Can enough praise be heaped upon Raekwon's 1995 solo debut Only Built 4 Cuban Linx? Constantly heralded as a landmark in hip-hop, Cuban Linx made a strong case for rap's ability to tell rich stories, laced as it is with cinematic scenes of gritty drug deals and gangsters living in luxury, all brought to life via production by his Wu-Tang mate RZA. Rae's latest, Shaolin vs. The Wu-Tang, sounds immediately like the Wu, with the warm Wu-Tang movie-clip intro and a banging title track. The fact that it resists becoming a nostalgia trip is probably due to the lack of any RZA production whatsoever throughout the album. By hiring a slew of lesser-knowns to all work within the RZA/Wu-Tang framework of vintage film clips and minor chords, Raekwon does what each Wu-Tang member is supposed to do when flying solo — carry the spirit of the Wu onward.

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