Capping off a quiet 2011, Raekwon followed up his fourth solo album from last March, Shaolin Vs. Wu-Tang, with the New Year’s Day release, Unexpected Victory. The mixtape finds Rae trading bars with an assortment of fellow East Coast rap vets like Busta Rhymes, Mobb Deep, Capone-N-Noreaga, Styles P, C.L. Smooth and Sauce Money, as well as introducing his new Ice H2O team.

As expected, the Chef sounds the most energized, enthused, and entertaining while spitting alongside the 1990s-era lineup. On the Busta-assisted “MTV Cribs,” the Wu-Tang slangmaster takes privileged listeners on a tour of his “19,000 square feet deluxe villa” in pure Shallah fashion, by listing all the extravagant and ridiculous items one would encounter in his estate. “Vodka mugs, Ace of Spade rugs, Louie cups and candles/Fila forks, gold Kangols/Travel over here, priceless lights/Tub full of ice/Granddaddy pinecones, leather bikes.” Amazing!

“Silk” is another standout, with welcome surprise guests, C.L. Smooth and Sauce Money. Over a smooth, laid back beat by frequent collaborator Scram Jones (who provides four cuts on the tape), the seasoned 40-something New Yorkers get loose like they were still in their teens.

Yet, while the songs with Rae’s contemporaries bang, the joints starring his artists—JD Era, Ceazar-N-Reason, Camoflauge, Big B, Tommy Nova and R&B singer Altrina Renee—are hard to sit through. It's not because the up-and-comers lack talent, but more-so because the tracks seem like unfinished products. A majority of the offerings are under three minutes long with varying sound quality, and most don’t even have hooks. Placed within a tracklist that includes the excellent L.E.P. Bogus Boys-starring smash, “This Shit Hard,” or the mean Mobb Deep collabo “Chinese Marines,” those other cuts—which make up about half of the tape—feel like unnecessary filler.

Rae might not have a victory on his hands this time around, but there’s no doubt he still has plenty of ammunition for another go at it in 2012. —Jesse Gissen