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Monday, December 17, 2012

Album Review: Wu Block- Wu Block

Album Grade: C+
It’s na├»ve to believe that anybody who listens to Ghostface Killah these days is expecting anything different than he’s been putting out since the last millennium. The always prolific Wu affiliated rapper is maintaining his one album per year rhythm that he’s fallen into over the past few years- this time in collaboration with Sheek Louch, the least recognizable member of the group LOX that also included Jadakiss and Styles P- while maintaining his cocaine dealer persona who hasn’t wavered since he took a spiritual journey to Africa before the recording of Fishscale. What’s different on Wu Block is that Ghost’s schtick has become, dare I say it, boring, and the guest spots don’t do the album any particular favors.

The main issue with Wu Block is that Ghostface Killah both makes and breaks the album. He is still one of the best storytellers alive and his flow and delivery are the same as they’ve always been. However, on Wu Block he seems to lack the same flair that he had as recently as 2010 on solo album Apollo Kids. Wu Block alternately sees Ghost rehashing lines, such as the scuffed Nikes line on “Pour tha Martini” that is almost directly lifted from 2006’s “Yolanda’s House,” showing his trademark sense of humor- “I do hood yoga/ I pull muscles counting money,” and just yelling non-sequiters “pulling all-nighters/give me 50 pushups.”

Mostly though, it’s Ghostface living in the past. He makes reference to watching the Martin Lawrence show and visiting “Zaire,” a country that hasn’t existed since 1997. His descriptions of New York life haven’t changed in the past decade and his style certainly hasn’t, but there seems to be less flavor to Ghost’s style. He has occasional moments of reverie, like on “Comin For Ya Head” when he mentions that if he “sneezes my lost nostril could rip,” but few of the lyrics indicate that he’s still the “drug deal from 4E” that he claims to be. Sheek Louch reports on “Crack Spot Stories” that Starks is “chilling in his robe” and on “Pull the Cars Out,” Ghostface testifies that he has two treadmills and a pullup bar. Wu Block represents more of a midlife crisis than another triumph for the former crack kingpin.

But of course there are guest stars galore whom can distract from the declining hold that Ghost has. Jadakiss and Styles P, who contributes surprisingly good material, both appear and Ghostface’s posse of Wu-Tang Clan members tag along as well. Their contributions vacillate between the always solid Method Man livening up “Pull tha Cars Out” to Cappadonna yelling what could possibly be the worst rap verse ever recorded on “Pour tha Martini.” Never a particularly slick rhymesmith, Cappadonna leads with “I jump on the stage/dick in my hand,” and makes casual mention that he’s looking for “a girl with thunder butt.” Mastah Killah and GZA both sound bored rapping over the slow beat of “Driving Round” and Raekwon appears on three songs to deliver his typical ghetto Mafioso fare. Even the usually intelligent Inspectah Deck falls prey to the dull environment, dropping forgettable similes like “Like Serena on the serve/I swing hard.”

The members of LOX are far from the focus of Wu Block- even Sheek Louch, the chief collaborator on the album, sounds like a guest artist rather than one of the main attractions- but provide some of the more memorable parts. Sheek’s lyrics are nonsensical (“I got a briefcase full of euros and Indian money”) but his voice adds some edge to the tracks and although his lyrics are goofy, he occasionally hits home runs with his jokes. Jadakiss and Styles P are manifestations of different sides of Sheek, Jadakiss representing his gravelly voice and gangster side with Styles P representing his tendency to go overboard with a metaphor or go too far for a joke, but they come together to make positive  contributions to Wu Block. “All in Together,” the lone LOX and Ghost joint, is one of the best on the album- complete with a skit that sounds like an outtake from 36 Chambers. It’s all fun and games when LOX dominate the songs, defining a clear line between them and the Clan members, who are all more interested in verbal posturing.

Wu Block is an album that satisfies but does nothing else. The production duties are undertaken by a group of RZA wannabes who do nothing to distinguish themselves and most of the rappers involved seem content to be phoning this one in. The only people involved with Wu Block who seem to actually be putting in an effort are those affiliated with LOX but, with the exception of Sheek Louch, their appearances are few and far between. Ultimately, the album lives and dies by the hand of Ghostface Killah- who vacillates between being his old self and being plain dull; it's definitely not a recipe for success.  Overall, Wu Block is a very tired effort from a group of rappers who seem to be in need of a break.  

Tracklist:

1. Crack Spot Stories (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch, Raekwon & Jadakiss)
2. Pour Tha Martini (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Cappadonna)
3. Pull Tha Cars Out (Feat. Sheek Louch, Ghostface Killah & Method Man)
4. Guns For Life (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Styles P)
5. Comin For Ya Head (Feat. Sheek Louch, Ghostface Killah, Styles P & Raekwon)
6. Cocaine Central (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Styles P)
7. Take Notice (Feat. Ghostface Killah & Sheek Louch)
8. Drivin Round (Feat. Sheek Louch, Masta Killa, Gza & Erykah Badu)
9. Different Times Zones (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Inspectah Deck)
10. Stick up Kids (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Jadakiss)
11. All in Together (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch, Styles P & Jadakiss)
12. Do It Like Us (Feat. Sheek Louch, Ghostface Killah & Raekwon)
13. Stella (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Method Man)
14. Been Robbed (Feat. Sheek Louch & Ghostface Killah)
15. Bust Shots (Feat. Ghostface Killah, Sheek Louch & Inspectah Deck)

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