Tag Archives: Rick Ross

Album Review – Raekwon

Raekwon

“Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang”

(Ice H20 Records)

When Staten Island creative visionary The RZA claimed that the rap industry would witness a near takeover when the Wu-Tang dropped their debut album in 1993, perhaps even he didn’t dream that almost twenty years later Hip-Hop heads would still be anticipating releases from the Clan with a level of respect and excitement rarely maintained in the fickle world of music. That said, in recent years the Wu flag has largely been kept flying by the inimitable Ghostface Killah, whose impeccable catalogue and high levels of quality control have seen him labelled the most consistent soloist of the Clan, with former big guns such as Method Man and even The RZA himself being distracted somewhat from the rap game by outside endeavours.

Amongst continuing internal Clan politics and the outside success of some of his crew has stood the group’s self-proclaimed Chef, the sharp-tongued criminology kingpin Raekwon. After contributing memorable verses to early Wu classics such as “Protect Ya Neck” and “C.R.E.A.M.”, Rae delivered a knockout blow to the game (with assistance from his brother-from-another-mother Ghostface) when he dropped the phenomenal “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” in 1995.

Full of “witty, unpredictable fly s**t”, “Cuban Linx…” was a sonic crime saga of epic proportions that elevated Raekwon to the level achieved by greats of the time such as Biggie and Nas, cementing his place in rap’s history books and, like the aforementioned kings of New York, setting himself incredibly high standards to match with future projects. Which was a burden the Shaolin soldier struggled with on albums such as 1999’s “Immobilarity” and 2003’s “The Lex Diamond Story” (although to be fair, “Immobilarity” stands up as a much better body of work today than it did when heard for the first time in 1999 with the inevitable “Cuban Linx…” follow-up baggage fans brought to the project).

Over the past few years, however, Rae’s career has seen unexpected levels of rejuvenation, with the razor-edged rapper dropping mixtapes, participating in last year’s “Wu-Massacre” project and, of course, finally delivering “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II…”, an album which surprised many by capturing the spirit of its unmatchable predecessor without feeling like a hollow attempt to relive past glories.

Obviously riding high from his new found position at the forefront of the “grown-man” rap pack, Raekwon’s promise of dropping another full-length opus so quickly after previous releases had some worrying that he would undo all of his recent hard work by putting out a rushed, sub-par effort. Yet far from being just a collection of throwaway tracks found in the vaults, “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” is a fairly well thought-out project built around a loose kung-fu inspired concept with outside input from a variety of (mainly) credible guest rappers and producers, albeit at times with some mixed results.

The opening Scram Jones-produced title track makes the listener feel as though they’ve just been dropped into the middle of a high-octane action film scene, with Rae relentlessly attacking the cinematic track with his trademark dense word association flow, which in this particular instance gives a stylistic nod towards Smoothe Da Hustler’s mid-90s banger “Broken Language”. The following “Every Soldier In The Hood” finds the Chef and Method Man making a joint statement of OG rap supremacy over an effectively sparse Erick Sermon beat that sounds nothing like the EPMD member’s usual brand of muddy funk.

“Silver Rings” reunites Raekwon with Ghostface for a verse apiece over punchy drums, with the pair delivering sharp darts with cool precision. The dark “Butter Knives” will definitely satisfy fans looking for that gritty 36th Chamber sound, as Detroit’s Bronze Nazareth concocts a pounding blend of distorted drums, kung-fu samples and dramatic strings for Rae to obliterate with colourful boasts of being the “emperor of slang lords”.

Busta Rhymes drops by to deliver a slick verse on “Crane Style”, which sounds like a cross between a nature documentary and  an old-school Zulu Nation beat, whilst Rae finally links once again with a certain Nasir Jones on “Rich And Black” for a potent display of lyrical dexterity, sixteen years after they last connected on the exotic “Verbal Intercourse”.

Other cuts such as the soulful Kenny Dope-produced “From The Hills” and the menacing Alchemist-laced “Ferry Boat Killaz” are further proof that Raekwon’s lyrical sword hasn’t become blunt over the years, with the Wu member spitting his usual heady blur of 80s memories, hustling references, unique slang and crime rhymes.

Yet whilst there’s plenty of material here to satisfy hungry Hip-Hop junkies, “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” also contains moments where the dots just don’t join up. A few of the collaborations included lack chemistry, with the verses from Inspectah Deck and Lloyd Banks on “Chop Chop Ninja” and “Last Trip To Scotland” respectively sounding as though they’d been found in the studio and added on as an afterthought. “Molasses” with Rick Ross also seems forced, with the supposed Miami drug lord’s basic flow sounding even more awkward sandwiched inbetween the ice-cold, complex lines of Raekwon and the animated story-telling of Ghostface.

Production also lets “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” down in places, with the upbeat”Rock N Roll” (a thinly-veiled attempt at a club banger) sounding out of place amongst the mainly murky soundscapes. Elsewhere, the plodding, generic board work heard on “Masters Of Our Fate” spoils what could’ve been a classic collaboration between Rae and Roots rhyme master Black Thought had they had a more dynamic beat to weave their heavyweight wordplay around.

Overall, whilst this album may not be the complete return to the traditional Wu sound some may have felt its title suggested, “Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang” is a solid effort from Raekwon that will only add to his legacy rather than take anything away from it. The Chef is undoubtedly a true master of his chosen lyrical chamber, but if there’s any lesson for Raekwon to take away from this latest release, it’s that perhaps sometimes he should be just a little more careful when choosing both emcees to spar with and the beats over which to unleash his formidable style of tongue-fu.

Ryan Proctor

Album Review – Def Jam 25

Various Artists

“Def Jam 25: DJ Bring That Back”

(Def Jam)

If there’s one label that fully encapsulates the highs, lows, successes and disappointments of hip-hop’s journey from underground art form to commercial money-making juggernaut, it’s Def Jam Recordings. Founded in 1984 by long-haired music visionary Rick Rubin and rap promoter Russell Simmons, the pair’s love of hip-hop, ear for new talent and savvy business sense led to Def Jam signing some of rap’s most influential artists in its earliest years, with the likes of LL Cool J, Public Enemy and Slick Rick all releasing classics that helped define the culture during the 1980s.

Celebrating the 25th anniversary of arguably the most important label in modern black music history, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ trawls through the Def Jam vaults to dust off some sonic memories, whilst also highlighting more recent releases that have enabled the label to remain at the forefront of popular urban music. Highlights include LL Cool J’s boisterous 1984 debut single ‘I Need A Beat’, Slick Rick’s good-natured-yet-cautionary ghetto tale ‘Children’s Story’ and Method Man’s gothic b-boy banger ‘Bring The Pain’. Of the more contemporary material, Kanye West’s stirring ‘Jesus Walks’ recalls a time when the producer-slash-rapper was more interested in his music than throwing award show tantrums, whilst Young Jeezy’s ’Go Crazy’ stands as one of the Southern rapper’s more engaging moments.

Yet whilst ‘DJ Bring That Back’ definitely contains some of Def Jam’s most memorable output, not every artist here is done justice by the track chosen to represent their contribution to the label’s legacy. No disrespect to the larger-than-life Flavor Flav, but his solo cut ‘911 Is A Joke’ from Public Enemy’s 1990 album ‘Fear Of A Black Planet’ is hardly the best example of the Long Island group’s brand of politically-charged musical terrorism. Similarly, the brilliant 3rd Bass are sold short by the inclusion of their ironic Peter Gabriel-sampling stab at commercial appeal ‘Pop Goes The Weasel’, and former label president Jay-Z must be thoroughly disappointed seeing possibly the worst track from his entire discography making the project, the throwaway Jermaine Dupri-produced ‘Money Ain’t A Thang’.

With music from the likes of Ludacris, Onyx, Nice & Smooth and DMX rounding out this two-disc set, ‘DJ Bring That Back’ stands as a fairly comprehensive, if at times uneven overview of a label that has experienced the best and the worst of the hip-hop record business over the years and is still standing tall today.

Ryan Proctor

Weekend Round-Up – Butta Verses / Kardinal Offishall / The RZA / Elzhi / Big Pooh

Here are a few bits and pieces that landed in my inbox over the weekend while I was away from the computer celebrating my 33rd birthday – I’m old-school and proud, people!!

Butta Verses “Officer Ross” Freestyle

I don’t usually get too heavily involved in posting beef-related content up on Old To The New mainly because most of it’s just corny WWF-style hype – but I couldn’t help cracking a smile when I heard this new freestyle from Butta Verse’s regarding the recent internet scandal surrounding Rick “I’m A Boss” Ross’s previous career as a Corrections Officer.

Download the freestyle here but for a more accurate example of what to expect from the former De La Soul protege’s forthcoming album “Reality BV” lookout for the new single “If I Die”.

Kardinal Offishall talks to HipHopOfficial about the Canadian rap scene and his forthcoming album “Not 4 Sale”.

Wu-Tang’s RZA in London on DJ MK’s KissFM rap show dropping some knowledge as well as a freestyle.

Footage of Slum Village’s Elzhi performing “Motown 25” and “That’s That One” on HipHopOfficial.

New Joint : Big Pooh – “With You” ( Hall Of Justus / 2008 )

Lifted from the Little Brother emcee’s forthcoming mix-CD “Rapper’s Delight”.

Under The Radar Vol. 1 – DJ Soul

djsoul-under-the-radar-vol1-1.jpg

NYC’s DJ Soul drops the first in a new series of monthly download only mixes that (in his own words) will feature “quality Hip-Hop and R&B that you’ll (most likely) never hear on Hot 97 or B.E.T.”

Tracklisting

1. Nas “Let’s Go” (DJ Khalil Remix)
2. The Roots feat. Mos Def & Styles P “Rising Down”
3. Outkast feat. Raekwon “Royal Flush”
4. Phonte (Little Brother) & DJ Spinna “Dillagence”
5. Erykah Badu “Soldier” (Prod. by Madlib)
6. Gnarls Barkley “Who’s Gonna Save My Soul”
7. M.O.P. feat. Bilal “Get Rich or Die Trying”
8. Rick Ross feat. Jay-Z “Maybach Music”
9. Fat Joe feat. KRS-One “My Consicence” (prod. by The Alchemist)
10. Ghostface “I’ll Die For You”