Raekwon Returns To Form With 'Cuban Linx...Pt. II'
Raekwon

Jay-Z's "The Blueprint 3" might be the week's No. 1 album, but the other major Sept. 8 hip-hop release, Raekwon's "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II," can still claim a victory.

For three days during the week of its release, the Wu-Tang Clan member's fourth solo album -- and sequel to his 1995 debut, "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx" -- was iTunes' No. 1 album, ahead of "Blueprint 3." It debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200, selling 68,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album also bows at No. 2 on Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.

"I was shocked," says Raekwon, who released the project on his Ice H20 label through EMI. "My fans really stuck up for me in a way they never have before. It was one of those joyful, teary moments."

The sales picture for "Pt. II" is particularly impressive because the album arrived with hardly any radio airplay or mainstream media attention, generating buzz from overwhelmingly positive reviews and fan anticipation. "This record is like the hip-hop version of 'Chinese Democracy,' " says Jesse Flores, EMI director of label acquisitions and development.

But while Guns N' Roses' comeback album never matched the hype, Raekwon's set, by many critical accounts, is a triumph. "Pt. II" picks up deliberately where Raekwon's celebrated solo debut left off -- from its kung fu references and rhyme-slaying guest appearances (by Method Man, Jadakiss and Busta Rhymes, among others) to its cover art, which features Raekwon and Clan-mate Ghostface Killah striking the same pose as on the first album.

"We identified it as an amazing opportunity to work with a legendary artist with a legendary group of features," says Dominic Pandiscia, senior VP/GM at EMI Label Services.

Twenty-one percent of the first-week total for "Pt. II" came from digital sales, compared with 17% for "Blueprint 3," according to Nielsen SoundScan. Jay-Z was originally scheduled to release his album Sept. 11. But even after the rapper moved his date up to Sept. 8, EMI says it was never concerned about a scheduling conflict.

"The two releases really complemented each other," Pandiscia says. "It was a great week for hip-hop fans."

Flores echoes the sentiment, recalling last summer's successful launch of Plies' "Definition of Real." The Atlantic album sold 215,000 the same week that Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter 3" arrived and hit the 1 million mark.

To promote "Pt. II," EMI and Ice H20 hired the Los Angeles-based Cashmere Agency for an online marketing campaign, which included a series of viral videos and streams of the album tracks "House of Flying Daggers" and "10 Bricks." Other songs were kept under tight control, however. Select media and tastemakers were invited to the rooftop of EMI's New York office to hear the complete album Aug. 27. Raekwon also made in-store appearances in four New York boroughs the week of release and kicked off a West Coast promo run the following week.

Some promotion, however, was unplanned. In August, Raekwon made news for starting a physical fight with New Jersey rapper Joe Budden. But Raekwon isn't proud of the incident. "I'm not into bringing negativity to the table when I'm trying to feed my family," he says. "That was a young artist acting like he doesn't get it -- but he gets it now."

The "Pt. II" campaign has now entered "phase two": what EMI describes as a more commercial strategy as opposed to street-level promotion. The single "Catalina" features a chorus by Lyfe Jennings and is now going for radio adds.

Bolstered by his comeback, Raekwon says he'd like to do another solo album -- and this time, he won't keep fans waiting. "As of today, I feel like a new MC," he says. "I know fans want to hear more from me, and I promise there won't be a lengthy wait for Rae again. Not at all."