We here at South Shore Ave are gassing up the DeLorean & taking you back to the musical Golden Era of 90’s music to celebrate one of the Greatest albums in Hip Hop history. While this isn’t quite the Twentieth anniversary date of Raekwon’s solo album “Only Built For Cuban Linx…” (initial release date was Aug 1, 1995), we simply couldn’t let 2015 pass us by without discussing one of the greatest Hip Hop Albums of the Golden Age era. So without further ado, me & my friend Shawn Adonis, break down four tracks off the legendary album. The Ice Cream Man is coming…..
**DISCLAIMER — this is not a Top 4 list. You could make an argument for 10 songs from this album being in the Top 4. This is strictly a review, a collection of songs from the album.**
“Yo honey dip / summertime fine, jewelry dripping / Seen you on Pickens with a bunch of chickens how you’re clicking / I keep shooting strong notes as we got close / She rocked rope, honey throat smelling like impulse.” – Ghostface Killah
Cee: Lemme give you my personal experience of this Ice Cream track, one that still stings somewhat years later. Twenty years ago, right after Labor Day weekend, I went down to New York City to visit my family for about a week or so in the Bronx. While listening to Hot 97, they announced that they’d be shooting the Ice Cream video in Staten Island that day, & get this…… EVERYONE and ANYONE were invited. They gave the address to the area where they’d be shooting the video and everything. Now, considering at the time that I damn near had this song & the album on repeat for weeks on end, this might have been the best thing I had ever heard in my life at that moment. What are the chances I’d be in New York City, the same time they’d be filming this video that I could actually be a part of??? Now, one thing about New York that I’ve come to realize over the years, a lot of people don’t know much outside of their borough. For example, you could live in Brooklyn your whole life, & have absolutely no idea how to get to or around the Bronx, or Queens, or sadly, even parts of Brooklyn. This brings me to my cousin Rob…
Now I shouldn’t knock him because he usually has a good sense of where he’s going for the most part when it comes to navigating through those NY streets. However, when I suggested to him that we should go down to Staten Island to check out the video, dude had no idea how to get there. I was so confused & annoyed at the same time. I was basically like, “What the f*** you mean you don’t know how to get to Staten Island?!?!?” I’m sure it was a logical choice to him, but to me, I wasn’t happy at all. Now mind you, I never expected to be in the video. I did not think I’d be on top of the Ice Cream truck swinging a cane alongside Meth, or scooping up the Butter Pecan Ricans, or trying to cop gold fronts at the swap meet where Ghostface was trying to get at the thick chick. I just wanted to experience the hype around it live and in person. So seeing that video for the first time & seeing how hype it was, maaaan……….. it still stings. To make matters worse, there’s Cappadonna popping up in the video with a Canadiens jersey on. The road colors & everything. I’m not gonna lie, it felt like he sent a subliminal shot towards me for not attending the shoot.
With that said, this song/video always represented the absolute peak of Wu-Tang’s powers to me. They already changed the game by staying as a group while each individual was allowed to put out solo albums. As a unit, they were on fire, but this was one of the hypest videos that ever came out of the Wu camp. Method Man by this time was almost like a fu**ing superhero. So much so that when he dropped that legendary hook (that became legendary the second it came out by the way)….
“Watch these rap ni**as get all up in your guts / French Vanilla, Butter Pecan, Chocolate Deluxe….”
……. I’m not entirely sure people remember what anyone else said. It didn’t matter if Ghost’s verse stole the show, or that Rae & Cappadonna kept the level high. This was a perfect storm for Wu: right production from The Rza, right characters to rhyme over the beat, right rapper with the right flow/delivery to make the hook incredibly memorable, and then capped off with the right video to marry the song. Even if this was Raekwon’s song, this was the Wu’s version of perfection.
Shawn: If it makes you feel any better Cee, Robert’s inability to navigate beyond his own neighborhood might not have ruined such a potentially “epic moment” in your youth as you may think. Did you miss the opportunity to be in the vicinity of a video shoot for one of hip hop’s most legendary groups at the height of their careers?? Quite frankly, yes. But you know who I’ll bet didn’t miss it? Every other young New York hip hop head sporting clothing with the signature Wu Tang “W”, with hopes and dreams of making a cameo appearance in the video. Which would of course in their minds, launch their own rap careers….. only to realize once they got to the video shoot that their lack of having a vagina & a pair of breasts made them pretty much irrelevant, watching from a distance where they could see no Wu member, French Vanilla, Butter Pecan Rican, or Chocolate Deluxe shaking their ice cream scoops. So you’d be in NY in the mid-90s era, surrounded by a pack of angry & disappointed dudes, just looking for someone to take their frustrations out on. So, you and good ol’ Rob might have ended up in the remix as the newest ice cream flavor…. Blood Pudding.
Now, allow me to take a walk down memory lane of my youth. I was a certified Wu fanatic around the time the purple tape came out. So much so, that I convinced myself that anything affiliated with the Wu was automatically great (ie. Killa Army, Sons of Man, and Gravediggaz, all groups that I can now admit fell somewhere between garbage and mediocre in the talent spectrum). So while listening to Rae’s first solo project, I was pretty much in a state of euphoria by the time Ice Cream came on. After the beat dropped, I decided 3 seconds into the song that this was probably going to be my favorite track on the album. By the time Method Man came in with the hook, I was looking around for a brown paper bag to breathe into so that I wouldn’t pass out before the song was over. To this day, I’m pretty sure that respectable women everywhere fell into a trance with an uncontrollable urge to let dudes get “all up in their guts” whenever this song was played. I can just imagine a business woman in the board room meeting hearing the hypnotic hook from a car stereo playing it outside, suddenly ripping open her blouse, hiking up her skirt, and daring her colleagues to take turns in them “guts”, until the car drives away, and she suddenly realizes what’s happening, and runs out the room screaming in shame straight toward HR.
“Who come to get you, none, they want guns / I be the first to set off shit, last to run / Wu roll together as one / I call my brother ‘Son’ cause he shine like one….” – Chorus by Method Man
Cee: Remember that time in hip hop when every rapper was adopting the persona that they were part of an Italian crime family? Well, you can thank this song for being the originators of that era. Back in 1993, Wu-Tang was able to change the slang culture with C.R.E.A.M., five percenter philosophies, martial arts teachings and sound bites. This time, they went all in with the Gambino a.k.a’s. Or should I say Rae, because it’s known that he was the one that made sure all members of the Wu had an alias similar to the movie “Once Upon A Time in America”, in order to be a part of this album. Something that I’m sure was a small detail at the time, ended up not only being one of the sickest records, but changed the way artists presented themselves to the public.
After that album came out & particularly this song, some of the biggest artists in hip hop changed their style up. Nas went from Nasty Nas to Nas Escobar off of his 2nd album, “It Was Written”. You remember the pink suit off the Casino-inspired “Street Dreams” video, right? Mobb Deep flipped up their style a bit & became more menacing on their “Hell on Earth” album. I used to have their poster where their whole team was sitting at the big table with coke residue on some of the crew member’s noses, as well as a big pile of coke laid out on the table (can you imagine the shitstorm that would hover over Havoc & Prodigy if that poster was handed to kids today??? Twitter alone would lose its collective minds). The Notorious B.I.G added the Frank White alias to his name (borrowed from the character of the King of New York flick + also using alias to subliminally declare himself as the King of New York Hip-Hop wise), & played the part of a crime boss until he was murdered in 1997. Even Tupac had the Makaveli name added to his brand, even creating a whole album around that character right before he lost his life. Check out Jay-Z’s debut album. For those that actually have his album & not the bootlegged version, check out the photos in the packaging. Hov, Dame Dash, and Kareem Biggs all looked like either they were part of a Mobster conglomerate, or they were headed to an Al Capone-themed Wine & Dine function right after the photo shoot. What about AZ? That Doe or Die album was not only dope, but was presented in a big boss way too.
The record played a major part in how East Coast rappers portrayed themselves, pretty much everyone from the ones I mentioned to Kool G Rap (Fast Life) & others acted as if they were in Goodfellas. Everyone was touching their inner Scarface. Pretty soon, it morphed into the whole Versace/Named brand clothing; which was championed by Biggie & Junior Mafia; which then graduated to the shiny suit era that Puffy led with his chest out. Even Hov did a video with the shiny threads on & the fish-eye-lens-supported “My Sunshine” record.
Moral of the rant: Blame Raekwon for the Shiny Suit era.
Shawn: Ok, can we start by agreeing that the intro to this song was entirely too long & uninteresting to have been eating up an entire minute and 10 seconds of my yellow Sony Sport Walkman’s fast forwarding time? Back when I used to have to damned near beg, borrow or steal to find a pair of mismatched AA batteries to be able to use my Walkman in the first place. I think we need to file a class action lawsuit against Rae to get some of that battery money back, I’m sure there were many out there that shares my plight.
You bring up a good point though Cee, about Wu being the alias trailblazers, it never occurred to me but you’re right. Before Wu, every rapper and crew had one name, it was pretty simple. But after Wu, everyone had aliases, alter egos, different personas, crew nicknames, hell even country singer Garth Brooks caught the bug and became a darker “Chris Gaines” for a minute (which he abandoned with the quickness, I don’t think country fans were ready for the small taste of hip hop). But can we take a moment to make note of the fact that other than Tony Starks, Johnny Blaze, and Lou Diamonds, that every other Wu Gambino name was pretty much garbage? With the worst being Master Killa’s confusingly bizarre alias: Noodles (Rollie Fingers gets an honorable mention for sounding pretty uncool as well).
As for the song itself, is it me, or does the beat start to get a bit redundant after a while? The track starts strong, Meth and Rae both captivated you as they did in every track back then, but I could have done without RZA or Masta Killah’s submissions, and jumped right to Ghost’s verse to close it out. Speaking of Masta Killah, was he an official member of the Wu or not? Sometimes he’d be around, but most of the time he was nowhere to be found. I never missed him mind you, because he was consistently boring, but where the hell was he? Did he have better things to do at the time then to be part of hip hop’s biggest super group? Did he have another job that he just couldn’t get the time off from? Were there not enough sick days? That never made much sense to me; he was the allusive mysterious Wu member that always seemed to be away doing other things. I mean, U-God probably had 3 verses over the entire Wu Tang reign (for good reason), but at least he was around for the ride. I’m not sure Masta Killah made enough of an impact that he is even recognizable to the casual hip hop fan, then or now.
“Thug related style attract millions / Fans, they understand my plan / Who’s the kid up in the green Land? / Me and the RZA connect, blow a fuse, you lose / Half-ass crews get demolished and bruised”
Cee: There are some pros and cons to the argument about Raekwon’s stake of the mythical King of New York crown back in the mid-90s. Did he have some say in that title with Cuban Linx? Absolutely! For those that don’t remember, that album played in every car, house, Walkman, CD Discman (if you could afford one back then), anything that had a speaker or earphones connected to it. That trip I made to New York that I was telling you about earlier? I’m not lying when I say almost every car in New York was blasting some album cut of Cuban Linx. It was almost like a unified understanding. The knock on his stake is that you can’t be called “King of…” anything when you have so many guest appearances. Outside of two songs, every song featured Ghostface (who played more co-pilot than sidekick to Rae) or a Wu member. Even with that said, out of those two, Incarcerated Scarfaces was a certified classic.
Keeping with the grimy, drug game theme of the overall project, Raekwon takes you through to the life of being a big star, the “Avon Barksdale” of the block. At least I think that’s what it’s about. Let’s face it, as much as I love Rae & his swagger, style, and slang……. his slang even for me was over my head sometimes. There were times I needed that Wu-Tang Manual to decipher some of those lyrics because it was so rich in slang and double entendres that you couldn’t possibly keep up with everything. Much like Biggie & Nas, you may have rewinded this track over and over. Unlike those two, it was less him spitting bars that made your head spin and more of his ability of making anything he says make complete & total sense over RZA’s production. It’s a little low key compared to some of the other records (i.e. Guillotine, Glaciers of Ice), but it’s probably the cleanest/smoothest song that veers a little left from the rugged style of the songs.
As for the video now, it seems like the budget wasn’t a whole lot, and why would it be? Take a look at the above paragraphs. You know this was shot in Staten Island or some sort of hood equivalent, which is completely fine. It goes perfect with the song itself, from the slam dancing and rapping behind the fences, to the rooftop shots, etc. But of course Shawn, I have a couple of questions about the video:
1) Seeing that they were in the hood recording the video, do you really think that they had “that white” blurred on the table? I mean, why do that if it isn’t, right?
2) Was Dave Chappelle right after all in saying that Slo-Mo really does make everything cooler?
3) What was that girl really doing underneath that couch cushion while sitting alongside Ghostface?
Shawn: Very good questions you ask there Calvin mi hermano (which means “my brother” in Spanish). I’ve been binge watching that Netflix show Narcos, which is a series documenting the life of the notorious Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar, so you’re going to have to deal with me acting like I’m a member of the Medellin Cartel for the next little while. Anyhow, here’s my take on your questions:
Question #1: If that was really La Cocaina that they were blurring out on the table?
After a heated back and forth debate in my own mind, that may or may not have ended in violence, I’ve concluded that it’s not really that “white girl” (I had to throw in a bit of present day slang, to fool any young readers into thinking that I’m…..how do kids say “cool” these days? Turned? Lit? I can’t keep track anymore).
Let me elaborate. I was torn about this until I realized at what point in Rae’s career this video was shot in. If this video was shot during the 36 Chambers album, when the Wu were still a bunch a grimy, hood Staten Island boys, to the point that Ghostface used to wear a mask in videos and public appearances because he had warrants and didn’t want to jeopardize his freedom; not only would I have said that would have definitely been coke on the table, but also that there were most probably numerous fire-arms tucked in waist bands across the room, ready to be pulled out on the video director & crew if the coke wasn’t all accounted for by the end of the video shoot. But seeing that by the time Cuban Linx dropped, a shitload of money had been made, and the Wu members were a bit (and I stress the word “bit”) more refined at this point, I’m assuming it was a video director’s attempt to make an edgy hood video with a pile of baking soda on the table.
Question# 2: Does slow motion make everything look cooler?
Yes, Yes, Yes, and Si (the Narco effect continues).
I’ll be honest, before I saw this video, I pretty much slept on this song, and I would only listen to it long enough to allow my hand to press fast forward. Then “Rainy Days” would come on and I would start “the wave” with my left hand and finish the dance off by pressing fast forward with my right, until I got to Guillotine (where Inspectah Deck absolutely bodied that sickening beat with his “Poisonous paragraphs / smash the phonograph in half / it be the Inspectah Deck on the warpath” intro, at which point I was trembling due to sensory overload, but I digress. Back to me sleeping on Incarcerated Scarfaces, this stopped happening as soon as I saw the video, and a large part of my new found appreciation for the track had to do with the slo-mo scenes. Between Rae walking through the hood, looking around and grilling dudes he had no business grilling (they were pretty intimidating figures), to the large mob of brothas hurtling the project fences in unison (what were they running from, you didn’t know and you didn’t care, cause they were doing it with visually pleasing slow motion wizardry). Every time I heard this song, I was inspired to stop whatever I was doing in normal speed, and switch to slow motion, which probably made me look mentally ill, but it made me feel cool, so it was worth the sacrifice.
Question# 3: What was that chick doing with her hand under the couch cushion?
The reasonable and mature person in me thinks that after a long day of shooting, she was pretty much just sitting there bored simply resting her hand on her thigh, & therefore incidentally creating a coincidental illusion there was some hanky-panky going on under there. But the dreamer in me that would like to believe porno story-lines are in some way possible, and that one day I’ll order a pizza, and a sexy half naked delivery girl will feel compelled to “teach me a lesson” for giving her a bad tip (providing me with pleasure as punishment while chastising & belittling me may not make sense in the real world, but in the land of porn it makes perfect sense), likes to imagine that the young lady in the video didn’t mind the fact that there was a room full of brothas, and just had to treat her vagina like a turntable. So, let’s just agree for my perverted mind, that she was being an amazingly filthy, naughty girl, who couldn’t fight the urge to defile herself in a room full of dudes, with only a pillow to cover her shameful act. A pillow that some dude undoubtedly sniffed as soon as she left the room.
“It’s like a cycle, ni**as come home, some’ll go in / Do a bullet, come back, do the same shit again / From the womb to the tomb, presume the unpredictable / Guns salute life rapidly, that’s the ritual”. – Nas
“Perhaps bullets bust ni**as discuss mad money / True lies and White guys, we can see it through the eyes”. – Raekwon
Cee: Now before Cuban Linx, no Wu-Tang group or member ever featured an artist outside of their world. You can’t really blame them. When you’re one of the biggest entities in the genre altogether that go nine deep, and are also helping to change the landscape of hip hop, do you really need to? You want a banger of a beat? Call RZA. You want someone to wild out & act crazy on your track? Speed dial Old Dirty Bastard. You want a guest feature that will swing your song through the radio & the streets with the same impact of a bulldozer? Tap Method Man on his shoulder. You want your guest to slang & swag out our record? Hit up Raekwon and Ghostface easily. The list goes on & on. Wu Tang was like going to that friend’s house that had all the best toys & video games, and their fridge & cupboard was always stocked with everything. Right down to the different kinds of cereals, from Fruit Loops to Cocoa Puffs. You never needed to leave the house for anything. Which was why opening the doors for Nas to appear on a Wu-affiliated album was such a major deal at the time.
All Nas did once he entered the doors and took off his shoes was spit out one of the greatest lyrics he may have ever recorded. It was beyond being “Rewind-worthy” & it set the tone for the rest of the song. Both Rae & Ghost followed suit to destroy the record bar after bar. It remains the most underrated and overlooked song on this album, which seems crazy when you listen to this song again. You made a good point Shawn, on the Ready To Die profile, guest features between superstar artists were almost unprecedented, & when it actually happened, you couldn’t wait to hear it. So the fact that this song doesn’t get put on the same level as, “The What” for example, is almost blasphemous. I think only real hip hop heads with a great memory really appreciate this song for what it is.
Imagine if the three of them came together a few months after this album dropped and before It Was Written was released, and dropped a mixtape that was done by DJ Clue at the time. How seismic would that have been?
Shawn: No doubt Cee, a Nas, Rae & Ghost mixtape wouldn’t only have been ground breaking; it would’ve completely obliterated the rules of that era. We’ve grown to get used to the collaborative albums from major artists to the point that we hardly bat an eyelash anymore; from the most recent merging of the two super powers Drake & Future, to R-Kelly & Jay, Hov & Kanye, the Lil Wayne & Juelz Santana mixtape, and the trailblazers Red and Meth, we pretty much meet these types of collaborative albums with a shrug. Although some of them are dope, others feel like a cash grab meant to capitalize off of two major fan bases that would want to purchase the same album. But a Nas, Rae & Ghost album would have had hip hop purists at the time thinking the apocalypse was upon us. It would have sparked mass hysteria, looting, governments overthrown and national anthems being replaced by tracks from the album, it wouldn’t have been pretty. With all that said, I have to admit something that may affect our relationship my dear sir. I have to plead guilty to being one of those dudes that you mentioned that slept on this track when listening to this album. But it wasn’t one of those accidental “sleeps” where you doze off on the couch watching TV after a long day; it was more like as soon as I heard the song start playing, I downed an entire bottle of sleeping pills intentionally. Now, I know what I’m about to say is going to be considered blasphemous and incredibly unpopular, and if I were to say this in certain barbershops it would earn me a punch square in my freshly lined up face. But, how can I put this as delicately as possible; I kinda sorta find Nas……. boring.
Now before you start sharpening your cutlass, and setting your Google maps app for my address, hear me out. I can fully appreciate that Nas is one of, if not the dopest lyricist we’ve ever heard, I get that. But after I listen to a Nas track once, and take in the dope intricacies of his lyrics, I’m pretty much satisfied, forever. I don’t really have the urge to hear it again. I just feel satisfied that I’ve heard his verse that one time. I’ll kind of compare him to Tim Duncan, or even the entire Spurs organization, you know they’re great, but I have more fun watching those teams lose than I do watching them dismantle their competition. It’s like, my brain knows I should be excited, and I try Calvin, I really do. I try to fit in whenever I find myself in one of those best rappers alive convos, but I’m tired of the lies Calvin, they’re weighing heavy on my soul. So there you go, the cat’s out the bag, I find Nas boring. I said it. This is why I never really appreciated this song. Mind you, Rae dropped his usual bars filled with cool words, and the way Ghost broke down prison life in a few short bars was better than some dudes that dedicate whole albums to it. But unfortunately, this track does not rank as one of my favorites on the album. I hope we can still be friends Cee.
Cee: I…….. I don’t even know what to say. Actually, what did you say??? Seeing that 2015 is drawing to a close, I’ll express myself the way pop culture dictates me to: Through gifs & memes….
I feel so disillusioned, so misled, so hoodwinked by what you just said. I feel like Steve Austin after he teamed up with The Rock to beat up the villain wrestlers together, and while raising my fists & middle fingers in the air towards the crowd in my trademark fashion, you hit me across the back of my head with a 2 X 4, leaving me unconscious in a fake pool of blood. I don’t even know if I should sever our friendship, or if I should just pay some goons to run at your house Sosa-style, crash through your kitchen, tie you down & force you to listen to all 10 of Nas’ albums. Even the Lost Tapes. You bastard.
If there’s a lasting memory regarding this album, it was the hype leading up to it. I’ve discussed the theory before of the pre-promotion of albums in the 90s that made each major album release from your favorite artists feel like it descended down from the skies. The example I have of this theory and how well it works is almost specific to this album. Prior to its ’95 summer release, with some of the songs that we heard from the album, it was getting major, major buzz, “5 Mics in The Source” buzz. Hip hop fans were foaming at the mouth for this album, myself and my crew of friends included. The day the album was released, was an event. My friends and I headed downtown about ten deep to the one record store that were selling copies of the album. Of course, out of the ten, only about 3-4 of us bought it, and the rest was armed with blank 90 min Maxwell tapes ready to dub the albums off. If you’re wondering, wonder no more…….. I was in the “Blank Tape” group. You got to understand, I was fresh off of finishing high school in Montreal, with no money. Basically, I never purchased a CD unless it came with 10 more CDs for a penny, and it came from a Columbia House purchase list. I’m not ashamed…. I’m not…. I swear?
Anyway, we went back to our friend’s house & basically digested everything about the album, from the beats & lyrics, to the linear notes & thank you shout outs. It’s the only time in my life I ever went to a store with all my friends, & then bought watch them buy (& dub off) an album….but it was 110% worth it. Within a few months it was a solidified classic that you played for about a year straight before you could put it down. Looking back now, it remains the greatest solo album ever released by The Wu, one of the best Hip Hop moments ever from the Golden Era, and it’s not debatable. For you Wu heads, the only solo Wu albums that come close to it was GZA’s Liquid Swords (which was GREAT), and Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele (his greatest album personally), both classics…… and yet still, it was a tier down from Cuban Linx. It changed the game as much as the aforementioned Golden Era albums that I wrote about. It was dark, gritty, and cinematic, it changed slang vocabulary, it was completely swagged out (the makers of Clark’s Wallabee’s are forever thankful). The RZA was like a cross between Charles Barkley & Wilt Chamberlain on the boards, and it represented the absolute peak of the Wu Era musically. When Nas re-released his Illmatic album last year & celebrated the anniversary like nothing we’ve even seen, I was a little surprised Raekwon didn’t go down the same route this year. There should have been concerts across the world celebrating the anniversary of this album. Here’s to hoping Rae does a delayed go-round with this album like we did this post.
Cal Cee // South Shore Ave
To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting, as usual.