Wu-Block is a project that was first announced in 2011, one that was originally conceived as a collaborative effort between two distinct camps in our chosen genre: the Wu-Tang Clan, who have been the recipients of so much virtual ink on this site that it's nearly pointless for me to have to keep explaining who they are, and the Yonkers crew D-Block, which used to consist of more than just the trio known as The Lox, but apparently a lot has happened with them since I stopped giving much of a fuck.
Somewhere along the way, the creatively-titled Wu-Block project morphed into an album from the team of Ghostface Killah, the Wu's most prolific solo artist, and Sheek Louch, The Lox's least-liked but hardest-working member. Other various Wu members pop up periodically, as do Sheek's bandmates Jadakiss and Styles P (whose nickname "The Ghost" makes it more obvious to me that he and Pretty Toney should have made up the duo, but whatever), but as the album was released by E1 Music (formerly known as the Koch graveyard), it's best to assume that the duo probably didn't have all that much money, time, or resources to put together the project we would have actually dreamed about, had a collaborative effort between the Wu and The Lox ever been on the forefront of our subconscious to begin with.
Personally, I would have preferred to write about a mythical Wu-Tang / Boot Camp Clik project, one that will probably never actually happen, but them's the breaks. At least the Clan managed to release more than just the one album this year, although Wu-Block has a long fight ahead for it to be favorably compared to the soundtrack to The Man With The Iron Fists.
1. CRACK SPOT STORIES (FEAT. RAEKWON & JADAKISS)
No intro, no analysis, no rationalizing of the project itself, nothing: Ghost and Sheek elect to jump right into the actual music with "Crack Spot Stories", which has the feel of a song already in progress. Without the handicap of a chorus, Ghost, Sheek, and Raekwon take us through snatches of time at their respective crack spots (I assume), with Jadakiss bringing up the rear with an uncharacteristically weak contribution. However, the other three rappers on here sounded alert and satisfying over Fithestate's never-changing beat, which is as much as I can ask from the Wu-Tang Clan, a group that's been around for nearly twenty (!) years. Not bad.
2. POUR THA MARTINI (FEAT. CAPPADONNA)
Nonsensical almost to a fault. Ghost and Sheek sound fine over the Jmac production, even though Pretty Toney's unnecessary chorus threatens to muck things up, but Cappadonna is the guy who walks away with the song, and I do not mean that in a good way. Darryl has obviously been studying Ghost's flow in between shifts driving that gypsy cab that I will never let him live down, and as a result, he comes across as a facsimile, as he doesn't sound bad, but he does seem like a copy of a copy, where the quality is just a little bit off. Jmac's beat also wasn't all that great. Sadly, this is more like what I was expecting when Wu-Block was first announced.
3. PULL THA CARS OUT (FEAT. METHOD MAN)
Although this will probably end up being the most accessible track on Wu-Block, I still really liked this shit. The beat, credited to Phonix Beats & The Futuristics (worst Hanna-Barbera cartoon series ever), adjusts itself every four bars in an endless loop, but it isn't bad, and it even hints at the darkness that would have been prevalent had any other artist tackled it. Sheek, Ghost, and friend of the family Method Man all deliver with their verses, sounding alert, energetic, and as though the changeover to the new millennium never actually happened. Meth, in particular, stands out, as he seems to be physically incapable of letting down his teammates on these kinds of projects (even though Wu-Massacre is better left unmentioned, Method Man wasn't the problem). Even with a silly chorus that conjures up a fantasy world where the Wu-Tang Clan and The Lox regularly produce club bangers, I still found this to be interesting.
4. GUNS FOR LIFE (FEAT. STYLES P)
Ghost, Sheek, and special guest Styles P all use the Fithestate beat to talk about their guns as though they were living, breathing beings. Don't expect any Nas "I Gave You Power"-type of metaphor, though: shit, Ghostface compares his personal weapon of choice to a baby. A fucking baby. One whose diaper he changes on a regular basis. Surprisingly, Pretty Toney's verse is the worst of the lot, merely because it seems like even he thought the concept was fucking stupid and only took part because of the whole "contractual obligation" thing, air quotes included. Oh well, at least the two-thirds of The Lox represented on here sounded alright.
5. COMIN' FOR YA HEAD (FEAT. STYLES P & RAEKWON)
Vinny Idol's instrumental sounds half lazy as shit and half somewhat inspired, but that unlikely combination makes it inherently difficult to want to ever sit through, and the fact that there are four artists on "Comin' For Ya Head" makes this track a painful proposal indeed. For what it's worth, it's the Lox boys who excel on here, as Sheek and Styles deliver their boasts in a confident-enough manner. Ghostface Killah sounds out of sorts, and Raekwon, who comes across like a tacked-on afterthought (Styles doesn't even acknowledge the Chef's presence on the song, so "tacked-on afterthought" may not be that far off) reverts to his narcoleptic state, and I now officially could give a fuck that these guys are allegedly coming for my head or something.
6. COCAINE CENTRAL (FEAT. STYLES P)
Shroom's beat is a miscalculation: it starts off dope as shit, but a high-pitched sample is gradually introduced, one that dominates not just the song, but any and all ideas, thoughts, and feelings bouncing around in your brain (this only gets worse if you're listening to it through earbuds), thereby pushing Ghost and Sheek (Styles only performs the hook) out of your mind. Which is too bad, because "Cocaine Central" had potential, and not just because it kicks off with sound effects from some random kung-fu flick, as though the listener had somehow forgotten that this was a Wu-Tang Clan project. The track ends with an inessential skit that sets up both the next song and the concept that Ghostface Killah might be suffering from a serious cold, which may help explain his lapse in judgment in selecting this beat.
7. TAKE NOTICE
Pretty Toney must have really been sick when he recorded his verse for "Take Notice", because he legitimately sounds like shit. Actually, he sounds like Cappadonna, which will now forever alter the way I hear Cappa's voice. Ghost's ad-libs during the intro were kind of funny, but even with his admirable performance, "Take Notice" fails to encourage anyone to follow that direction, as Sheek's verse (and hook) are decidedly meh, and Jon Woo's beat, which sounds like a West Coast beat crafted by someone who has never heard of California, is an ill fit for both rappers. I couldn't wait for this shit to end, mainly because Ghost sounded exhausted and I really wanted him to just get some rest already.
8. DRIVIN' ROUND (FEAT. MASTA KILLA, GZA/GENIUS, & ERYKAH BADU)
This is the only song on Wu-Block that Ghostface Killah doesn't appear on (maybe he was stuck in line at a Rite Aid?); instead, the Wu-Tang role is filled by both Masta Killa and GZA/Genius, who usually skips out on these projects, so that was interesting. Termanology and Moose's low-key beat seems to be building to a climax that never happens, so you may find yourself bracing for impact repeatedly throughout and then shaking your head at your iPod or computer screen in disbelief, but that doesn't mean this was a bad song: Sheek, Masta Killa, and Gary all deliver decent verses that meander just as much as the titular action would imply, and Erykah Badu's barely-there hook isn't intrusive in the least bit. I probably wouldn't recommend listening to this while actually driving around, but it was alright.
9. DIFFERENT TIME ZONES (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK)
Ghostface's choice of reading material is hilariously diverse. Anyway, Frank Dukes presents an instrumental that sounds like something Pretty Toney would have purchased for one of his own solo projects, which isn't a bad thing at all, and the verses all sound entertaining. Ghost, specifically, now sounds alive again after his bout with the plague or whatever the fuck was ailing him, and he decidedly demolishes Sheek's contribution, while the Rebel INS sneaks in through the back door and lays down some bars before either of our hosts realizes that he's even in the room. A step in the right direction.
10. STICK UP KIDS (FEAT. JADAKISS)
Which negates that whole "step in the right direction" shit from "Different Time Zones". E1 seems to be pushing this Red Spyda-produced track as a single, which is a mistake: I don't think that Wu stans will respond well to this kind of horseshit. But that's why I don't work for a label. "Stick Up Kids" sounds more like a Lox mixtape freestyle than an actual Wu-Block song: accordingly, Jadakiss is the only guy who emerges unscathed. The uninteresting beat, coupled with the godawful hook, pretty much damns this shit from the jump. I will admit that I found Ghost's line, "The burner gets passed around the crew like a Grammy", kind of amusing, though.
11. ALL IN TOGETHER (FEAT. JADAKISS & STYLES P)
Anyone else have a problem with Ghost and Sheek naming a song after the first group The RZA, the GZA, and Ol' Dirty Bastard formed, pre-Wu-Tang, and not including any of those three on it? Just me? Okay then. This glorified Lox track featuring Pretty Toney suffers from a V Don instrumental that isn't bad when by itself, but doesn't seem conducive to any kind of street shit, and all of the verses sound truncated and incomplete, never allowing the artists involved to get properly amped (Ghost's boring, shouted chorus doesn't count). Did they really need to rush through the song just to get to an annoying skit where Ghost and Sheek spend nearly two minutes trash-talking anonymous rappers, though? SPOILER ALERT: No.
12. DO IT LIKE US (FEAT. RAEKWON)
Just what Wu stans have always wanted to hear: a materialistic song where Sheek brags about how much money he spends on frivolous pursuits while Ghost and Rae politely nod and do their best to ignore the fact that this type of shit has been beneath them for at least a decade now. Erick Sermon (yeah, I was surprised, too) provides an instrumental that, while simplistic, sounds okay, but thanks to the D-Block contingent, "Do It Like Us" ends up sounding like a grizzled veteran's take on all of the piffle that resides on radio airwaves, and the Wu-Tang Clan is supposed to act as the polar opposite of that kind of stuff, not as an embarrassing concession to it. Bleh.
13. STELLA (FEAT. METHOD MAN)
I was hoping that more of Wu-Block would consist of tracks such as "Stella", a storytelling crime rap where Ghost and Sheek address a potentially two-faced female associate. Ghost's attention to detail is second to none, and Sheek elevates his game to levels previously unseen in order to stay afloat, with entertaining results. "Stella" falters a bit when Method Man takes over, as his chapter veers off course into self-congratulatory shit before he rights the ship, and the Last Child beat was a bit inconsequential. Still Wu-Block could have used more songs such as this one.
14. BEEN ROBBED
This shit was awful. What the fuck did I just listen to?
The following song is not listed in the liner notes of Wu-Block; however, there are references to a "hidden track". It is available for purchase on iTunes and Amazon mp3 versions of the project, though.
15. BUST SHOTS (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK)
In my write-up for the soundtrack to The Man With The Iron Fists, I commented that "Bust Shots" (which appeared first on that album) was a "preview [of] their upcoming collaborative effort Wu-Block", and at the time, I was kind of joking, but apparently I was right, as always. Thankfully, even when introduced within this new environment, this shit knocks, from the banging beat to the individual verses from Deck, Sheek, and Ghost. This probably should have appeared earlier on the album, instead of being trapped in "hidden track" (or "bonus track", depending on which version you own) territory, but that's really my only complaint.
The final song on Wu-Block is available only on the deluxe edition of the album, which, apparently, is an iTunes exclusive.
16. BUST SHOTS (ANDREW KELLEY REMIX) (FEAT. INSPECTAH DECK)
This remix is unusual in that producer Andrew Kelley actually alters the context of the original track, as opposed to merely switching up the musical backing. Ghostface's verse now leads off the song, while Inspectah Deck bats cleanup, after some introductory ad-libs that make much more sense on here than they did on the original take. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised to discover that this remix was actually the director's cut of "Bust Shots", later modified to fit the sound of The Man With The Iron Fists, since Andrew's beat more closely hews to Wu-Block's speed. I prefer the other version, but this was fun nonetheless.
THE LAST WORD: So, as expected, Wu-Block comes nowhere near the high standards that the Interweb unfairly forced upon it when Sheek first announced the project in 2011. Then again, I've never really had the highest of hopes for any Lox-related project, so I didn't find this to be all that bad. Some of the beats are questionable (I'm saddened, but not shocked, to see that The RZA ultimately had fuck-all to do with the album), as were some of the creative choices (where the fuck are all of the other Wu-Block songs that were released during the past twelve months? You can't even include "Union Square", which you can fucking purchase on iTunes? You couldn't unleash them on a bonus disc or something, E1?), and even though the album was announced quite a while ago, you can't help but shake the feeling that Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch recorded this shit over a holiday weekend baked out of their fucking minds. Still, the reason Wu-Block succeeds more than it fails is because of the general feelings of enthusiasm the participants bring out of each other; Ghost and Sheek aren't necessarily on the level of Ghost and Raekwon or anything, but they work well as a pair, and I would like to see this partnership result in more than just this one-off. Maybe next time they can save all of their pennies in order to procure some better beats; you just know that, had they been approached, the likes of DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Buckwild, Large Professor, Q-Tip, Da Beatminerz, DJ Muggs, and, yes, The RZA (among many many others, of course) could have turned Wu-Block into the New York comeback album of the year. As it stands, Wu-Block is entertaining, if a bit forgettable; I don't really see myself listening to this next year. But hey, 2012 isn't over just yet.
There's (much) more Wu-Tang to be found here, and you can catch up with The Lox here.