After the success of the Wu-Tang Clan’s mammoth 1993 debut album, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, the hip-hop world was eagerly awaiting to see what the Shaolin crew would do next. Method Man quickly became the breakout star, thanks to the success of his self-titled single and his legendary hooks, so it was no surprise when he signed with Def Jam and became the first member from the Clan to release a solo album (Tical) at the tail end of 1994 (yes, I know Rza and Genius had solo albums before Meth, but those were BEFOERE the Wu-Tang Clan was formed…thanks!). The court jester of the crew, Old Dirty Bastard, was also one of the crew’s most popular members, beloved for his zaniness and wild antics. He would sign a deal with Elektra and release his solo debut, Return To The 36 Chambers, in March of ’95. So which member would follow these two high profile clansmen solo releases? Yep, you guessed it. Raekwon the Chef would release the next Wu-Tang Clan production, striking with Only Built For Cuban Linx in the summer of ’95.
OBFCL (which through the years has also been referred to as the “Purple Tape”, because the plastic covering on the first pressings of the cassette version of OBFCL was completely purple) would be produced entirely by Rza, and Ghostface Killah would play Robin to Raekwon’s Batman throughout the album (underneath Raekwon’s name on the album cover it actually says “Guest starring Tony Starks (Ghost Face Killer)”). The album would go on to earn a gold plaque, receive critical acclaim and most consider it a classic and the best Wu-Tang Clan solo album.
25 years later, let’s see if OBFCL is still worthy of all the praise.
Striving For Perfection – Over Rza’s sorrowful loop, Rae and Ghost kick off OBFCL talking about their struggle to go from being small time dealers to moving big weight. But ultimately the goal is to get out of the streets and make legit money via the music, as Rae proclaims “I got bigger and better plans, son”. This bleeds right into the first song of the evening…
Knuckleheadz – After the epic build up the intro created, Rza drops this semi-zany instrumental (which suits the song title perfectly) that Rae, Ghost and U-God (aka Golden Arms, aka Lucky Arms) use to spew their unique Shaolin street dialect over. This was cool, but I was expecting something with a little more energy to follow up the dramatic intro we just experienced.
Knowledge God – Rza strikes with more sorrowful chords as Raekwon rolls dolo for one of the few times on OBFCL, spilling more slick street lingo: “By the way, I seen your bitch, she was up in this cat’s room, skied up, weaved the fuck up, to top it off, looked beat up with two crack fiends huggin’ your seed up, I took care of that, though, but don’t worry about it, I got your back, though”. Not one of OBFCL‘s strongest records, but it’s passable.
Criminology – Rae and Ghost go toe to toe with their Shaolin slang over a monster Rza instrumental, and everybody walks away a winner on this one. Shout out to all the Tommy Hill, ice rockin’ niggas.
Incarcerated Scarfaces – Rae dedicates this one to all his drug dealing homies on lockdown. I didn’t really like this one back in the day, but it sounds better 25 years later. I’ve always loved the song title, though.
Rainy Dayz – Rza brings back the sorrowful sample used on the album’s intro that Blue Raspberry laments over with song, which is followed by one of Rza’s signature old karate flick vocal snippets. Then you hear birds chirping, Blue Raspberry singing sorrowfully about her man changing and going insane, while a disgruntle Ghostface complains that “niggas fuckin’ robbed my gate” which has him ready to murder somebody. An unnerving whistle underneath Blue Raspberry’s despairing notes and Ghost’s angry grumblings build up a thick tension, then Rza drops the eerie and gloomy violin loop that Ghost and Rae use to detail the struggle of the street life and the grit required to survive it. This was brilliant. Easily my favorite song on OBFCL.
Guillotine (Swordz) – Rza recycles a loop we first heard him flip on the intro for Meth’s Tical for this lofty cipher session between Inspecktah Deck, Genius, Rae and Ghost. All four emcees bring their A game, spittin’ razor sharp rhymes and severing the heads of their opponents in Rza’s musical dojo as the complete the second part of a wicked two-punch combination.
Can It Be All So Simple (Remix) – After a short skit that ends with Ghostface getting shot, Rza pretty much recycles the same instrumental from the original mix that appeared on 36 Chambers with a few tweaks here and there. Rae and Ghost pick up where they left off at on the O.G. mix, and even though they don’t cover any new territory, they still entertain.
Shark Niggas (Biters) – Rae and Ghost use this interlude to call out all the biters. Then Ghost gets specific and takes his infamous shot at Biggie for copying Nas’ Illmatic album cover on Ready To Die, while Rae lets out an evil snicker behind him. No matter how many times I’ve heard this interlude, it still makes me chuckle, every time.
Ice Water – Rae and Ghost are joined by Cappadonna (aka Cappachino) on this one (it sounds like U-God was supposed to be a part of it, since they mention his name twice during the song) and they each spit a dope verse over Rza’s brilliant mid-tempo banger. This shit is hard.
Glaciers Of Ice – This one starts with Ghost giving fashion tips to his crew in his colorful signature slang, then the frantic paced backdrop comes in and he, Rae and Masta Killa do a pretty solid job of keeping up with it. I could have done without Blue Raspberry singing on this one, but Rza’s instrumental is absolutely bananas.
Verbal Intercourse – Nas joins Rae and Ghost on this one, as they each spit a verse over Rza’s creamy smooth production work. Nas (who recycles a verse he originally used on a pre-Illmatic demo track, “Deja Vu”) easily raps circles around his gracious hosts with his mesmerizing lyricism and polished flow. This one still sounds great, and I love the song title.
Wisdom Body – Apparently Ghost put in so much work on OBFCL that Rae decided to reward him with his own song. Ghost uses it to spit game to a “bad bitch wit a switch” and a waistline that’s “bangin’ like a bassline” over one verse. Ghost always shines when it comes to “lady lustin'” lingo”, but Rza’s lethargic instrumental kind of fails him. They can’t all be great.
Spot Rusherz – This one begins with Rae and Ghost babbling about a bunch of nothing while the Wu-Tang Clan St. Ides commercial (remember that? The beat was incredible) blares in the background. Then Rza drops his devious backdrop and Rae paints the intricate details of his crew’s robbery scheme. This sounds better than I remembered it. And thank you Rae for stopping Ghost from raping Dorinda at the end of the song.
Ice Cream – This was the third single from OBFCL. Rza borrows an ill Earl Klugh loop and turns it into an emotional ride for Rae, Ghost and Cappadonna to rap praises to (and thirst) beautiful women of all flavors. Method Man (continues his spectacular ’95 cameo run) stops by and delivers the very catchy hook and some dope adlibs, which serve as the topping on top of this delicious treat. Pun intended.
Wu-Gambinos – This is one of my favorites on OBFCL. Rza builds this beautiful backdrop around a sophisticated violin and piano loop, as he, Meth, Rae, Ghost and Masta Killa break bread on this brilliant cipher session. Everyone involved shows up to shine (“I call my brother son, cause he shine like one”), but I’m calling this one a tie between Meth and Rza.
Heaven & Hell – This was originally released in ’94 on the Fresh Soundtrack, but also doubled as the lead single for OBFCL. Rae and Ghost take “niggas to war” as they tag team the mic, spinning another hood tale chock-full of drugs and violence, while Blue Raspberry sprinkles her lovely vocals over Rza’s dark and emotional soundscape (that Raekwon hilariously calls “exotic type-shit” at the beginning of the song). This is another single we boosted from Sam Goody back in the day to rap over the instrumental. The good old days…when you actually had to leave the house to steal music.
North Star (Jewels) – This is actually a bonus track on OBFCL. Rza lays down a sexy cinematic instrumental for the album’s finale that begins with Popa Wu (RIP) bumping into to Rae on the street, where he bigs him up and blesses him with a few words of wisdom. Then Rza unleashes the luscious violin chords for our host to spit one last verse filled with his intriguing Shaolin street slang.
Rae and Ghost are definitely not the most talented emcees in the Wu-Tang Clan, but what they lack in raw ability they more than make up for with charisma, coolness and undeniable chemistry, and all three attributes are on full display throughout Only Built For Cuban Linx. The album’s production starts out a little sluggish (I’m sticking to my story that “Knuckleheadz” shouldn’t have been sequenced as the first song after the intro), but by the time “Rainy Dayz” rolls around, Rza’s production kicks into full gear for Rae and Ghost to massage the listener’s brain “with slang that’s king”, and the random exchanges between the two on the album’s interludes and skits are almost worth the cost of admission alone. Rae also lets every member of the Clan get a piece (with the exception of ODB and I’m still curious on why he didn’t show up), making OBFCL feel like a family affair and contributing to the album’s greatness. OBFCL has held up well over the past twenty-five years and it will forever hold its own against any of the other titanic first round of Wu-Tang Clan solo albums.