Tupac’s All Eyez On Me vs. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Which One 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” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the final 32 albums (including Wild Cards), the final rounds begin.

In the mid-1990s, Rap music was blending its grit from the top of the decade with the polish allocated to its mainstream popularity. Two reigning examples of this are Tupac’s All Eyez On Me and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… ‘Pac left prison with a jail-house mentality, a tireless work ethic, and a studio full of top producers and guests. Raekwon transitioned the excitement surrounding the Wu-Tang Clan into his own mafioso take on a John Woo film. Shakur’s sprawling double disc and Chef’s Purple Tape are benchmarks of 1990s Rap. While ‘Pac has diamond-certified status and fresh 20-year anniversary fanfare, he won the last round by a single vote. For Shallah Raekwon, the Staten Island MC has only bested albums by crew-mates and cross-town peers.  Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).


All Eyez On Me by 2Pac

Upon exiting Clinton Correctional Facility, Tupac Amaru Shakur got in a chartered Death Row Records plane, and in his mind, knew he was about to hijack the Rap industry. In the commercial boom of Rap, ‘Pac’s well-heeled peers were locking themselves in major studios, hiring a la carte star producers, and carefully coiffing for classics. For the tattooed ex-con, all he needed was 14 days, a plethora of Hennessy, Newports, loose-leaf, and an onslaught of beats to make the diamond-certified All Eyez On Me. A man of great excess, ‘Pac ballooned a double-album that basked in its own grandeur. From Funk icons to a sprawling wish-list of his peers, Shakur made a cathartic album following a year of introspection, angst, glory, and vitriol. It’s rushed, overflowing, and in many ways disjointed, but All Eyez On Me was a ride-along for the wildest trip any Rap star could steer—and the listener was able to ride shotgun.

Of the 27 included tracks, “All Eyez On Me” may be the greatest summation of ‘Pac’s early ’96 worldview. Perceived as a victim, Shakur had returned, guns-loaded, with a menacing posse of Outlawz, Death Row “inmates,” and California soldiers at his side. He was basking in the love, but spitting at all who trespassed against his pride. “Holla At Me” and the stellar DJ Quik production “Heartz Of Men” maintained this attitude too, with ‘Pac’s use of cadence stronger than on any other album. However, as convicted and sincere as the Thug Life alum was, All Eyez was his chance to drink, smoke, and party. “California Love,” “All About U” and “2 Of Amerikaz Most Wanted” were ‘Pac reveling in the moment. In between the endless stream of bars, even in the booming singles, the artist so many had trusted with their hearts dropped jewels. “I’m losin’ my religion” he nearly danced over on the Snoop Dogg super-collabo. On “Picture Me Rollin’,” he prayed, “Mama, I’m still thugging, the world is a war zone / My homies is inmates, and most of them dead wrong.” Even though he was busy counting money, assassinating characters, and spitting on Dr. Dre club tracks, ‘Pac was everything he’d grown to be in the first half of the decade. In a decadent setting, he pushed boundaries on an album. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha” and “Heaven Ain’t Hard 2 Find” were pure pageantry, as ‘Pac also met his quota of radio-aimed hits (“California Love” and “How Do You Want It”) to win over swing-voters in Rap’s cross-coastal rivalry. All Eyez On Me, lyrically, is unrestrained Tupac, and scattered brilliance therein. The man battling foes, label-mates, and presumably himself made a raw, in-the-moment release, and did it beautifully enough to make it last 20 years. Had it been edited to one glorious disc, All Eyez tickles masterpiece status. But even in its disjointedness, flaws, and whimsicality, no one wants to lose a single word from Rap’s Thug Poet Laureate.

Album Number: 4 (solo)
Released: February 13, 1996
Label: Death Row/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1 (certified gold, April 1996; certified platinum, April 1996; certified diamond, July 2014)
Song Guests: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, George Clinton, Roger Troutman, Redman, Method Man, Rappin’ 4-Tay, Tha Dogg Pound (Daz Dillinger & Kurupt), K-Ci & JoJo, Tha Outlawz (Khadafi, Big Syke, Hussein Fatal, Napoleon, & Storm), C-Bo, Richie Rich, Danny Boy, E-40, D-Shot, B-Legit, CPO The Boss Hogg, Michel’le, Nate Dogg, Jewell, DJ Quik, Dorothy Coleman, Puff Johnson, Natasha Walker, Danette Williams, Barbara Wilson, Nanci Fletcher, Stacey Smalley, Carl “Butch” Small, Sean “Barney” Thomas, Jojo The Elf, Ebony
Song Producers: (self), Johnny J, Dr. Dre, Daz Dillinger, DJ Quik, DJ Pooh, QDIII, Devanté Swing, Doug Rasheed, Bobby “Bobcat” Ervin, Rick Rock, Mike Mosley, Harold “Scrap” Freddie


Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… by Raekwon

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 is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Finding The GOAT: The Albums.