Friday, January 12, 2007

Heroin Only

About two months ago, Stylus was looking for some new writers, so I sent them my review of Raekwon's "Heron Only" mixtape. They weren't interested, so I figured I might as well let this see the light of day. It's not really written as informally as I usually work, so re-reading it now, it comes off pretty awkward. Oh well.

Around a year ago, I was at a Ghostface show in New York where someone in Ghost's entourage held up a promotional poster reading "Cuban Linx II: Heron(sic) Only". Being a big fan of Raekwon the Chef's first Cuban Linx album, I was naturally excited. Fast forward to the present: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II: Strictly Bricks (the new alleged title) is still nowhere in sight, but a number of teaser mixtapes have dropped, one of the more exciting being Heroin Only released by Rae and his personal DJ, DJ Thoro.

Heroin Only doesn't go too far beyond your general mixtape fare. There are guest appearances (Wu Tang associates and outsiders alike), spoken interludes, and new takes on old beats. Among the guests, Busta Rhymes stands out from the crowd with his verses on "Address Me as Mister" and the remix to CL2's first announced single "State of Grace". Despite having two very different flows, Rae and Busta have always sounded great together, maybe because Raekwon likes to sound off about coke and Busta likes to sound like he's on coke. As for the spoken interludes, they serve as much of a purpose as any mixtape interlude, not much. There's a lot of the Chef reminding you that this is "heroin only", as if to tell you that he's moving on from the coke rap that so many have co-opted from the archetype he laid down on OB4CL. This is more extreme, grimier, and far less glamorous. This analysis would hold up a lot better if the tape was full of gutter beats, but that couldn't be further from the truth. The majority of the beats have a very funky and slick jazz feel (see: "Rising 2 Da Gwap"), so although it might debunk my metaphor theories, Rae's voice sounds completely at home on nearly every track. As for the older beats, there's a great re-working of Nas's "The World is Yours" (re-titled "Chef's World") and a listenable, albeit not as great, reworking of Paul Wall's "Sittin' Sideways" ("Sittin' sideways, boys in a daze" becomes "hit 'em sideways, going for the face").

Some classic tracks are included on the disc, including Wu Tang's "It's Yourz" and "Hollow Bones". Not only are these tracks great songs on their own, but they serve to show how Raekwon's new output can stand up against his past releases, and for the most part, it does. There's nothing that holds much of a candle to the original Cuban Linx, but if I don't have that expectation for the official album release, then it'd be silly to expect it from a pre-release mix tape. But while it may not become Raekwon's crowing achievement, I'll still look forward to "Cuban Linx II" and If the intention behind this release is to keep people tuned in until CL2 drops, then they've achieved it with at least one fan.

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