Safe hands can be trusted, and few come safer than Dennis Coles. As Ghostface Killah, he’s been responsible for dragging up the average quality of all of the various Wu-Tang Clan offshoots.
Here, he collaborates with Sean “Sheek Louch” Jacobs from D-Block, a lesser-known figure but every bit as important to aficionados. In short, them coming together to form Wu-Block is the hip hop version of Steve McQueen and Paul Newman starring in The Towering Inferno.
What’s most enjoyable about Wu-Block is that it’s in no way an attempt to break down barriers, trample traditions of yore and emerge at the album’s end bloodied and breathless. It’s a knowing retread of what works and what’s expected – but boy, that’s no problem.
Lazy, luxurious beats with Ghostface’s favoured soul strings and fanfares form the familiar bed for much of the record – although there’s an argument for saying his musical inspirations come as much from Westerns as they do from Kung Fu movie soundtracks. And the usual suspects deliver enjoyable little tours of their safety zones.
So that means a gruff-sounding Raekwon, a hyperactive Styles P, GZA, Masta Killa, Method Man and, most interestingly, Erykah Badu on Drivin’ Round, which is a hair’s breadth from Bob Jones’ theme from Taxi. Badu’s contribution is delicate, creepy and perfectly atmospheric, an inspired choice.
Ghostface’s knack for a sideways vocal step remains (describing his own inebriated face as having ”Garfield eyeballs” on Crack Spot is inspired), while sonically Pour tha Martini has something of Morricone about its bravado sound, even if the rhymes deliver exactly the kind of sneaker-obsessed sex talk that we’re used to.
Comin’ for Ya Head, on the other hand, sees Sheek Louch match his vocal adversary for invention when tackles the unlikely subject of watching the Coen Brothers’ classic Fargo while in bed.
Wu-Block has been a long time coming. For over a year, various rumours, mix-tapes, singles and snippets have appeared to make the release perhaps more complicated than necessary, but it’s been worth it. It’s a worthy, satisfying indulgence – just don’t expect anything shockingly new on this easy ride, with such safe hands at the wheel.