Granted there might be some exceptions, but most die-hard fans of gritty NYC hip hop probably have the Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block/The Lox somewhere in their top 5 favorite rap groups of all time (probably at #1 and #2, if Mobb Deep isn’t being mentioned). With that said, the recently dropped collaboration between the two legendary East Coast super groups, Wu-Block, is probably one of the more anticipated projects to come out of New York in a minute. To cut straight to the chase, If your ideal brand of hip hop is the rough, no-punches pulled, yet high on personality style that that the Wu and D-Block have built their fan bases with, your anticipation was probably well worth it.
While the album definitely won’t appeal to strict fans of contemporary or more commercially focused rap – which would be a strange change from these artist’s typical styles – it’s without a doubt a strong effort front to back, from some of the best at their craft. It’s probably not going to go down as a classic, change anybody’s opinion of any of the MCs or producers involved, or even be remembered as some of their best work. But, if 36 Chambers or either of the Lox albums are sitting in your iTunes or music collection, there’s more than enough here to justify spending some quality time with it.
Lyrically, there are literally no surprises anywhere on the album, but considering the fans that it’s directed at, that probably isn’t a bad thing at all. While the entire Lox crew is present and representing D-Block, and a majority of the living Wu-Tang members show up at least once, most of the album is dominated by Ghostface and Sheek Louch. They both definitely come exactly as you’d expect. Ghostface goes in with his gravelly street inspired wordplay – which can be deceptively, but not too surprisingly, intellectual – and Sheek spits tenaciously throughout, while riding most beats seemingly effortlessly.
Beyond the strong performances by the two stars of the show, we also get some solid efforts from a number of other Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block artists too. Method Man, Inspectah Dech, Raekwon, Cappadona, GZA, and Masta Killa all drop in for at least a verse. Styles P and Jadakiss (the other two members of D-Block’s main act, The Lox) both show up on a handful of songs too. Unfortunately, Jada’s presence is a bit limited, and judging by his performance on “All in Together”, a few more verses from him would have definitely added to the experience. Erykah Badu even comes through for a small role on the standout “Driving Round”, though she definitely puts in a less than impressive effort compared to some of her other work.
It’s hard to say that there are any real noticeable “highlights” from a straight lyrical perspective, as the project really draws from some of hip hop’s most consistent and reliable artists in the genre. However, “Different Time Zones” is probably the headiest track of the album and stands out a bit, and the flows that all four of the artists on “Comin For Your Head” (Ghostface, Raekwon, Styles P, and Sheek) come with are some of the most interesting on the project.
While we really don’t get anything that feels too unusual from a writing or lyrical sense on the Wu-Block album, the production is definitely a bit different from what both of the groups involved are typically associated with, and relies on some relatively unknown producers (with a few exceptions). That might raise some concerns for fans looking for a pure Wu-Tang Clan/D-Block experience, but it shouldn’t – as it definitely isn’t a bad look. In fact, it might actually help enhance the project a bit, and does create a few moments that feel more like a slight evolution in their sound than anything else.
While both groups are typical known for their hard hitting, yet minimal percussion with a few interesting sounds to flush out their beats, there’s a lot more going on here than that on most tracks. Most notably, is the addition of some soul-infused vocal samples, which gives a substantial portion of the album a somewhat unexpected, sometimes jazzy, sometimes funk-inspired feel. The before mentioned “Driving Round” is probably the most obvious example, but it’s also present in a big way on “Guns For Life”, and “Been Robbed”. However, even though it’s a bit different from some of both of these groups’ earlier work (maybe with the exception of some of Jada’s solo stuff), it doesn’t feel forced or inauthentic compared to the rest of their catalogs.
All in all, the Wu-Block album, is a strong, somewhat predictable hip hop experience that’s definitely going to please fans of both of the groups involved. We get nothing but quality verses that stay extremely true to two of some of the deepest and most respected catalogs in East Coast hip hop. But, at the end of the day, it’s hard to imagine this one getting a ton of burn from even the die-hards, who have been spinning some of the same albums for over decade now. However, it’s a high quality release, that’s definitely worth a purchase for anyone who spends significant time with the Wu, or the The Lox’s, music, and probably worth a spin or two for even the most casual fans of what could now be considered “old school” hip hop (though with the Wu Tang Clan’s 20th anniversary album and a small barrage of new material in the way – that could change soon).