The Making of Raekwon’s “Verbal Intercourse”

David Ma's series returns as he speaks to the Chef about his iconic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx track featuring Nas and Ghostface Killah.
By    November 21, 2019

Art by Brandon King

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Imagine the infinitude of Wu-Tang if Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… didn’t exist. Imagine Raekwon’s career if he debuted with Immobilarity instead of this one. The album left such a footprint, is such a paragon of first generation solo Wu genius that it’s hard to imagine a world without its consequences. It’s also the one that cemented Rae and Ghost as an informal duo, the clan’s Bert and Ernie, their EPMD, who’d subsequently co-star on each other’s efforts for decades thereafter. RZA’s protean brilliance was still on an aggressive upswing, a mise en place with miles to go—Liquid Swords and Ironman were still yet to come. 

Cuban Linx brims with memorable still frames, “Glaciers of Ice” is a shot in the arm yet the beginning of “Ice Cream” is a moment of pause. Not only is Cuban Linx an arguable frontrunner for best amongst the first solo Wu joints, it’s also one of the best debuts ever, by any artist, of any genre. Bound with John Woo samples and gambinos galore; new iconography and a nimble, dexterous Ghostface. So many arresting moments throughout; Ghost obliterating that Sweet Inspirations sample on “Criminology,” how the piano on “Knuckleheadz” can actually make the sky bluer. All that and still there’s “Verbal Intercourse,” featuring Nas delivering with atavistic instinct as if it were a Large Pro demo: 

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 in the streets
Live on the run, police paying me to give in my gun
Trick my wisdom with the system that imprisoned my son

Taken from portions of this legacy piece I did years back, here’s Rae with some insight on the Cuban Linx era, his approach to writing story rhymes, his relationship with Ghost, and specifically Nas and the scene behind the forever sublime, “Verbal Intercourse.”

What’s your approach for story raps?

Raekwon: My story raps mention states, cities, describes people, describes cars, and the colors of the whole fucking scene. That’s my lane. I’m an MC. I wanted to go beyond the depths of making a rhyme. I want to create visions. I mean, I like being flashy and all that, but I think storytelling is my department. I’m good at putting films in your ear, kid.

What was the reaction in the studio like after Nas dropped his verse on “Verbal Intercourse?” Whose decision was it to even get Nas on?

Raekwon: It was my decision to get him on, because I was always a big fan of Nas. We came up around the same time sorta, and we were friends. I would go to Queens sometimes, and he’d come to Staten Island too. One day, me and Nas were getting smoked out, hanging out at Chinese restaurants and shit. We went back to the studio and his rhyming was all over the place! I told him to take it easy, because he didn’t know which verse he wanted to spit. So he did a few verses for me. And me, being a fan of his and the critic that I am, I told him to go with the verse that we ended up using on the album [repeats Nas’ line: “Through the lights cameras and action glamour glitters and gold…”] I was like, “This is over! Knockout!” It’s a true story too. When you interview Nas, ask him, he’ll tell you.

What do you remember after finishing Cuban Linx and finding out about all the love it was getting?

Raekwon: I was surprised, actually. We weren’t worried about doing ten million. We ended up going platinum, which is cool, but we weren’t trying to make this album for everybody. We were trying to make it for niggas who were cut from the same cloth as us. At that time, we were talking for the street niggas, talking for drug dealers and shit. We just didn’t think the whole world would gravitate to it like it did.

Where do you think Cuban Linx ranks among other great rap albums of the ’90s?

Raekwon: It has to be in the top two. I would never say its number one, because I liked a lot of albums from the ’90s. But you never heard niggas rhyme as hard as we did over beats like that before. Like, sometimes you hear a beat and you’re like, “This shit’s nice.” But sometimes you hear a beat and be like, “Where the fuck you get that from?!” So having those beats and those rhymes on the same plate was mad powerful. I wouldn’t say Cuban Linx is number one, because it’s too cocky. So I’ll say top two and that way I’m in at least one of those motherfuckers.

Okay, so if Cuban Linx is a movie, then RZA was the director and you were the star. By that standard, is it fair to say that Ghostface was the co-star?

Raekwon: Hell yeah. I like how you said that. Yeah, man, everything was on purpose. We wanted people to see me and think of Ghost, or see Ghost and think of me. Ghost and me, especially at the time, had this identical-twin effect on each other. We would joke about the same things and laugh at the same shit. We were into the same clothes and shit. We were like the EPMD of the crew. At that time, my buzz was still coming up because of my verse on “C.R.E.A.M.” I mean, I had the most time on 36 Chambers, so fans and other niggas was looking at me like, “Yo, what you doing next?” Along the same vibe, Ghost was coming up too. So Ghost came on the record with me because we were close and because it was a team mentality then.

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