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The Immersion: The Death of Dilla, The Birth of Raekwons “OBCL II”Posted by Dharmic X on 02/07/13 | Filed under Opinion, The Immersion
J. Dilla died the year I started listening to hip-hop.
In the years that followed, I have obviously gone back to listen to the man’s music and marvel at its brilliance. Dilla’s legacy stands on its own two feet. But as much as I have an appreciation for the man’s rich catalog, I would be remiss to say that Jay Dee “changed my life.” It’s my fault more than anything. Thinking about it now, it makes me wish that I was born five years earlier. Or maybe even a decade.
I was only three years old when “Only Built for Cuban Linx” first came out on the “Purple Tape.” Songs like “Ice Cream,” “Criminology,” and “Verbal Intercourse” are timeless, but getting introduced to these songs in a computer-based vortex does not allow for listening to the album as the cinematic body of work that it was, one of the seminal albums in the lane of “Mafioso rap.”
After reading about its impact on the game on Wikipedia, seeing it alluded in hundreds of articles on HipHopDX and AllHipHop, it only made me hungrier for music that could hold that type of weight in 2009. What I was asking for was impossible, of course; the music industry had changed entirely in those sixteen years since the “Purple Tape” first came out. However, the reality was that all I wanted was the much-talked about “Only Built for Cuban Linx II,” a sequel which had gotten lost in the industry maze that was Aftermath Records.
The first single from the album, “New Wu,” was a step in the right direction for the Chef. The song itself was dope, with two sets of visuals coming out within months of each other. However, with Rae still serving up mixtapes every once in awhile, there was still a reluctance to announce that this album was really coming out in 2009, after years of similar false-starts and pseudo-singles. “New Wu” eventually did land itself on the album and fit right in.
Months passed after “New Wu.” Rae would go on tour with Rock The Bells, the idea of “Cuban Linx II” coming out seeming like a pipe dream. And then in the dead heat of summer, the hip-hop world was blessed with a donut. “House of Flying Daggers,” produced by the late J. Dilla, was a hard-hitting track, the beat layered with intensity and augmented by the GZA-recited chorus, which takes the form of a chant. The four emcees (Rae, Ghostface, Inspectah Deck, and the closer, Method Man) take turns slaying the beat, each person’s voice and style playing off of the others. Meth’s verse might have been a perfect example of saving the best verse for last. The illustration music video matched the Wu-Tang aesthetic and was a superior product to the video for “New Wu.”
“Only Built for Cuban Linx II” did not successfully recreate the atmosphere of its predecessor, but even attempting to do so would have doomed this album to failure. Instead, the album was wildly successful, becoming the number four album in the country while being pushed out independently. More important, the album was a critical success. Eschewing the original formula of having RZA produce the entire album, Rae managed to collect an all-star cast of producers, including RZA, Dilla, The Alchemist, Marley Marl, Dr. Dre, and Erick Sermon. He brought all of these talents into the Shaolin land, creating a cohesive sound that set the right tone and mood for the intricate storytelling from the Chef and his cavalcade of featured stars.
The standout track from “Cuban Linx II” was “Have Mercy,” a mellowed out cut produced by Primo understudy MoSS. The beat set up some introspection from both Raekwon and feature Beanie Sigel, and while Rae came correct on the second verse of the song, it is Beans’s opening verse that is the highlight. It’s a haunting verse, talking about the perils of surviving life in a jail cell, something Beanie has become all-too familiar with. Anyone can relate to the crushing force of his delivery as he describes the torture of the “days getting longer” and the body getting weaker under the confines of prison.
“Only Built for Cuban Linx II” sparked a short-lived trend of 90s emcees trying to offer the world sequels to their long-heralded classic albums. But even this album could have become a dead fish out of the pond were it not for J. Dilla’s production, most notably on the single that sparked the album to the release date finish line, “House of Flying Daggers.” That said, the one thing on a lot of older head’s minds was, “Where was Nas?” in reference to the classic verse he dropped on “Verbal Intercourse.”
Nas popped up on other albums in 2009, of course…