[Review] Wu-Block: Wu-Block
The history of what would one day become Wu-Block dates back to a song by Fat Joe called “John Blaze”, which featured both Raekwon and Jadakiss, among other rappers. This would be the first time that someone from the Clan appeared on a track with someone from the post-Bad Boy crew, The Lox, despite accusations of biting on “Shark N***as” from the purple tape. The infamous skit found Rae and Ghost accusing Biggie of “biting Nas shit”, in regards to the similarities of the Ready To Die and Illmatic album covers. But with that past them, “John Blaze” would be the start of a beautiful relationship between the Wu and The Lox crews; one that would find many collaborations throughout rap history, such as Ghostface’s “Run” with Jadakiss, or Raekwon’s “Broken Safety” with J and Styles P, to name a few.
But we never thought the two crews would blend so well together that a full-fledged “Wu-Block” album would come together. (Side note: we can’t help but wonder why they didn’t roll with “Wu-Lox”, since the Yonkers trio originally went by “Warlox” back in the day). We began to see sprinkles of collaborative tracks on blogs like this one back in 2010, while 2011 and 2012 saw a series of even more Wu-Block tracks, many with hard-to-clear samples from the likes of Batman and Barry White. The prospect of an actual Wu-Block album happening seemed far-fetched, because 1) super-groups can never seem to get off the ground and 2) we’re still waiting on that Doomstarks joint. But here we are, and amazingly, the Wu-Block album is here, and it’s not half bad.
Naturally, the bar is set pretty high for this project, namely because of the sheer number of classic records in the Wu-Tang catalog. But let’s face it, people don’t check for The Lox like they do The Wu, so it goes without saying that some fans may be looking at this record with a stiff upper lip. It’s almost the kind of record that on paper you don’t want to like, but multiple listens reveal that ultimately it is a work of quality.
While it lacks the big-name production of past collaborators like RZA or DJ Premier, the album carries a soulful vibe throughout. The opening track, “Crack Spot Stories”, sets the tone perfectly, while songs like the extended weapon-metaphor “Guns For Life” and the brooding “Cocaine Central” carry it out. The finest track of the set is easily the Termanology produced “Drivin’ Round”, which mellows out with airy vocals from Ms. Badu, and guest verses from Masta Killa and GZA. “Different Time Zones” featuring Inspectah Deck also impresses.
Despite a few overbearing thug anthems (“Take Notice”, “Stick Em”), The Lox style of production also works well in certain parts, at times blurring the line at who the production is better suited for. Tracks like “Pull The Cars Out” and “All In Together” are abrasive and off kilter, but fit the styles of all five core emcees perfectly.
The friendly competition between the crews yields great results lyrically as well, such as on “Comin’ For Your Head”, where Styles P steals the show: “Ralph Ellison, invisible man, vanishing / Come back like Arizona Ron, speaking Spanish / And you’re panicking, oughta stay still like a mannequin / Dark side like Darth, yeah, young Anakin / Skywalker, fly talker, rhyme even better though / Salute them niggas that died, those with a federal / Charge yo, Incarcerated Scarface, ya’ll flow / Polo overalls, short set, son of Mars, though / Probably in the crib, getting high, watching Fargo / A lady cop and some hit men / I quarterback the coke like Big Ben / To a bunch of a dirty niggas like Pig Pen / No Charlie Brown, though, pump in the pound, though / Coming for your head, I run your ass out of town, yo / This is Sheek Louch, Ghostface Killah / And the other Ghost, you can fuck around and get your mother poked.” Yet Raekwon counters easily with a burgundy-blood spilling verse of his own.
And this is what makes Wu-Block such a fun album to listen to, the constant one-upmanship happening on each track. With so many seasoned emcees in the mix, everyone is bringing their A-game on the lyrical tip. The production overall is pretty solid, but again, there are too many classics from the catalog to hold this album up against, at times making it sound sub-par. Yet for a project that many years ago seemed unlikely to ever happen, we get can down with Wu-Block. -d.t. swinga
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