If we look at Rae's solo albums only, I think we have been spoiled by Only Built 4 Cuban Linx and its 2009 sequel, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2. This is the reason why, in my opinion that Immobilarity and Lex Diamond Story didn't do too much for me. Raekwon's skills have always been respected by his work on Wu Tang albums, Ghostface albums and various guest appearances, but if you don't see the words Cuban Linx on the CD cover, you're normally going to be skeptical of what to expect. When I heard the track "Butter Knives", I was definitely pleased with what I heard. Rae released the title track of the album shortly thereafter and I knew that this effort would be pretty good. "Shaolin Vs Wu Tang" was released on March 8th, 2011. I wasn't too pleased that RZA wouldn't have any involvement but once I saw the tracklisting, I was satisfied. My favorite track on the CD is clearly "Masters Of Our Fate" which features Black Thought of The Roots. It closes the album off nicely and it's good to hear Black Thought outside of his Roots clique. His collaboration with Ghostface from "Apollo Kids", "In The Park" was my favorite from that CD as well. It's not RZA production but Tommy Nova does his best RZA impersonation on the track. "Every Soldier In The Hood" features Method Man and keeps things going after the title track. "Shaolin Vs Wu Tang" features a lot of short, 2 to 3 minute tracks that may be disappointing some listeners but because the majority of the material is pretty good, I don't have a problem with it personally. "Silver Rings" is the first track that features Rae & Ghost. It's very short in length and not as good as some of their Cuban Linx 2 collaborations but it's still a pretty good track. The only RZA contribution is featured on this track, which is an excerpt of "As High As Wu Tang Gets" from "Wu Tang Forever". "Chop Chop Ninja" is another pretty good track. It features Raekwon, Inspectah Deck and Estelle. The lyrics are pretty good but half of the track is taken up by Estelle's singing, which to me is a little excessive. "Snake Pond" & "Crane Style" w/Busta Rhymes all could have been longer tracks but they are still 2 of the best tracks on the album. Busta clearly steals the show on "Crane Style" and he seems to have received a new rejuvenation on the microphone. "Rich & Black" features Nas and while it's not "Verbal Intercourse" it's still one of the best tracks on here. I know Rae wanted Nas on Cuban Linx 2, so it's good to see Nas show up this time around. The Alchemist provides a banger in "Ferryboat Killaz". It's another short track that could have easily be extended with a Ghostface verse but the 2 minutes of the track will just have you wanting more Rae & Alchemist collaborations. "Molasses" has Rick Ross joining in with Raekwon and Ghostface and surprisingly everything works well. Rick Ross has a verse that is just about as good as his contribution on Kanye's latest CD on the song "Devil In A New Dress". "Last Trip To Scotland" features Lloyd Banks and is produced by Scram Jones, who produces the most songs on "Shaolin Vs Wu Tang, with 3. They both provide good verses and it's good to see Lloyd Banks making a quality contribution in 2011.
The only song that I think is skip worthy is "Rock & Roll". I am not sure why Jim Jones is on the track and the singer Kobe adds nothing to the track at all. Rae & Ghost give good contributions but they get lost in between everything else on the track.
Overall, it's good to see Raekwon finally make an album that shows a median between the highs of both Cuban Linx CDs and the lows of Immobilarity and The Lex Diamond Story. Cuban Linx 3 is coming soon and that can only be a good thing.
James' Top 5
1) Masters Of Our Fate
2) Butter Knives
3) Rich & Black
4) Ferryboat Killaz
5) Snake Pond
Shaolin Vs Wu Tang
Every Soldier In The Hood
Silver Rings (and several others)