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Treading in such lauded footsteps, half-baking Pt. II wasn’t really an option. Just as well, then, that it more than lives up to the hype, rolling back that aforementioned decade and a half to recapture sizzling career-defining form. Evoking the claustrophobic atmospheres of OB4CL… to the extent it’s easy to forget Raekwon is rapping from a contemporary standpoint, he once again animates a drugs-running and violence-filled street life narrative with rare colour and attention to gritty detail.
It’s not only Raekwon’s A game that is resurrected, either. Broadening the original album’s cinematic production spectrum beyond backing from Wu comrade RZA, nigh on every beat calls on big guns without feeling like unit-shifting super producer box-ticking. Dr Dre and the late J Dilla bring particular heat alongside, almost inevitably, RZA, despite Raekwon’s prior protestations that his crewmate wouldn’t feature, after bad blood between the two.
Also in keeping with the OB4CL… spirit, fellow Wu mic assassin Ghostface Killah reprises his lead guest credit, distinctive urgent delivery snaking around Raekwon’s effortlessly flowing wordplay. For the most part, it’s the role Ghostface was born to play and when he trades bars with Raekwon on the ominous Penitentiary it’s a genuine pleasure to behold.
’Hood-examining highlight Sonny’s Missing is sufficiently vivid to render television’s greatest inner city dramatisation, The Wire, as a two-dimensional caricature, lighting up a Pete Rock beat that slinks through shadowy sonic alleyways. And in continuing the multi-angle widescreen crime saga scope of OB4CL…, Raekwon’s true talent soars.
Perhaps the most telling line arrives on Broken Safety, when Jadakiss sagely declares “F*** saving hip hop / We bringing the streets back,” reminding us that nobody else, not even his Wu-Tang companions, relates street stories with Raekwon’s eloquence. --Adam Kennedy
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