On paper, getting Wu-Tang Clan and D-Block together is a pretty sweet match. Ghostface Killah and Sheek Louch have long had a mutual respect for each other, and Wu-Block gives them a chance for an album-long collaboration. With them at the center, interestingly enough, Wu-Block feels more like a duo album than a combination of two crews. We get Styles P a couple times here, Jadakiss stops by, and Wu-Tang is well represented with spots from Raekwon, Method Man, GZA, and Masta Killa. 

    But those other rappers feel like guests on an album built by and for Ghostface and Sheek. This isn’ really a bad thing either. The two play off of each other well, as is clear from jump on “Crack Spot Stories.” Ghostface catches us off guard with his oddball details, talking about guys with “Garfield eyeballs pulling them all-nighters” while Louch contrasts with his straight-ahead, brash storytelling about his “hard knock life…I could have wrote that for Hov.” From there, we get songs like “Pass the Martini” and “Pull the Cars Out” that play up Wu-Block as a new, unfuckwithable clique. They contrast drug-slinging tales with the “bottles on the table, the weed in the air” as these songs strike a balance between street bangers and club thumpers.

    The album’s production finds that middle ground well, with big bass and lots of soul samples. It’s not a new formula, to be sure, but it works well here in a series of airtight beats. Wu-Block is nothing if not consistent, though it’s best when it dips into more diverse territory, like the bittersweet “Driving Round” accented by Erykah Badu’s sweet keen. “Cocaine Central” is an echoed-out narcotic haze. “Been Robbed” puts a funky sway into these pulsing beats, and has the most immediate soul-sampled hook on the record.

    Those moments stand out because they push the album’s formula a bit. Without them, Wu-Block might feel a little too safe, too professional. Much of the album is about Ghostface and Louch and the rest playing like laid-back dons, the veterans laying back and telling the younguns what it’s all about. While there’s a quiet swagger to that approach, it can also slip into malaise. GZA sounds downright exhausted on “Driving Round” as does Styles P on “All In Together.” On top of that, the choruses all start to run together, too many of them a strident, shouted claim of Wu-Block’s greatness, and that overly strident noise continues as Louch’s raps pile up. Sheek Louch, more than anyone here, makes lots of references to his days in the Lox with Bad Boy, happy to relive the past, while he nearly scream-raps too many tired images about his “cocaine dough.” He starts strong here, but as he lingers on stock images of the block, his drug tales repeat images and lack the detail of the other rappers on the record.

    But as the album rides along in its comfort zone, Ghostface gets better as the album goes, the last few songs provide us with his most vibrant rapping and thorny rhyme schemes. If you were bummed out that his Twelve Reasons to Die got pushed back to February, Wu-Block has more than enough great Ghostface Killah raps to hold you over. Everyone else is solid enough here — although Method Man is once again top guest rapper on an album — but Ghostface elevates his game enough here that Wu-Block ends up a step above safe professionalism. It may play a little too closely to everyone’s strengths, but in the moments here where those strengths are at full tilt, that’s not a bad thing.

    Artist: https://twitter.com/GhostfaceKillah

    Label: http://www.eonemusic.com/

    Audio: http://soundcloud.com/eone-music/wu-block-drivin-round

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