Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP 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” 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 Sweet 16 bracket, things are getting really interesting.
Released less than five years apart, Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… are benchmark Rap albums. Eminem combined polished production with incredible deliveries on his major label sophomore. For his solo debut, Raekwon (and RZA) smeared Staten Island sludge all over what has come to be known as “the purple tape.” The effort was fueled by intricate lyrics, spoken in a coded language while told in complex flows. Although they would be Aftermath label-mates in the late 2000s, these works are distant in their aesthetics, but both movie-like audio experiences. Each album has defeated huge commercial efforts with mass praises, but against each other—only one can stand. Will the “Knuckleheadz” or the “Stans” show up more in the ballot box? As a reminder, only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).
The Marshall Mathers LP by Eminem
- Third Round Winner (against Jay Z’s The Black Album, 85% to 15%)
- Second Round Winner (against Nas’ Stillmatic, 68% to 32%)
- First Round Winner (against Outkast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, 70% to 30%)
Before the new millennium, Eminem rode a rocket-ship to the top of the charts and the elite class of MCs through The Slim Shady LP. The lyrically progressive album was big on pranks, sophomoric humor, and fork-tongued fun. Like its namesake, Slim Shady was as much shtick as it was incredible flows, and complex rhyme patterns. One year later, Eminem refined his approach. This album looked more inward at the man behind the act. The Marshall Mathers LP would still make a mockery out of popular culture, but in between the jagged lines revealed the profane and the profound alike. This is the album that proved Eminem had incredible staying power. Underneath the clown makeup was a creative genius, and a tormented soul—who wanted zero sympathy from anyone.
“The Way I Am” was Eminem’s essay to fame. Rather than accept the misunderstandings, Marshall nipped them right in the bud. The song was a piercingly honest attack at his media portrayal, and an assertion that Hip-Hop was not responsible for massacres like Columbine and the like. Em’ was tackling bigger issues rather than poking fun at pop-tarts (which he still would do on “Real Slim Shady”). “Marshall Mathers” was a lucid commentary on the music stars and white MCs to whom Eminem was mistakenly compared. The scathing remarks were closer to the heart than past antics. Upsetting the status quo was still part of the Shady Records founder’s repertoire. “Criminal” exonerated Eminem’s freedom of speech, while the nimble lyricist deliberately crossed lines of all sorts, dragging his feet. However, Eminem’s point was that as much as he could (and would) make fun of you, he made even more fun of himself. Suddenly, Em’ transformed from Don Rickles to Lenny Bruce, with some insightful and derogatory thoughts of the world we all shared. “Stan” would be a masterpiece within M.M.L.P. Co-produced by 45 King (Eric B. & Rakim, Lakim Shabazz, Queen Latifah), the dramatic concept single would introduce the world to Dido. The song was another reaction to stardom and changing circumstance, as Eminem looked at his cult status differently with a big-reveal tale. Not only was the concept grabbing, Eminem wrote in the shoes of another person, and made it a captivating single. The record would blur the lines in Hip-Hop and Pop, singing and rapping—at a time when those walls towered. The third album from the D12 front man would provide his fullest, most compelling production. Eminem was no longer just hardcore Rap, and not simply a lyrical circus freak. Dr. Dre, the Bass Brothers, and 45 King treated these verses on a higher level. The Marshall Mathers LP would be a stone in the sand. Sixteen years later, its herculean legacy still has brawn.
Album Number: 3 (solo)
Released: May 23, 2000
Label: Shady/Aftermath Entertainment/Interscope Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1
Song Guests: Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Nate Dogg, Xzibit, Sticky Fingaz, RBX, Dido, Bizarre, Dina Rae, D12 (Proof, Bizarre, Kuniva, Mr. Porter, & Swifty McVay), Steve Berman, Paul Rosenberg, Mike Elizondo, John Bigham, Camara Kambon, Tommy Coster
Song Producers: (self), Dr. Dre, Bass Bros. (Jeff Bass & Mark Bass), Mel-Man, 45 King
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… by Raekwon
- Third Round Winner (against Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, 62% to 38%)
- Second Round Winner (against Ghostface Killah’s Ironman, 77% to 22%)
- 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 is the better album? Make sure you vote above.
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