[10 January 2013]
Ten years ago, Wu-Block may very well have been the most anticipated release of the time. Ghostface Killah was at the apex of his mainstream popularity following Supreme Clientele and the LOX trio of Styles P, Jadakiss and Sheek Louch were considered by many to be the new faces of east coast gangsta rap. Of course that’s not what happened, and aside from the pair of Pretty Toney Album highlights “Metal Lungies” and “Run” that hinted at Ghost’s chemistry with the LOX, collaborations have been few and far between for the two camps. But in the age of Twitter and mixtapes hip-hop fans have come to learn that anything is possible now, and so Wu-Block arrived on the brink of the 2012 holiday season with little widespread panic. Which is a shame, because while this Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch collaboration might feel a little trapped in 2004, it’s also one of those increasingly rare hardcore albums that can easily leave one confused how this brand of rap fell out of favor with the audience at large.
The method for Wu-Block is pretty simple: forget pretty much any measure of success you’ve experienced in your life and fucking rap. As a result, you get a Ghostface verse like the flammable gas lying in wait in the middle of “Comin’ for Ya Head” where he warns against feeding his nose anymore cocaine lest he lose all self-control and Styles P follows with the potent imagery of him smoking a blunt while Fargo plays on silent in the background. Imagery abounds on Wu-Block, really. Most potent is “Crack Spot Stories”, with the all-star lineup of Ghost, Sheek, Raekwon and Jadakiss spin a rotating yarn about their activities on a lazy afternoon at the crack house that feels as audio visual as anything these guys cut in their primes. “Guns for Life” is equally entertaining, as Ghost reads his nine-year old Glock and a would-be house robber bedtime stories while Sheek and Styles each take a minute to make one bullet caliber joke after another.
On a production level, there’s nothing especially surprising here. A who’s who of underground producers pop up here: Frank Dukes, Vinny Idol, Shroom, Red Spyda, V-Don and (surprisingly) Erick Sermon alongside lesser names like Phonix and Fithestate. It’s an E1 release so you’ve got to come in expecting that, but everybody on that list is capable of good if not great things and they make sure to offer up their A games here. The production is rarely ambitious – surprisingly, rapper Termanology shows up with the beat for “Drivin’ Round” (on which Ghostface is mysteriously absent) and provides the one outside the box moment of the album – but it doesn’t need to be. These are the sort of endangered rappers that don’t need to blow their budget out on the music, they just need a soundtrack to fuel their cinematic gangster fantasies and keep the album moving along. It’s all soul samples and big snares, the sort of stuff that has always gone hand in hand with alleyway stick ups, misogynistic one night stands and General Unnamed Listener dissing.
Perhaps the smartest thing about Wu-Block is its adherence to the cores of both crews. Ghost, Rae, Cappadonna, Masta Killa, GZA, Method Man and Inspectah Deck represent the Wu while D-Block whittles it down to just the generals: Jadakiss, Styles P, Sheek Louch. By avoiding the sort of features that always drug these groups’ collab albums down in the past, particularly on the D-Block side, you get pure, unfiltered hardcore lyricism from many of the most visceral to ever do it. The 10 guys that rap on this album feel like a tightly connected unit, intensely focused on the goal of making a no frills, all lyrics hardcore east coast intimidator. Sheek and Ghost may lead the army to battle on every track, but the rotating cast and general camaraderie makes Wu-Block feel like the no bullshit Wu-Tang sort of album segments of the fanbase have been clamoring for since 8 Diagrams. Perhaps it would have been great to hear what this album would have sounded like when it would have been “relevant”, but this project seems to have refreshed everyone involved. I really wouldn’t be mad if they got some slightly better production and really took this era of hip-hop to school with another one.