Ghostface Killah’s Ironman vs. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Throughout Hip-Hop history, there are few pairs tighter than Ghostface Killah and Raekwon the Chef. Following the two Staten Islanders’ breakout work on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), G.F.K. played co-host to Rae’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… solo debut. Over a year later, Ghost’ called upon Shallah to return the favor for Ironman. Regardless of who’s name is on the spine of these albums, it’s a family affair. However, Finding The GOAT gets internally interesting, as these two oft-compared works battle it out in a way that both iconic lyricists could appreciate. Largely made with the same producer, The RZA, these LPs have vividly different tone and texture. Raekwon laced a John Woo-inspired crime thriller in his purple tape, while Tony Starks combined comic books with Blaxploitation flick vibes in his own roll-0ut. While Rae’ pancaked fellow mid-’90s stellar debut in O.C. Word…Life by a massive margin, Ghostface arguably led a massive upset by besting Biggie Smalls’ diamond-certified double LP. Although co-hosts and extensive collaborations soften the blow of any loss, only one of these 1995-1996 darts can stick in the board going forth. Which will it be? (click one then click “vote”).
Ironman by Ghostface Killah
– First Round Winner (against The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, 57% to 43%)
Three years removed from Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ghostface Killah was still shrouded in mystery. The irritable Shaolin MC was an unconventional voice in the crowd on the group debut, the cool best-friend in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and a star guest on Liquid Swords. But without external Wu work, nobody knew what to expect in his debut. Late 1996’s Ironman showed that G.F.K. was one of the Clan’s most interesting, versatile, and purely original voices. Dennis Coles was deeply in touch with ’70s Soul. The album was big on those Stax and Hi Records samples, but moreover, the Ghost’ was a man easily affected by his woman (“Camay”), a guy who grew up in poverty (“All That I Got Is You”), and an MC who felt strongly about his peers’ mishandling the message (“Assassination Day”). This respective vulnerability, humility, and authority made the album ripe with elements. Songs like “260,” “Black Jesus” and “Winter Warz” employed thumping RZA tracks, with raps that sounded like jagged abstractions that made sense with time. At a time when Rap was celebrated the big studio, polished sounds of Tupac, Puff Daddy, and Jay Z, Ghostface Killah rapped about the same things, but with a perceptive distortion. While the other guys were rapping about .44 calibers, Bentleys, and big-face hundreds, G.F.K. represented a world of Pathmark parking lots, dyed suede Wallabees, and swordsmen imagery.
In the egocentric ’90s, Raekwon came on to support Ghost’—returning the purple tape favor. Along with Rae’, Ghost’ gave huge album roles to Cappadonna and U-God. Perhaps true of his own real estate within Wu-Tang’s introduction, Ghostface was a man who favored underdogs, and represented Ironman with that comic-book mentality. Totally different than his work in 1994 and 1995, RZA picked at more overt samples for the Epic Records-backed released on his own imprint. From Al Green to Cornbread, Earl & Me, nothing was off limits as the “razor sharp” Abbott sliced down anything that aligned with the MC’s style. Ironman was soulful in the era of the pop, it is defiantly Black at a time when albums were toning down race matters, and the LP is as intimate of an experience as Heads can get in the 1990s with a platinum MC.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: October 29, 1996
Label: Razor Sharp/Epic Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #2 (certified gold, January 1997; certified platinum, February 2004)
Song Guests: Raekwon, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, Method Man, RZA, U-God, Cappadonna, The Delfonics, Mary J. Blige, Streetlife, Poppa Wu, Force MD’s
Song Producers: RZA, True Master
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… by Raekwon
– First Round Winner (against O.C.’s Word…Life, 87% to 13%)
Compared to jump-off Enter The Wu-Tang, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was a lyrical zodiac. Staten Island’s Chef and co-star Ghostface Killah showed the underbelly of the Shaolin crew in a linear effort about hustling, surviving shootouts, and backing down impostors on the block. Whereas Wu-Tang’s group album delved into rising the Hip-Hop ranks, “The Purple Tape” as it is affectionately remembered, was pure cinema. With John Woo’s Killer and Scarface excerpts throughout, Chef Rae brought narrative Rap albums to a boiling point. With the Clansmen in the wings—using their Wu-Gambino aliases, this LP drew a clear line for how the parts of the Clan body operated outside of their sums. For Rae’ and Ghost’ it was straight “Criminology.” The two MCs spit it in a way that could not be held up in a court of law, but violated so many Rap conventions.
Like Kool Keith, Raekwon’s writing style was impressionistic. The MC gave listeners the benefit of the doubt of putting the puzzles together—making it an active experience. “Glaciers Of Ice” melted the brain, with a fast-paced flow, and an inventive world. “Knowledge God” took (album guest) Nas’ “One Love” concept, and rewrote it in a way that the guards could not understand. Corey Woods waxed tales of heists, cocaine abusers, and the five boroughs that Times Square tourists never knew existed. For such an innovative lyrical style, RZA complemented accordingly. O.B.4.C.L.‘s sound is quirky, whimsical, and completely original. “Incarcerated Scarfaces” is as careful of a RZA drum arrangement as ever, with The Abbott laying down a Jazz-informed line, with light accents that made Rae’s essay 100% touchable. “Ice Cream” was a planetary lifted loop that captured the essence of late ’90s Hip-Hop a handful of years before others reached the frontier. “Rainy Dayz” had that same feel, as RZA’s reportedly shut-in Staten studio year led to weed-scented, eerie loops that scored the verbal cinema from Shallah and G.F.K. This marriage of tone and luster made The Purple Tape a complete experience. The MCs and the producer raised the craft of Hip-Hop by ignoring conventions, despite commercial pressures and strong media interest. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… is Rap royalty, not simply for the color of its cassette shell, but its slang editorial that propagated the next 20 years of style, substance, and attitude.
Album Number: 1 (solo)
Released: August 1, 1995
Label: Loud/RCA Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #4 (certified gold, October 1995)
Song Guests: Ghostface Killah, Nas, Method Man, RZA, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Popa Wu, 60 Second Assassin, Cappadonna, Blue Raspberry
Song Producers: RZA, Islord
So which album belongs in the 1990s Top 10? Make sure you vote above.