It’s safe to say that 2013 is already looking to be an exciting one as far as New York hip hop is concerned. A$AP Rocky just dropped his critically embraced, and what seems likely to be commercially successful, studio debut Long Live A$AP earlier this week. Throwback boom bap phenom Joey Bada$$ is primed to become one of this year’s biggest breakout MCs. But, most importantly – and the biggest reason to be hyped for the music about to come out of NYC – is that it’s the Wu Tang Clan’s official 20th anniversary.
With any luck, that means we’ll get a whole heap of solo Wu-Tang Clan material, hopefully a tour…and if we’re lucky…maybe even a direct, label-wide spiritual successor to 36 Chambers. While we might have to wait a bit to see if any of that speculation becomes a reality (especially with the Clan’s “we’ll drop it/do it when we feel like it” mentality) Raekwon’s newly released free EP, Lost Jewrly is pointing to good things so far. The price is definitely right, and there’s definitely not too much wrong with the music either.
Granted the project might not be the best work in the Chef’s catalog. But, if it was intended to be a warm up for the next entry in the Cuban Linx saga, and what’s to come from the rest of Wu-Tang in what should be an eventful year for the group, it serves that purpose extremely well. If you’re already a big Raekwon fan, you won’t be blown away, but you’ll definitely be very happy with what’s here. If you aren’t already acquainted with some of his now classic earlier work, this EP might be a very easy and accessible place to start – especially considering it can be had for a couple mouse clicks.
Lyrically, Raekwon sticks extremely close to the style that’s made him one of the most widely embraced Wu-Tang MCs. From start to finish, the main themes are savvy hustling, being surrounded by expensive things, and the occasional cautionary “hood horror story”. While those uninitiated to the Wu experience might think that would make for a one dimensional or superficial lyrical approach, that’s far from the truth. In fact, Rae’s ability to bring stories to life, and describe things in immaculate detail makes it quite the opposite. That’s been the case throughout his entire career though, and should be expected.
To name a few highlights, we get an interesting look at how Rae views the dangers of being young and entangled the world of drug dealing on “Young Boy Penalties”, and – on the other side of the proverbial coin – a more upbeat and positive performance on “For The Listeners”, which almost invokes the feel of a verse that was thrown down in a cypher from the Wu’s early days. However, the absolute most impressive display of the Chef’s lyrical talent here is the on the nearly too smooth standout track “Wherever, Whenever”, which closes out the Lost Jewlry album, and is an excellent showcase for his gift of vivid storytelling.
We also get two beyond solid feature verses. The first, which comes from Freddie Gibbs (who seems almost incapable of dropping a bad verse at this point) on “New Day”, might be the strongest on the Lost Jewlry album. While he definitely takes a more technically complex and rapid-fire approach than his usually laid-back aesthetic, his ability ride a beat with authority is apparent in a big way. On a more surprising note though, Maino – whose career has felt like it’s on life support lately – drops the smoothest and most impressive verse he’s laid down since his debut album on “To the Top”.
That isn’t to say that every track on Lost Jewlry stands up next to all of Raekwon’s catalog from a lyrical standpoint though. While they don’t make for terrible tracks, there are two R&B infused cuts (“’86” and “Hold You Down”) that fall a little flat. They’re definitely decent listens, and all respect to Faith Evans and Altrina Renee who do a nice job on the hooks, but they just don’t carry the same energy that most of his work does.
Production wise, this one could best be described as slightly above average. While every beat is clean and well engineered, a good handful of the tracks all seem to get lost in the background behind the Raekwon’s strong deliveries. They definitely all provide a great vehicle for Rae’s flow, but a lot of the instrumentals just aren’t that memorable. That isn’t to say there aren’t some highlights though.
The low-pitched and panicked strings that create the meaty part of the Scram Jones provided “Prince of Thieves” definitely gives the track an epic feel. Roads-Art should definitely be commended for his two contributions to the project as well, with the before mentioned “To the Top” and ‘Whatever, Whenever”. It’s also a crying shame that the Statik Selektah created into “A King’s Chariot” wasn’t developed as a full length track, because it does the perfect job of setting a highly cinematic stage for the rest of the project.
Overall, Lost Jewlry, is an extremely strong effort for what it is – a free release that was obviously designed as an appetizer for bigger things. But, it definitely isn’t going to go down as a memorable part of Raekwon, or the Wu’s, expansive catalog. Long time fans will probably find that this is going to be in rotation for a few weeks, and it’s a great easy-to-grab way for curious new fans to get started with Rae’s work (but if you are one, and like this, jump straight to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… afterwards).
To keep running with the culinary theme that the Chef himself has established though, it’s the musical equivalent of a very good salad. There’s nothing wrong with a good salad, but when you know a steaks on its way out, it’s hard not to immediately look forward to what’s about to come.