By: Lucas Kowalik
Raekwon’s entire career has always been overshadowed by his first album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. It’s hard not to compare an artist’s work to their best album, especially when it’s a bona fide hip-hop classic. The one time he really managed to live up to his debut was on its namesake sequel (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II), so fans often don’t check in for a new Raekwon project unless “Cuban Linx” is in the title.
But his newest album, The Wild, is a pleasant return to form for the 47-year-old emcee. Rae is sounding the best he has in years, while still retaining the Mafioso rap style that made him a household name. On every track he comes correct, delivering gritty street stories through his smooth flow.
The album is not without its hiccups though. The intro, outro, and skits are completely unnecessary and only serve to annoy the listener. Furthermore, some of the features are very poorly chosen. The first is Andra Day on “Visiting Hours.” She contributes a painfully generic chorus that sounds like it could be thrown on any rap song. Technically, there is nothing wrong with her singing, but it just feels lifeless.
The worst track on the record undoubtedly is “Purple Brick Road” featuring—sigh—G-Eazy. For some reason they decided to make this the lead single, but thankfully the whole album didn’t sound like this. The hook is terribly annoying and is repeated a whopping four times over the course of the track. As one would expect, G-Eazy’s verse is nearly impossible to stomach. He tries to match Rae’s macho, but only comes off as disingenuous. His vanilla pop-rap has no place on here and should have been excluded altogether.
While there may be some obvious low points, The Wild has plenty of highlights as well. “Marvin” chronicles the life of singer Marvin Gaye and displays Raekwon’s expert storytelling. CeeLo Green features with an outstanding performance on a hook that will give you chills.
Another standout is “My Corner” featuring Lil Wayne. In the opening verse, Rae delivers some of his nastiest bars and is incredibly confrontational. Wayne’s verse has the usual corny bars but his flow is so relentless that you don’t even care. But the main problem with this track is the production. It feels cheap and sounds like it came straight from the bling era of rap; think 50 Cent after he fell off.
One of the more interesting tracks is “M & N,” where Rae and the feature, P.U.R.E, exchange four bars at a time characterized by a heavy use of alliteration. For the first sixteen bars, they limit themselves to only using words that start with “M” and in the next sixteen bars switch to “N.” It is not as ambitious as the similarly-themed “Alphabet Aerobics” by Blackalicious, but it effectively showcases Rae and P.U.R.E’s verbal gymnastics.
What this album is really missing is a feature from Rae’s partners in crime, Ghostface Killah. Ghost was billed as a co-star on both Cuban Linx albums, so it feels wrong for him not to be present here. In fact “This Is What It Comes Too” has a remix featuring Ghost that dropped a few days prior to the album. The album version is still a solid track, but the Ghost version sounds better. It should have been included as a bonus track at the very least.
Overall, this is a solid project from an emcee many thought to be well past his prime. Save for the pointless skits, this album is at the perfect length that it does not overstay its welcome. While a Ghostface feature would have been nice, it’s understandable that Rae wants to move on with his career. Rae’s ability to craft a quality album at this point in his career gives hope for other aging rap artists and further proves that Wu-Tang is indeed forever.
“Crown of Thorns”
(Feature Image: The Wild, Ice H20 Records / EMPIRE)