Loud. With 1995's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx . . . " this Staten Island rapper released what many consider the best solo album from a member of the Wu-Tang Clan. Chock-full of brutal, slang-drenched tales of struggle and backed by the RZA's riveting production, the low-profile Raekwon became a hip-hop hero.
On his surprising second album (due in stores Tuesday), Raekwon demonstrates tremendous growth from that gangster-heavy debut, exchanging his relentless onslaught of crime capers for a number of cautionary, inspirational and light-hearted tales.
"All I Need Pt. 2" details the struggle he endured as a poor child and trumpets the value of a strong family, while "Forecast" serves as Raekwon's acknowledgment of his fans' support. Where the RZA rocked with somber power, Raekwon's new production team--including such promising beatsmiths as Triflyn and Infinite Arkatechz-- opts for a more gentle approach on a number of cuts, utilizing dreamy backdrops. By walking the fine line between menacing and uplifting, Raekwon reasserts himself as a hip-hop stalwart. --SOREN BAKER
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.