10 Years Ago, Raekwon & Dr. Dre Cooked Up A New Formula For Dope Hip-Hop
Almost 10 years ago, Raekwon blessed Rap fans with one of the most anticipated Wu-Tang Clan solo albums since Y2K. Chef had previously made one of the highest-acclaimed LPs not only within the Wu family catalog, but throughout all of Hip-Hop care of his 1995 solo debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Like collaborators Nas and Snoop Dogg, Shallah had learned that a classic debut could be a gift as well as a curse. Follow-up LPs including 1999’s Immobilarity and 2003’s The Lex Diamond Story did not garner the the same acclaim. While Raekwon was trying new sounds and cultivating new themes on his solo works, fans forever appeared more interested in the beloved Purple Tape.
In a decade when Nas made a Stillmatic homage to his debut, Raekwon eventually opted to revisit his magnum opus. In late 2005, Chef’ revealed that a sequel was the next item on his menu. By early ’06, MTV confirmed that Busta Rhymes would be executive producing the effort. RZA, who was at the helm for the ’95 original, also stepped in to share that role soon after. By year’s end, Raekwon reportedly signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment, through Busta, who was already there. Dre was confirmed to beats, as was RZA, in addition to Busta’s late homie J Dilla, Flipmode’s DJ Scratch, and Scram Jones. The prospects paved a new runway for an artist who many felt was underrated, despite gold albums and platinum Wu success.
Sadly, a lot transpired between 2006 and 2009, even if may not have seemed so in the eyes of fans. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II was delayed for a reported litany of reasons. Busta Rhymes would only release one album on Dre’s label, The Big Bang. Although that 2006 LP offered a first taste of Raekwon on Dr. Dre (and Erick Sermon) production thanks to “Goldmine,” Bus’ had moved on shortly after. Without his stakeholder, Rae’s role at Aftermath seemingly drifted into the abyss. He joined the ranks including Rakim, Joell Ortiz, Bishop Lamont, King T, The Last Emperor, Eve, and Hittman—artists in waiting, without a release date. Other reasons for delay included reported sample clearances and revisions on Rae’s part. To make matters worse, Wu-Tang’s 8 Diagrams was largely panned in the midst of the transition.
However, in 2009, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II eventually arrived. More importantly, the effort delivered what so many fans had been requesting. The album appeased core Heads by with its purple glow. It gave Raekwon a Top 5 debut for the first time since ’95 and was a keystone release during a transitional period in Rap.
Cuban Linx II may be best remembered for its sprawling tracklist and an all-star cast of producers. As reported three years prior, RZA, J Dilla, and Scram Jones remained involved. Pete Rock, Marley Marl, Erick Sermon, Alchemist, and Necro joined the ensemble. However, Dr. Dre’s work also carried over to the ICEH20/EMI release (Raekwon’s label).
Andre Young provided not one but two cuts. Video single “Catalina” was the more memorable of the pair that also included the Busta Rhymes-assisted “About Me.” Featuring Lyfe Jennings on the hook, the fifth and final single from Raekwon’s fourth solo studio album was, as the Wu MC described it, “multi expensive Rap.” It is unclear if Dre gave Rae’ the Aftermath carryover or not, but it was a big dog move for an artist previously criticized for his beat selection on his second and third album.
Interestingly, “Catalina” samples “Rainy Dayz,” a track from the first Cuban Linx, as well as dialogue and music from the film The Killer. It was also originally titled “Congo” on Dre’s beat-tape. Rae’ told Complex‘s Daniel Isenberg in 2011 that he recorded the song (which is co-produced by Mark Batson) in Dre’s Southern California studio. “I think I aired it out right there. Real quick, impressed him. Yeah, one of my 15-minute specials. But, the rhyme that’s on there now isn’t the rhyme that I said. Because one thing, when I get in the studio, I may try three or four rhymes. So, I had other rhymes to this too. I was saying all kinds of other sh*t.” The verse would shift, prompting a name change. “I called it ’Catalina’ because it just reminded me of being on a yacht with a bunch of f*cking Casablanca ni**as having caviar sandwiches and fish. You know, the beat was just making me think of being on a night cruise or something, and I was like, ‘Yo, if I’m on a yacht, then the name of this boat needs to be called ‘Catalina.””
The video, which involves Lyfe, captures that attitude. Maybach limousines, diamonds, and chartered flights accent Raekwon’s raps on the song. He shows the mafioso lifestyle in a garage, mansion, and more, all while kicking his raw delivery.
The Chef’s had a throwback sensibility throughout. He reworked his “C.R.E.A.M.” verse, perhaps the best-known bars of his career. “I grew up on the foul side, nickel bag vial side Purple tops, two for fives / I had seven grams, outside with my eleven mans / On the corners with a pocket full of contrabands / Running up and down fire escapes / NARCs coming, jump in the window, let your Nikes fly, hide the flakes / Guess up in the Hill it was real to me / What a ni**a would have did if you steal from me / All my life around drug ni**as, villains who want millions / Ni**as with them hoodies on, with Techs in the building / Mad fiends, bags of green, Gillette razors / Fly neighbors, all live blazers / Designer jeans, that’s why we live, ni**as need sh*t in they crib / Go broke, you gonna rope you a vic’ / It’s just full-time stragglers / Ni**as try to take your place and smile in your face, but still and all backstabbers.”
While things did not happen according to plan, Raekwon gave fans what they wanted and made another great album. Moreover, the 2009 release allowed the MC to make those moves. 2011’s Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang employed a different sound, and with a strong brand intact, Raekwon Heads were willing to embrace it. Meanwhile, the model for sequels stayed with Shallah, as his imprint released Capone-N-Noreaga’s The War Report 2: Report The War in 2010.
Additional Reporting by Bandini.