Being part of a team is great; when you’re part of a successful one, even better. Yet, there may always be that inkling of wonder of what could be accomplished by oneself. For musical acts whose contributions to the world are dissected and compared to one another, that one little thought may be enough to isolate said artist from the group, not to mention the monetary differences between a solo artist and being part of a group.
Ego has played a part in the demise of many great factions — the likes of New Edition, NWA, The Fugees – they’ve all fallen victim to the individualistic desires of man. Yet, when tamed, this possibly destructive force can be channeled into producing some of the greatest albums in history. Bobby Brown’s Don’t Be Cruel fits in that mold, so does Ice Cube’s Amerikkas Most Wanted. This was also the case for one of the greatest Hip Hop albums ever. Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx set the tone for a genre of mafioso themed albums that took the 90’s by storm.
Failing to distinguish himself from some of the other charismatic members of the Wu Tang Clan, the man known as “The Chef” was motivated to go out and make himself a classic body of work. And on August 1, 1995, Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx set a new standard for rap. The album received a 4.5 mic rating from The Source magazine (at the time, hip hop’s Bible). While the Method Man and Ghostface Killah assisted “Ice Cream,” was the LP’s most successful record, album cuts like “Verbal Intercourse” are what set the tone for the project. The twelfth track features a young Nas on the heels of his own soon-to-be classic, Illmatic, as well as Wu Tang mate Ghostface Killah – who plays a supporting role in the mafia movie themed album. Considered one of Nas’ best verses (which is saying something), it also stands as one of the greatest opening verses in history.
Nas sets the tone for the record early, rapping:
Through the lights cameras and action, glamour glitters and gold I unfold the scroll, plant seeds to stampede the globe.
When I’m deceased, by then the beast arise like yeast to conquer peace leaving savages to roam the streets.
With his newfound fame and fortune from his individual success, his principles haven’t changed, as he still plans to take over the world. And after he has long passed, he hopes to have planted enough seeds in the minds of the youth to bring about a revolution. A Queensbridge legend long before platinum albums, Nas’ lyrical aptitude was as shocking as his youth, as he was barely 21 at the time of this recording.
On the second verse, Raekwon deliver’s a high-quality opening bar of his own.
Perhaps bullets bust, n**** discuss mad money true lies and white guys, we can see it through the eyes. Catch the most on tape, kilos disintegrate Pyrex pots, we break, fiends licking plates.
While Nas’ verse pertained to his yearning for a mental uprising, Raekwon keeps with the album’s theme. Describing the dangers that come with operating on the wrong side of the law.
On the song’s last verse, Ghostface Killah – maybe the most charismatic of the three – adds to the story, Further detailing the greed, jealousy, envy that comes with monetary success, with hopes of a light at the end of the tunnel.
With the green leathers, hundred-pound snakes and cakes. Fiends found in lakes, jealously jakes we shake. What I strive for is what I live for. Infatuated by material things in this wild life of war like somewhere over the rainbow, I see a big pot of gold.
“Verbal Intercourse” is defined as “conversation between more than one person.” But in this case, you could say they went a step further and f***ed the beat. The album featured every rapper in the Wu Tang Clan besides ODB, so Raekwon didn’t completely deviate from the already winning formula. Still, as the creative mastermind behind the LP, it helped Raekwon continue to establish himself as his own entity, outside of his groupmates. Debuting at number four on the Billboard charts, Only Built 4 Cuban Lynx sold 130,000 copies its first week, and while not a single, “Verbal Intercourse” saw each respective rapper plant seeds towards their now legendary status.
with Maxwell Amankwah contributing