Two legendary rappers, two sequels of legendary albums. One at the peak of his popularity, the other attempting a comeback. In this case, the underdog prevails.
Jay-Z has a mixed track record as far as albums go. As a general rule, when he has a huge hit, the album it appears on is only noteworthy because of it. When he gets a little less radio play, he actually has a great album. The Blueprint was a rare exception to this rule with a balance of great party tracks, clever wordplay and plenty of insight. Its third sequel is an exception as well, but not in the same way. On The Blueprint 3, Jigga has some sure-fire pop hits and a couple of solid tracks for hip-hop heads, but none of it will make it into his canon of classics. For maybe the first time he comes off as lazy, and, for all the claims to innovation he makes here, a bit behind the times, as well.
Raekwon, on the other hand, aside from notable appearances on Wu-Tang Clan records, has done nothing but disappoint since releasing his 1993 classic, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. And, beyond all odds, he’s actually pulled off a worthy successor. He’s in top form on the album and just as gritty as he was over a decade ago. The production is top notch, featuring The RZA, Pete Rock, The Alchemist, Marley Marl and three standout tracks by the late J.Dilla who emulates the Wu’s signature sound to great effect. Still, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. . . Pt. II isn’t a total triumph. The album is too long and the two very cheesy Dr. Dre beats feel out of place.
It might be that Jay-Z’s best days are behind him. But the possibility that Raekwon, of all people, might be on the verge of a renaissance far outweighs any disappointment in this fan’s eyes.
Jay–Z * out of
Raekwon * out of **