Raekwon’s debut solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., is a timeless masterpiece that has remained a classic in Hip Hop culture since its release in 1995. Born Corey Woods in Staten Island, New York, Raekwon was one of the founding members of the Wu-Tang Clan, the legendary rap group that formed in the early 1990s. The Wu-Tang Clan’s first album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), released in 1993, is considered a classic too and was a commercial and critical success that put the Wu-Tang Clan on the map. Following the release of the group’s debut album, the first wave of Wu-Tang artists began releasing solo albums, with Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… being one of the most highly anticipated.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... – also known as The Purple Tape – is a concept album that tells the story of two gangsters, played by Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, who are part of a fictional criminal organization called the “Wu-Gambinos.” The album is known for its cinematic storytelling, vivid imagery, and intricate wordplay.
After the intro, we get “Knuckleheadz” which showcases Raekwon’s lyrical prowess as he collaborates with U-God and Ghostface to detail the dangerous world of drug deals. The track’s gritty production and vivid storytelling make it a perfect opening salvo, and the album doesn’t let up over its 70-minute runtime. One of the standout tracks on the first half of the album is “Criminology,” which features a haunting beat and showcases Raekwon’s lyrical prowess. The song paints a gritty picture of street life and the criminal underworld. “Incarcerated Scarfaces” is another standout track, with Raekwon and Ghostface Killah delivering vivid descriptions of their criminal activities over a menacing beat.
The album’s lead single, “Ice Cream,” features a smooth R&B sample and guest verses from Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna, and an iconic hook by Method Man. The song became a commercial success and helped to further cement Raekwon’s status as one of the leading members of the Wu-Tang Clan. “Verbal Intercourse” is another standout track, with a guest verse from Nas and a soulful sample that complements the song’s introspective lyrics.
Other highlights include: “Guillotine (Swordz)”, “Glaciers of Ice”, and the epic “Wu-Gambinos” – this album is packed with classic Wu-Tang cuts. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… also features several skits that help to tie the album’s narrative together. The skits, which are inspired by classic mafia films, help to create a cinematic atmosphere and add to the album’s overall cohesiveness.
The album’s impact on Hip Hop culture is significant and enduring. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is widely regarded as one of the greatest Hip Hop albums of all time and has influenced countless artists in the genre. The album’s storytelling and vivid imagery have become hallmarks of the Wu-Tang Clan’s style, and RZA’s production, which incorporates samples from classic kung fu films, has become synonymous with the Wu-Tang sound. The album’s legacy is evident in the fact that it’s been reissued several times, including a 25th-anniversary edition released in 2020.
In addition to its cultural significance, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... also was a commercial success. The album debuted at number four on the Billboard 200 and has since been certified platinum by the RIAA. “Ice Cream,” peaked at number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 and helped to introduce Raekwon to wider audiences. Beyond its cultural and commercial success, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is also an important piece of Wu-Tang Clan history. The album is a reflection of the group’s innovative and creative approach to Hip Hop, which helped to shape the genre in the 1990s and beyond.
In short: Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is a seminal Hip Hop album that deserves its place among the greatest records of all time.