Once again I can’t help but question my newest platter’s title. As any fan knows, a record’s name isn’t all that important to the actual product, but the occasional moniker choice is either so fresh (“It Takes a Nation…,” “Hip Hop is Dead,” etc) or so awkward (“Extinction Level Event (The Final World Front)”) as to forever be remembered, whether the actual music is any good or not. Unfortunately, a truly bad title can stop the listener in his or her tracks even before giving the artist a chance. So to be presented right off the bat by Woo Child with a bewildering acronym is a little disconcerting (U.R.O.A.? More like W.T.F.). I appreciate the sentiment, but the shit just don’t make sense. Step ya game up.
Moving on, the actual album is pretty damn good, so please don’t be scared away too early. The Michigan native Woo Child, self-proclaimed as “giv[ing] a fuck about your trends and still got a hot sound,” is both able-tongued and mad resourceful lyrically. His voice is blessed with a prepubescent inflection that is both refreshing and amusing (most effective when employed to discuss tough times and vulnerability, most amusing when delivering standard tough talk, making a chorus of “Get the Fuck up!” sound more desperate than demanding).
The essence of U.R.O.A., both sonically and lyrically, is its versatility, which some would claim to be a euphemism for disjointed. I checked off the “I’m the shit” track, the bounce/club joint, the shattered love song, the striving for better anthem, and the ode to mom; and that was just in the first six tracks!
Owing to his geographic (and by extension, cultural) placement in the Midwest, and further, outside of traditionally acknowledged strong points Chicago and Minneapolis, Woo Child is an artist that can employ any style but has no true signature sound of his own. Quick quiz: what’s the defining feature of Michigan hip hop? I can’t say either.
So depending on your opinion, this chameleonic approach is either impressive and stimulating or scattershot. Within three well-established categories of rap (personal confessionals, club/sex joints and get-up-in-dat-ass battle raps), Woo explores familiar tropes of both the underground and mainstream. The Child is saved from formulaic pap, however, by the little flourishes of freshness that he applies to well-worn tropes. Listen up: just when you think the obligatory and seemingly-idiotic club jam “We Up in Here” will be another three minutes of your life wasted, you notice that Woo is flipping the standard Bling bragging on some broke-but-still-fly type shit, a new anthem for us flat-not-fat pocketed macks.
Similarly, his confessionals are in danger of being simultaneously vague and painfully candid, but he manages to include enough technical mastery and complex originality to make up for any muddled philosophical bullshit (a la Nas). The heart of the album also suffers from too much introspection, as on at least five tracks Woo spits his lyrics directly to someone he knows personally (whether his mom, his locked up partner, his special lady, etc). The audience is left to feel slightly voyeuristic, if still interested.
As mentioned earlier, the sonic palette attempts to follow these many moods and lyrical tropes, and the individual songs are uniformly satisfying platters, but the finished product (a jumble of 18 joints) has very little uniformity or movement to it. This is usually what distinguishes a good album from a great one, or a talented artist from an emcee with a scope of vision that captivates. Woo is undoubtedly talented and able to flip different styles at will. I’d just like to see him pick one or two and create a statement just as powerful but less indistinct than his U.R.O.A. title suggests.