26. Raekwon "Ice Cream" (1995)
Album: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...
Label: Loud, RCA, BMG
Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is not only a landmark rap album (one that popularized everything from mafioso themes to sipping Cristal, influencing everyone from Mobb Deep to Biggie to Jay-Z) but also one of the first albums whose production was described as “cinematic.” Some of that had to do with all the samples of kung-fu film dialog, but still—RZA’s soundscapes were incredibile. And “Ice Cream” was no exception. It's a beat that sounds like a hot sunny day in Shaolin where all the kids want to do is chase the ice cream truck while the adults chase tail.
It’s hard to talk about Wu-Tang without discussing their astonishing creative and commercial run from 1992 to 1997 spearheaded by The Abbot’s lo-fi production, but let’s put that aside for a second. Just consider this: According to Method Man, “Ice Cream” and GZA’s “Shadowboxin’” were crafted in the same week. Which essentially means RZA was piecing together Cuban Linx and Liquid Swords—two classics that both featured incredibly distinct production—at the same damn time.
Many rap producers tend to get into that zone where all their beats start to sound the same because they’re all made from the same few elements. Certainly producers like Swizz Beatz and Lex Luger have been accused of this. Although it could be argued that finding your soundkit is the hip-hop producer’s equivalent to any artist finding their voice, you do run the risk of becoming as repetitive as the loops themselves until you reach the point of diminishing returns. But that certainly wasn’t a problem for RZA, who was firing on all cylinders in the mid-'90s.
Related: Raekwon Breaks Down His 25 Most Essential Songs