CLASSIC ALBUMS features ROCK THE BELLS writers getting together to discuss some of the greatest albums in Hip-Hop history. A track-by-track breakdown of the essentials; what we like, what we don't. We explore Hip-Hop's canon without pretension or prejudice.
By the summer of 1995, Wu-Tang Clan was rolling. The nine (ten?) man collective out of Staten Island, N.Y. had exploded onto the scene at the tail end of 1993, with the release of their acclaimed debut Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. That album would see a long shelf-life on the strength of word of mouth throughout 1994, and successful singles like "C.R.E.A.M." and "Can It All Be So Simple." Both of those tracks prominently featured Clan wordsmith Raekwon, and they set the stage for the fiery rhymer nicknamed "The Chef" to drop his solo debut.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... arrived in August 1995 following the well-received single "Heaven & Hell," and the album not only cemented Rae as a star in his own right; it elevated the stature of fellow Clan member Ghostface Killah and heralded an evolution in RZA's production sound.
Alec Banks and Stereo Williams sat down and hashed out the solo debut from Raekwon.
Striving For Perfection
Stereo: There was a time when intros were so engrossing that you didn't skip 'em. You gotta listen to "The Purple Tape" like it's a movie.
Alec: You can't mention this album intro and not bring up John Woo's The Killer. In a pre-Internet era, making those connections wasn't always so easy. When I finally put 2+2 together, it made me think that RZA had probably seen every martial arts flick out there.
Knuckleheadz feat. Ghostface Killah, U-God
Stereo: Ghost and Rae are like peanut butter 'n jelly. If someone had never heard anything Wu-Tang Clan-related, this would be the first track I'd play for 'em.
Alec: With all due respect to U-God — whose memoir is actually a must-read — I'm a little sad we never got a strict Rae and Ghost project that was an official collaboration (like Preemo and Royce with Prime). Songs like "Knuckleheadz, "The MGM," Verbal Intercourse," "Fish," and "Bring Da Ruckus" are reminders that their chemistry was unmatched. A lot of what people remember Wu-Tang for is actually Rae and Ghost's chemistry.
Stereo: The coke sniffing intro, those elegant-but-ominous strings that give way to weird-ass piano keys and shit. Like you said, a lot of what people associate with Wu is really epitomized on Rae's first album.
Alec: Does it get any better than, "Fly like cashmere, last year, my team caught bodies in Grasmere?"
Criminology feat. Ghostface Killah
Stereo: My favorite song on the album and it kind of sets the stage for who Ghostface would be as a solo artist. Everything about this shit is perfect. "Call me doe-snatcher. Dust a brother before the rapture."
Alec: You could make the argument that Rae's line, "Fuck rap, Hip-Hop put me on top" is the reason why a site like Rock The Bells even exists. When people talk about "the culture," the Chef was talking about it in 1995.
Stereo: One of RZA's best beats ever and Rae gives one of his all-time greatest lyrical performances. "Morphine chicks be burnin' like chlorine/Niggaz recognize from here to Baltimore to Fort Greene..."
Alec: Another great usage of The Killer. I think this is probably my favorite song on the album. It's kinda crazy that his Trump references would have completely different meanings in 2020.
Stereo: A Blue Raspberry showcase. Over the years, her vocals became an indelible part of classic Wu for me. She always brings a sorrowful quality to songs that need that.
Alec: This is one of those songs that feels like a movie. I remember hearing it for the first time and just closing my eyes and trying to fill in the words with pictures. Sounds kinda corny...but good music will do that to you.
Guillotine (Swordz) feat. Inspectah Deck, Ghostface Killah, GZA
Alec: I'm a big sports fan. I'd like to make the case that Inspectah Deck is the greatest lead-off hitter of all-time? That dude just knows how to set the tone. Stereo, is there a better MC to get on base in head of the power hitters than Deck?
Stereo: Not that I can think of! Deck is one of those rhymers you can't even call "underrated" anymore. But damn -- the dude is wildly consistent and snatches the spotlight on many a Wu track. He throws down the gauntlet and sets a standard.
Can It Be All So Simple (remix) feat. Ghostface Killah
Stereo: Another great example of their chemistry. I've never thought it surpassed the original, but it's a very good sequel. I can't give it Terminator 2 status; it's more like The Bourne Ultimatum.
Alec: What happened to this style of song construction? I loved when there would be like a minute-plus intro as part of the song. Rae and Ghost always set the table before feeding you a five-course meal.
Shark Niggas (Biters)
Stereo: This was one of the most "shots fired" moments in mid-90s rap. Sneak dissing Bad Boy while giving props to Nas, it established some bad blood between Rae and B.I.G. that led to that verse on "Kick In the Door."
Alec: Ghost goes in hard on people biting album covers. I've gotta credit Ghosdini with the most important album cover when I was younger: Ironman. Seeing all of those Wallabees basically informed by buying habits for the next twenty years.
Ice Water feat. Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna
Alec: Cappadonna doesn't get enough credit. I consider his verse on "Winter Warz" to be one of the best to ever hit wax. If Inspectah Deck is the best leadoff hitter, then Cappadonna is the baseball equivalent to a utility player. He gives the track exactly what it needs based on the situation. Situated between Ghost and Rae, it's all about getting on base.
Stereo: I can remember listening to this repeatedly in my car when I was taking a pre-fresh business course before college. Cappadonna does his thing a few times when he's alongside Ghost and Rae. This is definitely one of his best. Ghost's opener steals the show for me.
Glaciers of Ice feat. Masta Killa, Ghostface Killah
Alec: "Rap Meyer Lansky, crash your fantasy." I mean, come on. People weren't doing this at that time. I remember you and I were speaking about the influence of the mafia on Hip-Hop. Is the Mafia as important to Wu-Tang as martial arts flicks?
Stereo: I think it might be more so, as far as where their lasting influence lies. Rae's best single and another high water mark for RZA. Everything about this song is quintessentially Wu. Masta Killa does the damn thing here, in his own unique way. This song could only come from RZA.
Verbal Intercourse feat. Ghostface Killah, Nas
Stereo: What is there to say? Nas opens with a verse to end all verses, and Ghost and Rae match him bar-for-bar. This is three supreme lyricists pushing each other to greatness. And gotta love that Emotions sample.
Alec: I read somewhere that this was the first Wu-Tang joint to feature a non Clan member.
Wisdom Body feat. Ghostface Killah
Stereo: The song that basically announced Ghost's forthcoming solo career. He had his moments on Enter The Wu... but Ghost really became Ghost on "The Purple Tape." And this is the most traditionally Ghostface moment here. You get Tony Stark in all his glory.
Alec: I feel every classic album for me has a song that is near and dear to my heart. "Wisdom Body" would qualify. I just love how stripped down the production is.
Stereo: "Line for line, line for line -- this is how we get down." The rah-rah moments on the album are all highlights for me and this is another one. "That's my man -- that's my man, too!" He raps his ass off here. "Stop playin' Wu in the back/Smacked him with the gat."
Alec: "Storytellin' rap Magellan, I ain't tellin'." Does it get much better than that?
Ice Cream feat. Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna
Stereo: A classic single and video! The T-shirts were super popular for a hot second and this song, along with Meth's "All I Need..." duet with Mary, showed that Wu had a somewhat unexpected knack for connecting with women.
Alec: The first thing that sticks out to me is the music video. In an era before YouTube, it was important that you had dissected every second of the video before showing up at school. Naively, I thought they were actually talking about ice cream. Luckily, I think my friends did, too.
Wu-Gambinos feat. Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Masta Killa, RZA
Alec: Is this the introduction of the Wu aliases like 'Lou Diamonds," "Starks," "Noodles," "Johnny Blaze" and "Maximillion?" Listening to Wu-Tang was like trying to solve Rubik Cube. There were just so many parts to try to understand that you couldn't just Google.
Stereo: I feel like this was the beginning of the aliases, and that shit took over Hip-Hop. Within a few months of "The Purple Tape," everybody was adopting crime lord aliases; from "Frank White" to "Escobar." Rae popularized that.
Heaven & Hell feat. Ghostface Killah, Blue Raspberry
Stereo: Such a mournful track. It's depressing and angry, and shows just how much RZA had grown as a producer since Enter The Wu-Tang. He scales cinematic heights here.
Alec: I remember hearing this on the Fresh soundtrack! "What do you believe in, heaven or hell? You don't believe in heaven because you're living in hell?"
North Star (Jewels)
Stereo: I like hearing from Poppa Wu! And it should be noted that great Clan albums always have great closers.
Alec: Every "film" needs an outro song. In Goodfellas, you got "My Way" by Sid Vicious. With OB4CL you get "North Star." It's tough closing out a project, but Rae does it masterfully.
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Label: Loud Records