On this day, August 1, in hip-hop history…
1995: Raekwon creates a visual album that changes the game.
The word ‘classic’ gets thrown around like a beach ball at a music festival these days. But when talking about Raekwon’s debut album it is truly appropriate. Classic albums are pieces that change a genre and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… did just exactly that.
The album dropped in 1995 at a time when the Wu ruled the world. With the heat of their debut album at solar levels they were able to broker solo deals at various labels while maintaining control of their projects. And while Cuban Linx was not the most anticipated of the Wu solo projects (Meth owned that title) its gone on to be one of the most critically acclaimed projects in the Shaolin cannon.
The full title, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Niggaz, gives a better understanding of who the Chef was speaking to with his work. While the entire Clan represented the raw street energy of New York, Linx was for and to the grimy yet Cristal bottle poppin hustlers and bringing their world to life. Linx was the soundtrack for cats taking penitentiary chances on a regular basis. The cinematic feel of the album expanded past the sampled bit of dialogue from various films to the crediting of Ghostface Killah as a “guest star” and excutive producer RZA as “the director.”
The RZA understood the potency of Rae and Ghost as a team. He told XXL in 2005 why the duo was special.
Rae and Ghost together, those two right there were notorious kids from two different projects. Cuban Linx was an opportunity for Rae and Ghost to give us the street side. When we did it, I said, “yo, it’s gonna be a very dangerous album; it’s gonna change the game. We gonna invite those demons, every negative stereotype, and deal with them.” It’s like the shit was lived; a lot of it was lived or experienced in one form or another. It’s so natural, it don’t feel like songs. It was a chance to show the world not only how New York lived, but also how Shaolin preserved New York. An older generation was leaving and getting older. We’re from the crack generation – that real gritty, rough project shit. We was on corners at 15, 16, doing sh-t you couldn’t imagine.
The result was an album of classic tracks like “Criminology”, “Ice Cream”, “Incarcerated Scarfaces”, “Rainy Dayz”, “Wu-Gambinos” and “Verbal Intercourse” featuring Nas that brought a whole new world to light. You can hear the fruits of this tree today in the cocaine covered work of Pusha T and others. Even Rae’s contemporaries like Jay Z and Nas stepped their games up as well in the wake of Linx.
But why was it purple tho? During an interview with 3 Little Digs Rae explained.
“You know what inspired it? Redman had a tape that was red,” The Wu co-founder explained “I knew a lot of hip-hop n-ggas always run around their cars and have a bunch of CD’s on the floor; in the chair or whatever whatever. So I’m like ‘how do I make sure my sh-t stands out. from everybody else’s?’”
Get On Down released a limited edition reissue of the cassette version in all its purple glory.
Just two months after its release the album was certified gold. The album has inspired a sequel in 2009 but the original still remains a standard bearer in hip-hop.