The traditional Rap group has gone the way of the Whig Party since the turn of the century. Sure, Hip Hop is swimming in “crews” galore - and Golden Era posses still come around every eclipse or so to rekindle that old school magic - but the frequency of new Rap groups emerging on the major-label level have trickled out of the ecosystem. Rising in its place have been a steady stream of Avenger-style team-ups, where oft-marginalized emcees join forces for a select mission or two, combining lyrical abilities for the greater creative good of their fawning fan bases. There was Random Axe with Sean Price, Guilty Simpson, and Black Milk. There was Nas and Damien Marley. There was Pete Rock and Camp Lo (as 80 Blocks). The trend is absolutely en vogue and seems to be smart business. With Wu Block, two of New York’s most notorious collectives (Staten Island’s Wu-Tang Clan and Yonkers’ D Block) collide to drop 20-year old bromides that somehow still sound fresh.
Peep the scene. Ghostface Killah is sitting on the couch, smoking a Dutch, watching TV, when Sheek Louch calls talking about a girl he smashed in Queens who’s waiting to be wifey. “Tall glass of lemonade / Chandelier’s hanging over my head / Sitting in like a cloud of haze / Larry King on Mute / They’re about to bury Wesley [Snipes] for taxes,” Pretty Tony kicks on “Different Time Zones” (with Sheek Louch and Inspectah Deck). It’s another one of those classic Ghost verses that are so ill because they ain’t about nothing; because he viscerally puts you in the room. He’s directing rhymes in a fashion more likely seen in the pages of a movie script than on RapGenius - an uncanny ability he’s proven to be the unabashed Abbot of over his two decade-long career.
Much of Wu Block moves as expected. There are very few stylistic surprises or indications that Ghostface and Sheek Louch (this project’s captains) had any desire to venture anywhere they haven’t already planted their flag. The soulful “Crack Spot Stories” (Ghost, Sheek Louch, Jadakiss, Raekwon) and “Cocaine Central” (Ghost, Sheek, Styles P) are about exactly what their titles indicate. The raucous “Pull Tha Cars Out” (Sheek, Ghostface, Method Man) feels as though it was made for vintage Rap clubs like New York City’s The Tunnel, complete with a ballerificly shallow chorus: “Pull the cars out / We gettin money over here / Them bottles on the table / The weed is in the air / The women staring at us / The haters ice grillin / Wu Block / You know we in the building.”
Featuring Erykah Badu, “Drivin Round” finds each emcee describing the plight witnessed while driving through the hood. Of course Sheek Louch and Masta Killa are watching poverty through the window of luxury jeeps - a Rap requirement of the '90s ruling class. If GZA’s verse wasn’t so artfully thoughtful and the production so smoke-and-ride perfect, cliche would strangle the dope out of this one. Kind of like “Guns For Life,” where Ghost, Sheek, and Styles P venture into Pharoahe Monch (“Stray Bullet”), Nas (“I Gave You Power”), Tupac (“Me And My Girlfriend”)-territory, metaphorically personifying their relationship with their guns. It would be awfully corny if it wasn’t such an awesome song.
“Stella” is another great narrative. And the souled-out '70s sampled “Been Robbed,” where Sheek and Ghost trade four bar verses in impeccably is also absolutely appreciated. From mic to plug, Wu Block is a vintage Rap release only lacking in invention. Ghost and Sheek have made these songs repeatedly their entire career, only this time they created them together. And that’s all right. It’s hard to hate on pioneers for doing what they pioneered.