his signature style of opening tracks with greatness while Ghost brings the energy up even more, allowing Raekwon to come in and drop multiple gems, then GZA closes it out with a short yet wisdom filled verse in his calm inviting tone.
There’s a reason this album is cited by rappers from every region, every style and every generation as it has had a profound impact on the game. While many say it birthed the coke rap genre, it’s also the reason why so many rappers drop Goodfellas and Godfather references in their songs as well as come up with multiple aliases for themselves. It also gave us the idea of the concept album as it was the first album that really told a story through the music, something that we still hear today through such artists as Kendrick Lamar on his brilliant Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City as well as Jay-Z’s American Gangster and Masta Ace’s highly underrated A Long Hot Summer. With the slickness of a mob boss draped in the grimy sounds of RZA’s rich yet raw production, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a cinematic masterpiece that allows its co-stars Raekwon and Ghostface Killah to shine brightly through the glistening white of a kilo of pure cocaine.