Let’s equate Raekwon to an action movie star of the rap game, like the Tom Cruise of hip hop. Did you see Jack Reacher? Me neither. Did you forget how good Mission Impossible is? Me neither. Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise. Regardless of what he does in his own life outside of the silver screen, he makes great films, and he certainly makes awful films as well. If Top Gun is Only Built for Cuban Linx…, then Lost Jewlry is Knight and Day. It’s for this reason that us fans tolerate a filler release, which Lost Jewlry most certainly is.
By “filler release” I basically mean a “don’t forget about me” release. How could we ever forget one of Wu Tang’s finest? The Tang’s resident slang master has possibly the group’s strongest solo debut in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, and one of hip hop’s strongest and most well received sequels in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx … Pt. 2. So remember this while you listen to Lost Jewlry.
It’s the same Rae we know so well. Only this time he doesn’t seem too concerned with the music he’s putting out, as long as he’s putting it out. Beats that don’t offend nor excite, raps that attract nor repel the listener’s attention. Rae could be trying to please everyone, but the EP plays like he couldn’t give a shit who he pleases. Neither tactic is a particularly strong one, but there are moments on the mixtape that show promise for progress, as well as those that dampen the spirit and excitement for another successful Raekwon album.
One much appreciated track is “To The Top” featuring Maino. A very blatant yet effective sample from Curtis Mayfield’s “Give Me Your Love” sets the smoothed out tone for the ideal Raekwon verse, complete with lovable slang that ultimately results in a visit to urbandictionary.com. Maino’s verse doesn’t quite strengthen the track, but his presence is accepted. “Let’s take it to the top like an escalator. To touch me you need an elevator.” However, things look up as the song continues. Maino drops flashier lines like “Started with a dream to make it to a key, now we hopping outta cars that never use a key”, but Raekwon outshines him with better word play, better references, better flow, and better imagery. “Got my lawyer in the back of the foyer, eating sautéed fish,” ignites a mafioso landscape in the listener’s brain. The presence of a lawyer means some money or legal issues are being taken care of, the existence of a foyer means Rae is living large, and who the fuck doesn’t love some sautéed fish?? I must admit that most of the credit here is due to Curtis Mayfield, whose sample is beefed up by extra percussion (kudos to Roads-Art who added drums, good touch). The sample is just ideal for this kind of song. Right tempo, right vibe, right instruments, Curtis never fails.
Another winner is “’86” featuring Altrina Renee and produced by DJ Thoro. It’s always a bit alarming on a Wu Tang release when an artists’ name is not recognizable. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, I have the habit of assuming it’s one of a billion Wu-Tang affiliates, who will likely not bring anything new to the table, and could easily have been a buddy of Raekwon’s who happened to be present during the song’s recording. I have never heard of Altrina Renee nor DJ Thoro, and worryingly assumed the worst. I’m happily wrong. The track is pleasantly sunny. Although it is reminiscent of the ’80s, it feels more like some white suit, nice car, top-down, cruising music from LA circa ’94.
Wu Tang historically does not produce the highest listening quality to their music. In the past this has been a great part of their signature sound; the fuzziness of the drum machine Rza used for 36 Chambers, the distance of the samples in the background, and an ever present tape hiss that replaces vinyl distortion as the tone-setter. However, as a much less official and lower stakes release than an album, there are certain things that are can be overlooked with few repercussions, but Lost Jewlry feels incomplete at times due to the quality of the sound. “Came Up” sounds like a demo to be re-recorded later. Uneven levels, shrill alarm sounds, and abrasive drum sounds, the song, which was produced by Scram Jones, is basically just annoying. Scram’s other tracks on the release, “Prince of Thieves” and “Young Boy Penalties” don’t sound as poorly produced, but don’t quite stand out. It’s this kind of response that persists throughout the entire EP, that it could have been better.
It is certainly not a terrible EP, but no envelopes are being pushed, no new tactics being employed, no exciting new faces are presented to us. But Raekwon is still Raekwon, and that is something to appreciate. He is not the type to instantly jump on the “Suit and Tie” instrumental or a Chief Keef track, or try any kind of gimmicky bullshit, unless it’s his own gimmicky bullshit. There’s something enticing about an artist who stays true to himself and his music, but I’d be more enticed if he told a white lie every once in a while.