Right from the outset, a discernable difference in this record is the absence of Wu sound architect RZA and MC Ghostface Killah, who were both instrumental in the success of Cuban Linx. In place of RZA, Rae enlists a variety of producers who -- while not straying too much from the Wu sound -- help Raekwon further establish his own identity. Some (Infinite Arkatechz, Triflyn, Carlos "Six July" Broady, respectively) echo the beats and trademark cinematic shadings of the Shaolin master with cuts like "Casablanca," "100 Rounds" and "Yae Yo," while others add an uncharacteristic pop flavor to the mix on tracks like "Pop Shit" and "All I Got Is You Pt. II." The latter actually samples that new jack of hip-hop inspiration, Lionel Richie (who, incidentally, also unbelievably shows up on Goodie Mob's World Party). What's next -- Billy Ocean samples? Yet despite the wack choice to interpolate Richie's "Penny Lover," which seems better suited for a Puffy album, "All I Got Is You Pt. II" is, lyrically, one of the stronger cuts here, one in which Raekwon pays homage to his single-parent mother.
Although some might find some of the Chef's new ingredients too refined, one polished jewel that does work is the creative utilization of the late Grover Washington Jr.'s groove-laden "Mister Magic" to propel the track "Heart to Heart." The track is laced with the phrase "slang optimism," and one couldn't find a more apt choice of words to describe the essence of Raekwon, the ghetto slangster whose new term "immobilarity" is meant to represent the prosperous life that he now enjoys. And though Raekwon tries to stretch his game out on club-friendly cuts such as "Raw," chances are heads will still long to hear the ghetto classicism of Cuban Linx. He doesn't disappoint in the Triflyn-produced "100 Rounds," or with the street-raw vibe of the DJ Devastator-produced "Real Life."
In a sense, this album is a tribute to all those who have helped the Chef attain Master status. While it might prove unsatisfying for listeners who would prefer Cuban Linx leftovers, to those who like to feast on all courses of the Wu buffet, the Chef's new dish comes well-recommended.