12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape is advertised as an “alternate version” of the original album produced by Adrian Younge. At this point, Apollo Brown already deserves a ton of credit for even thinking of remixing 12 Reasons to Die, one of the most impressive underground releases in recent memory. It’s a daunting project if you think about it. First of all, the source material is a concept album, so any good remix will have to retain the story and tone. This is a dark one about an immortal crime boss by the name of Ghostface Killah.
The original is an absolute juggernaut sonically, and the instrumental version is a classic in its own right. Inspired by 70’s R&B and Italian soundtracks from the same era, 12 Reasons to Die was meticulously recorded in Younge’s all-analog, vintage studio. The entire production features live instmentation by Adrian Younge and his Venice Dawn band. The bar is very high here for Detroit Producer Apollo Brown, who was tapped to remix this behemoth. 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape was packaged as an actual cassette tape to go with the initial release of 12 Reasons to Die on vinyl back in April. Copies of this tape were scarce, but Wu-Tang affiliated Soul Temple, the imprint that released 12 Reasons to Die, has given the Apollo Brown remix its own full release, complete with a set of instrumentals.
Apollo Brown has earned this opportunity recognition. He’s built a reputation as an exceptionally consistent producer, and an absolute beast on a remix. When Apollo Brown first signed with his label Mello Music Group, the first thing they did was give him the keys to their extensive library of rap acapellas. For his label debut, Apollo Brown dropped “The Reset,” a whole album of remixes that make you forget you ever heard the original.
On The Brown Tape, Apollo Brown’s alternate takes are brilliant, and completely depart from Adrian Younge’s vision. Check out how Apollo Brown swaps Younge’s spitfire organ for a brooding sample of hazy keyboards and guitar stabs on “Rise Of The Black Suits.” There’s a very different vibe that still works perfectly for the track. Apollo Brown channels a little Alchemist with a searing guitar sample on “Enemies All Around Me.” Go to track 6 right now. “Crying.” For you! Crying for you love this album. Apollo’s samples are melodic, sweet and forlorn; they plead where Adrian Younge is ethereal. Cut tape, and Apollo Brown has actually managed to add layers to the story. The comic-book vibe of 12 Reasons to Die is swapped out for a gutsy, but by no means lo-fi treatment by Apollo Brown, the newest producer to your radar. Check out 12 Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape.
Arguably Wu Tang Clan’s best lyricist, Ghostface Killah, has released another high concept album, Twelve Reasons To Die, which serves also as the soundtrack for an Italian action movie by the same name. Twelve Reasons tells the story of Ghostface’s alter ego, Tony Starks, an Italian mobster, who is a henchman for the DeLuca crime family, who falls in love with the kingpin’s daughter. The story covers a lot in just 12 tracks, from Starks rise in the DeLuca family to a racy love affair with the Kingpin’s daughter, ending with Starks death and the melting of his ashes into vinyl. Twelve Reasons is produced by Adrian Younge and executive produced by RZA. Younge, who arranged and produced the soundtrack for Black Dynamite, blends that same combination of blaxploitation and therapeutic rhythm, but Ghostface’s established lyrical story-telling is what cements Twelve Reasons To Die.
Twelve Reasons registers in at around 40 minutes long, as the majority of the songs range from 2 to 3 minutes in length. RZA, also narrates the album, which gives Twelve Reasons its blaxploitation feel and sound. Although Ghostface’s last two albums, Apollo Kids and Ghostdini, have been well-received by critics, Twelve Reasons distinguished itself as a great album and one of Ghostface’s best. The album supplements a larger conversation, Ghostface’s Bill Murray- like late career resurgence as an indie favorite, which is ironic being that Ghostface has been signed to various large record companies including, Universal and Def Jam. Its hard to imagine that Ghostface Killah will ever have a number one hit as a solo artist, but much like Bill Murray, he has a very loyal art-driven fanbase. Twelve Reasons, which comes with a comic book if you purchase the deluxe edition, is a high concept album that can’t be describe any other way than indie. Much like any indie album out of New York, Twelve Reasons does not have a breakout hit. In fact, the album is best when listened to from front to back in its entirety, complementing the short durations of each song. Special praise to Adrian Younge, who delivers a throwback to Wu Tang’s iconic heavy beats but effortlessly remains original in each track’s individual sound. If one were to listen to the Twelve Reasons To Die instrumentals albums, the sound could easily be mistaken for 36 chambers or Wu Tang Forever.
Some reviews of Twelve Reasons To Die have called the album experimental, but I do not believe that to be the case. I would argue Twelve Reasons is a classic Ghostface album, delivered at the top of his game. Twelve Reasons To Die is a must buy for any legitimate hip hop head. A valid criticism of Twelve Reasons is its lack of commercial or universal appeal, but Ghostface has gotten to a point in his career where his albums represent projects and concepts, rather than influential radio anthems or ghetto sing-a-longs, if you will.
MIND BODY SOUL – Diabetes Fundraiser phife, ghostface killah, talib kweli, jay electronica and more
As 2010 comes into full-swing, ‘health and wellness’ is on the mind of millions – and here in New York, artist’s and activists have come together to launch a concert series in support this common cause
The Heavy Sound, an eclectic music collective, consisting of world-class artists, celebrity deejays and top musicians, present to you – MIND BODY SOUL- A benefit concert to raise awareness of Diabetes.
Taking place at 8pm on Wednesday, January 20th, 2010, at the new Knitting Factory. A historic venue, known for its intimate setting centered around great live performances. The Heavy Sound founder, creative guru Moon Mehta, has chosen the Knitting Factory, located in Brooklyn’s hip Williamsburg District at 361 Metropolitan Avenue as the location for his special event.
Actor, Michael Rapaport, will join as host. In addition to his many motion-picture and television network appearances, Rapaport will be attending this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to preview his breakthrough documentary film about the legendary rap group, A Tribe Called Quest. Rapaport is thrilled to be invited as host for this noble cause.
Joining Mr. Rapaport, as our Guest of Honor will be, Mr. Malik Isaac Taylor best known as ‘Phife Dawg’ from A Tribe Called Quest. Having been affected by diabetes himself, Phife recently had to undergo a bout with the disease and receive a long-awaited kidney transplant this past year. Other celebrities having to battle similar circumstances, are NBA all stars Sean Elliot and Alonzo Mourning. Phife will be appearing for the first time in New York since this successful surgery, exclusively to attend this event.
Universal Motown artist, Consequence will be there to perform songs from his new album, with additional performance by break-out artist, Jay Electronica, and special guest performances to, include Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, Grand Puba, and others.
The evenings musical-styling will be brought to you by deejay, D-Lyfe. D-Lyfe has performed with many reputable artists such as, Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, Notorious B.I.G., just to name a few. Special guest deejays scheduled to appear include DJ Premier and Static Selektah.
Diabetes, is a condition affecting families in the number of over 235 million people across 7 continents. You can make a difference. Tell a friend, and join us. It will be a fun and inspiring evening with a series of performing artists of epic proportion, for a global cause.
Few rappers have the resume Ghostface boasts. From being a part of the core nine Wu-Tang Clan members, and coming up from the “36 Chambers,” Ghostface has done nothing but wow his listeners. Often extremely abstract and arguably avant-guarde, Ghost has consistently pushed boundaries even to the point of setting a trend rhyming over old soul records without removing the vocals from the original song.
After moving from Sony to Def Jam, Ghost has just released his fifth studio album entitled “Fishscale.” Featuring guests including Ne-Yo, the whole Wu-Tang Clan and MF Doom, Ghost is trying to further solidify his position as one of New York’s most creative.
MVRemix: What’s the biggest mis-conception people have of Ghostface?
Ghostface: I don’t know. I can’t even really, really tell ya man.
MVRemix: Is there anything you think people think differently of you than you’re used to thinking of yourself?
Ghostface: Nah, some people be thinkin’ that I was wild and shit – whatever they got it from was back in the days though. I’m a cool person, I’m down to earth. I’m a humble person.
MVRemix: What’s the plan for tomorrow? (March 28th when “Fishscale” is released)
Ghostface: I mean nothin’, just take it day by day. It’s not even a plan, God’s got all the plans. I just live it out.
MVRemix: So no particular celebration parties or anything like that?
Ghostface: Nah, just do what I do. I got a show, I think tomorrow… Got a show and that’s it. I’m keepin’ it movin’. That’s it.
MVRemix: Do you find focusing on being creative a challenge because of your time constraints with touring, interviews etc.?
Ghostface: Nah, I’m thinkin’ all the time. I’m always thinkin’ of new stuff and music really makes me go ahead and think of stuff, if I’ve got the right music. That’s it man, I’m always creating in my head. MVRemix: Do you write down a lot of it or just keep it up there?
Ghostface: Nah, a lot of the time I keep the thought and lose it a lot because I don’t write it down, but it always comes back to me.
MVRemix: How does the Ghost of the “Ironman” era compare to the Ghost of today? What sort of things were going on back then?
Ghostface: The “Ironman” era; I was just coming out of “Cuban Linx.” I was wildin’ out on “Cuban Linx” in the streets and all that. Nowadays I’m not on the streets like I was back then in the “Cuban Linx” days and “Ironman” days. I mean I was with a bunch of my friends, just doin’ a lot of stuff and things wasn’t really that cool, you know what I mean? I found out I was a diabetic and losin’ a lot of weight here and there. So times was stressful, a lot of other things was goin’ on that I mentioned. It was real. Today things are still real, it’s just what I was goin’ through in different time zones.
MVRemix: “Three Bricks” is an excellent track, but would it have happened if B.I.G. were still alive. Did you make things good before he passed, because I know there were some problems around ’95…
Ghostface: I think so… I think so.
Hold on, hold on…
Yeah, yo Rae. Yeah, I’m on the phone with these interviews with the magazines. Doin’ a bunch of interviews on the phone.
Raekwon: Okay… Page me then.
Ghostface: Alright, in a minute then. Aight, peace.
[interview resumes] It would have been happened before that. I mean it would have been happened before that because we would’ve gotten over that little bullshit and talked with whatever was goin’ on and we would have moved on. Right before he passed I was tryin’ to connect dots with him anyway in time, like, “Yo, come on, lets get this splashed out. Lets call this shit today man.”
MVRemix: How did that track come about? Was it your idea? Was it a label idea?
Ghostface: No, it was we had this song for Puffy and he doin’ the Biggie “Duets,” and it didn’t make “Duets,” and we just took it. We just used it.
MVRemix: How involved were you in “The Broiled Salmon Mixtape” with Mick Boogie?
Ghostface: How what?
MVRemix: Do you as an artist see much or any profits from the mixes?
Ghostface: When I did the Mick Boogie mixtape, the “Broiled Salmon” joint?
Ghostface: What about it, what you wanna know about it?
MVRemix: Did you play a hand in deciding the tracks, or was it more so him and you just hosting, or…
Ghostface: Nah, it was just me in a hosting thing. I just hosted it for him.
MVRemix: There have been some issues with U-God over the years with him saying things about the Clan, what’s the current situation overall with that?
Ghostface: I don’t know… That’s my buddy. I don’t know about him and anybody else, but that’s my man. That’s my buddy. MVRemix: What’s the current status with the collaborative project we’ve heard you’re doing with MF Doom?
Ghostface: Yeah, we got the album that he got… We gotta finish off the Doom album.
[phone rings three times]
And um… Hold on for one second, hold on…
Male voice: Yo, I got the pen here right now. [Interference] What you lookin’ for?
Ghostface: Just tell me a few things ’cause I’m on the phone with some magazine people.
Male voice: You can eat chicken, right?
Ghostface: Yeah, I eat chicken, what else they got?
Male voice: Yeah, that’s it, it’s a chicken house! It’s a chicken place.
Ghostface: Just get me some chicken wings. Some chicken wings and… that’s it.
Male Voice: Chicken wings, alright…
Ghostface: Chicken wings, but just chicken wings though. No thighs, no legs – just wings.
Male Voice: Do you want some eggs? They got the fries and three chicken wings.
Ghostface: Aight so yeah, whatever, it’s all cool, it’s all cool. Put some cheese on the eggs. Some real cheese; American.
Male Voice: [laughs] Alright, I got you.
Ghostface: Alright, that’s it, that’s it. Aight, peace.
Male Voice: Peace.
Ghostface: [interview resumes] Yeah, sorry… MVRemix: We were just talking about MF Doom – the collaborative project.
Ghostface: Yeah that’s my man. I gave him five or six songs, I gotta do another five or six songs. MVRemix: How was it working with Rae, on “Cuban Linx 2”? Doing that whole thing over again…
Ghostface: I wasn’t with Rae, he sent me the music. It’s like nowadays everybody movin’ so much and it’s easy to MP3 somebody the music, you can get the music, write to it and then just lay it down and send it back to ’em.
MVRemix: What about the forthcoming Wu album? You said during a recent interview that you didn’t like the last two projects – why was that?
Ghostface: I didn’t like ’em, they was wack and y’all know it was wack. So I’m not tryin’ to hide nothin’ from nobody and shit. The last couple of Wu albums wasn’t nothin’ to me. I didn’t like ’em, I’ll tell RZA – I tell everybody that. It was ’cause I know our capabilities and I know where we can take it.
MVRemix: Are there any non-musical plans in the works? Tell me a little about the Ghostface Doll and how that came about…
Ghostface: Nah, just some people who wanted to do a doll from California. I flew in, I checked ’em. I seen the doll to see what they was talkin’ about, and we just agreed on it. You know what I mean? It was nothin’ and pretty soon they should have a doll out.
MVRemix: Aside from the album, what else have you been working on? Guest appearances and whatnot? I heard rumours about you working with Swollen Members…
Ghostface: [phone rings] I did Swollen Members, I did that. [phone continues ringing] There’s a bunch of little side artist things. MVRemix: Are there any further plans to collaborate with AZ and Cormega?
Ghostface: I mean listen, everything is in God’s hands. I don’t know what’s goin’ on – whatever God guides me or brings my path into who’s hands or brings to me. Whatever the case may be, he’s the soul controller. I’m just here as a student in life and a servant for him just waiting, and that’s that.
MVRemix: A la “Fight Club,” “If you could fight any celebrity, who would you fight?”
Ghostface: I don’t know. I’d probably fight my alter ego.
MVRemix: And which alter ego would that be?
Ghostface: I don’t know, I got a lot of ’em. I got Ghostface, I got Paisley Fontaine. I got Tony Starks, [phone rings] Ironman – either one. I’m not into that celebrity stuff like that.
MVRemix: What are your feelings on the reconciling of Nas & Jay-Z. Is that a good look for New York and Hip Hop overall?
Ghostface: Yeah, yeah, I mean in the sense that you ain’t gotta kill each other man. Anything that’s better than killing each other is a good look.
MVRemix: What about follow ups to “Fishscale,” anything in the works there?
Ghostface: Nah, I got a lot of stuff that was left over. A lot of stuff that I’m writing to. I’m just keepin’ it movin’ man, there’s no stoppin’ me now. It’s on, you’re gonna see me on the come up.
These are the transcripts of an interview with Ghostface aired April 2nd, 2006 on DJ Hyphen & J. Moore’s “Sunday Night Sound Session” on Seattle’s KUBE 93.3 FM.
MVRemix: You guys kind of started that whole a.k.a stuff back in the day…
Ghostface: Yeah, ’94, ’95…
MVRemix: How did that happen?
Ghostface: It started with a shirt; an ill Toney Starks shirt. I put the shirt on and felt like a different man when that shirt came on. Told Rae like, “Yo, this is my Toney Starks shirt. After that it’s been Toney Starks, you know what I mean? Ironman. He came with the Lex Diamonds and then one thing lead to another.
MVRemix: And then the whole Clan had different names…
Ghostface: Exactly; Rebel INS and Golden Arms…
MVRemix: Speaking of INS, real quick, I heard a crazy rumour that I need you to set straight. Someone said he’s losing his voice and there’s thoughts of retirement or something…
Ghostface: Nah, INS is gettin’ older. So sometimes when you get older your voice be changin’. I don’t think he retirin’ or nothin’ like that though. He’s still workin’ and doin’ projects.
MVRemix: Speaking of projects, your project “Fishscale” is the new album. What makes this album different from the old? Although I guess if it ain’t broke. Don’t fix it.
Ghostface: That’s what I tell cats. I just told ’em that not too long ago. I’m just doin’ me. There’s not really a difference man. Difference is with this new album I’ve got the whole Clan on this record. And my son is rhymin’ on it, you know, Trife Da God and I got Ne-Yo on this project. I been with a lot of underground producers; J-Dilla, MF Doom, Pete Rock. Ain’t too much of them high class dudes [out right now]. I just went into what is my feel for right now. The next album might be a little different.
MVRemix: Have you got any plans on the next one?
Ghostface: Nah, I’ma go through a bunch of material… I heard some other beats that I like, I forgot what producer though. But I know where I’m goin’ should I say. There’s gonna be a different vibe than this album right here. It’ll be somethin’ else.
MVRemix: Speaking of producers, in a lot of your tracks you’re kind of sadly known for having a ton of dope material that can’t get cleared, and maybe has to be changed up. Anything that didn’t make this officially that could be released down the line? I heard about some Madlib joints…
Ghostface: I recorded some Madlib joints towards the end of the project but we didn’t submit them or nothin’ like that. We was just like, “Alright, we gonna hold fast for a second.” So I still got those in the stash. Probably a few joints on this album that we had to play over that didn’t make the joint; “Family Affair,” the original Just Blaze track – that is murder.
MVRemix: The Just Blaze one, “The Champ,” is the beat on the CD different to the original one?
Ghostface: Yeah, yeah, it’s a play over.
MVRemix: That’s crazy, ’cause the beat now is insane.
Ghostface: It’s murder, yeah, it’s murder. It’s like the same thing but it’s a play over. [ponders] And what else? “Charlie Brown” track, you know what I mean?
MVRemix: That was my favourite one that didn’t quite make the cut.
Ghostface: Right, right, samples’ll get you. They wildin’, it’s just crazy. The fans don’t really know what you’ve gotta go through tryin’ to get things cleared and how much it takes for you to get it played over. And it don’t really sound the same to me because I made it. So the people don’t know the original, they just hear what they hear.
MVRemix: What’s your favourite unreleased one? I think for me it had to be the “Good Times” joint.
Ghostface: You got “The Watch.”
MVRemix: The Barry White joint?
Ghostface: Yeah, I love how that comes off. “The Sun,” that’s beautiful.
MVRemix: There were like four joints off “Bulletproof Wallets” that had to switch up.
Ghostface: Yeah, “Bulletproof Wallets” would’ve been murder if all that was on there. MVRemix: It was still pretty hot.
Ghostface: It was still hot, but still takin’ off one… That’s what I’m tryin’ to tell my manager – takin’ one joint off. That means a difference. It’s like losin’ a pinky [finger]. It’s like you need that man, everything… When you tryin’ to create somethin’ and make it right. Regardless if the fans didn’t hear it or not. I’m like that Shakespeare/Beethoven cat that knows it needs to be there like that. I’m that Picasso; I know the painting and what leaf should be on that tree and where it should be at. ‘Cause I had the vision.
MVRemix: To make it kind of a complete, cohesive project…
Ghostface: Yeah – so you can kind of see my mind. So everything is important.
MVRemix: You were the first person that I heard just rhyme over an old soul track for the “Holla” joint. You’ve got another one, “Big Girl,” on this album – how did that idea come?
Ghostface: Nah, it’s just songs like that… We love old music. My whole bus, my whole team, we like to listen to a lot of old music. When I was young and desperate I just came up off. So I like that music better than I like rap and rock and house or whatever you wanna call it… disco. When I hear music like that and I can feel I can get in the groove of it and be like, “Yo, I wish somebody would make that beat for me…” I know how to just go in. Instead of writing about love I could take it on something else… Whatever I feel like. I don’t really hear the words when I’m doin’ it, it’s not really nothin’ – I just go ahead and do it.
MVRemix: Are there any plans to kind of do more of that stuff in the future? Maybe…
Ghostface: [interrupting] Nah, I got records like that. I just never released ’em, I never laid it down like that. But I do got books and rhymes over Jackson 5 and Moments and stuff like that. I never been laid down yet.
MVRemix: If you had to pick one old school soul album like that, what would you say is kind of one of your favourites?
Ghostface: It’s a lot… Blue Magic, probably one of those dudes… The Delphonics is ill – it’s too many. Curtis Mayfield is ill. It’s too much though. If I were to pick one right real quick, I probably would go with Blue Magic, real quick.
MVRemix: How about on the current side of things – do you listen to things outside of Hip Hop these days?
Ghostface: Nah, not really. I just listen to… Unless it’s old Hip Hop man or old classic soul. And that’s it… The game is the game right now. It’s really not poppin’.
MVRemix: Give me your overall feelings on the state of the industry, both in terms of yourself as an artist within this industry and then as far as what you see on MTV, listening to it… That kind of stuff.
Ghostface: It’s just boring. Back when we was comin’ through the door man, you had to have some type of skill. Some type of talent. Nowadays you don’t need talent. It’s not about what you say no more or your emcee skills. Back then you had to fight for that. Now we goin’ crazy over snap music and sayin’ stuff that really, you know… I guess people just wanna have fun. I know things evolve and the game is weighed to that right now… And I don’t knock nobody’s Hip Hop – it’s universal, it’s all cool though. But it’s just from where I came from and to see what’s going on today. It’s sad. It’s like that old commercial when the Indian looked at his land and he dropped that one tear. Yeah, it was real. That’s how sad it is right now. But to each his own and hopefully it’ll make its circle back, ’cause what goes around do come back around… Regardless of what. Where’s the game at? It was meant for whoever got the game to have it.
MVRemix: I think a lot of people, a lot fans, maybe from that late ’90’s era are kind of pinning their hopes on the Wu bringing it back. I know you’re doing your part coming out with consistent albums. Are there any upcoming Wu projects you can speak on?
Ghostface: You got Raekwon comin’ in with the “Cuban Linx ,” Meth is come with him, GZa come with him. Wu ain’t comin’ ’till like next year sometime. And even when we do that, we gotta be careful. ‘Cause I didn’t like the last two projects. They gotta be really, really, really right and there’s gonna be a lot of arguing going down there ’cause there’s gonna be so many brothers tryin’ to keep it real. If my name is on it, I can’t be on it unless it’s to how I like to see it, or else I’ll pass.
MVRemix: That’s real man, you’ve got to keep that quality control.
Ghostface: You’ve got to do that man, or it’s like, “Yo, what you gon’ do?” I ain’t with puttin’ out duds. You feel me?
“Fishscale,” slang for uncut cocaine, is just as fitting a description for Ghostface’s euphoria-inducing, addictive delivery as it is for the narcotics theme that is scattered throughout his 5th album. As a hip-hop veteran, he shows no signs of slowing down and still has one of the most versatile, creative flows in Hip Hop.
Anyone questioning Ghostface’s hunger of late should look no further than “The Champ”. He rips the Just Blaze-produced banger to shreds, evoking memories of his first album’s standout track, “Daytona 500”. The flashbacks continue with “9 Milli Bros”, reuniting all nine members of Wu-Tang Clan over dramatic pianos that could have been heard on “Forever”, and with “R.A.G.U.”, one of five tracks featuring Raekwon which gives listeners a nostalgic reminder of “Only Built for Cuban Linx”, arguably one of the best hip-hop albums ever released.
But is this trip down memory lane a positive? Despite the argument that artists should be continually evolving and creating different music, good music is good music regardless of whether it breaks new ground. And, bottom line, this is good music.
Aside from the classic Wu-sounding tracks, the album has more of the lighthearted, soulful sound that we have come to expect from the Ghostface of the new millennium. “Kilo” is an infectious, funky ode to drug dealers that plays on Scarface’s famous analysis of American girls with “Whoever got the kilos got the candy man… Once you got the funds you got the panties man”. “Big Girl” is a message to women urging them to stop doing drugs and concentrate on the more positive aspects of life, over a minimally manipulated soul song reminiscent of the “Pretty Toney” Album track “Holla”.
Ghostface does break some new ground conceptually on “Fishscale”: “Barbershop” is a hilarious look at the rapper’s angst when barbers mess up his hair. On “Underwater”, MF Doom provides the perfect atmospheric production for a psychedelic journey through the deep sea where “Sponge-Bob in the Bentley coupe bangin’ the Isley’s” and “Mermaids with Halle Berry haircuts” co-exist. Even when Ghost keeps the subject matter more standard (drugs, battle tracks, women), he always manages to come across in a unique way that never fails to keep the listener interested.
This is true Hip-Hop. It is not because Ghost uses a certain production sound, flows a certain way, or covers certain topics. It is quite the opposite. This album is a lesson in individual creative artistic expression. Ghost is able to vividly depict his true self and his world through music. Although at times he may stumble, his honesty is a breath of fresh air in an industry littered with formulaic artists.
If you thought newly anointed Def Jam President Shawn Carter would have some influence over the new Ghostface album, you’re mistaken. Whether you call him Ghostface Killah, Ironman, Tony Starks, or Pretty Toney, nothing has changed with his latest release “Fishscale.” It’s the same pure, unrelenting, raw hip hop Ghostface has been delivering since his first introduction with the Wu-Tang Clan.
Right from the opening track “Shakey Dog,” it’s apparent that the vintage Ghostface sound is back. Ghost then wets the listener’s appetite for the long awaited “Cuban Linx 2” with the Raekwon assisted, “Kilo” and “R.A.G.U”. Another highlight is “9 Milli Bros.” which features all 9 original Wu Tang members, and the late J. Dilla produced “Whip You With a Strap” which has Ghost revisiting his childhood. Even Ghost’s attempts commercial success with the Ne-Yo featured lead single “Back Like That,” which works because of Ghost’s ability to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Besides the song “Three Bricks” which features Notorious B.I.G.’s verse from “Ni**as Bleed,” and the lack of production by the RZA, “Fishscale” is Tony Starks in his prime, dripping with humor, emotion, charisma, and brutal honesty.
Few artists today are able to make sincere good music, without conforming to a commercial hook, conventional bar structure, or the latest trends. As a result, Ghostface is one artist that should be treasured.
As this is one of the first albums of 2000 I got to review I hope its an indication on what hip hop has in store. What does that mean?, well this album proves the Wu still can bring the muthafucking ruckus. Over the last 2 years we’ve been inundated with disappointments and delays from the Wu and even I had had enough by the time we reached Raekwons poor ‘Immobilarity’, this restored my faith in the Wu. No Introductions needed, Ironman is back with a sophomore album that almost lives up to its predecessor, not even the GZA could get this close.
It seems Ghostface hasn’t changed much since his solo debut on ‘Ironman’, and that’s what has made this album a success, early indications with ‘Mighty Deadly’ and ‘Apollo Kids’ suggested there was a different sound emerging but as a whole entity this album is a nice continuation of the his debut. ‘Cher Chez La Ghost’ is probably the most abstract track on here that doesn’t identify with the Wu-ness but that doesn’t mean its bad, just different. Its hard to distinguish the good from bad on here, maybe after constant listening I’ll discover I am bored of this track or that track but for now I’m content with the whole thing. If you want a taster of highlights then read on.
The Wu are always present on each other’s albums, although it used to happen a lot more we get 2 great treats on ‘Supreme Clientele’. The great ‘Buck 50’ is just amazing, I really can’t stop playing this one, it stands out as one of the albums many highlights and is full of that raw dark energy missing from the Wu sound over the past few albums, nothing has even come close to matching this. Ghostface is helped out by Cappadonna, Method Man and the only Non Wu member to rip it up since Nas did on ‘Verbal Intercourse’, that’s the funk docta spock Redman. The other track ‘Wu Banga 101’ is again more reminiscent of something that would have stood out on ‘Liquid Swords’ or ‘Cuban linx,’ GZA, Cappadonna and Raekwon help out with the verses and is that Masta Killah without his talking flow? Yes he’s actually listening to the beat.
I really gotta comment on the production here as it is a return to form, where there have been cheap and nasty beats or just plain mediocrity from the Wu lately, ‘Supreme Clientele’ is all about quality. RZA has done a good job, showing that he really hasn’t lost his touch, while elsewhere Mathematics and Tru Master aid the proceedings. One of the standout contributions from outside the Wu camp comes from the Beatnuts JuJu on the current single ‘One’ and it fits right in. ‘Stroke of death’ sees Ghostface hitting a new sound again, it seems awkward at first but then you realize how good it actually is. You’ll also find familiarity with a lot of the beats, I mean ‘Stay True’ for instance was used for the Inspektah Deck album on a track called ‘Elevation’ (But that’s nothing as this is a short track) and ‘Saturday night’ uses the same loop as ‘The mayor’ that Pharoah Monch laid sound for his Soundbombing 2 excursion. Elsewhere you may find the odd loop or beat you recognize but those thick orchestral soundscapes have returned and dominate the album on tracks like ‘We made it’ and the layered intro that is ‘Nutmeg’.
Ghost is constantly criticized for his lyrics because they seem to make no sense, well yeah a lot of it is thrown together but with his flow it seems to make sense in just sounding fucking good, this is because of his extraordinary mic presence and passion for delivering fire in his verses. Listening harder though its just that Ghost is talking in a way which is like his mind flying in all different directions, hardly staying on the same subject for more than 2 lines, there’s no rules to hip hop so who has their say on what he can and can’t talk about and in what way? So what is Ghostface’s secret for breaking the sophomore jinx and a line of inconsistency and bad quality from the Wu? Who knows let’s just enjoy the music and hope this is the shape of things to come.
So Kanye said he saved hip hop… not really. The self proclaimed “Ironman” of rap a.k.a Ghostface Killah came and strong armed the rap scene. While other Wu members struggle with their solo careers (most recent flop: U- God) Dennis Coles a.k.a. Tony Starks keeps giving the Wu-Tang Clan their credibility.
“The Pretty Toney Album” proves Ghostfaces’s consistency to change the rap game. He was able to throw out the glossy sound of rap and keep it street with producers like Wu mastermind RZA and the legendary No I.D. (The man behind Common Sense’s critically acclaimed Resurrection album) With this lethal combination, The Pretty Toney, packs a hard Wu-Tang styled punch. For “Kunta Fly Shit”, RZA goes back to the Wu formula to produce a hit. Chopping up an old Barry White Song, mismatching chopped samples until they fit like size 2 jeans on a size 12 girl…meaning they don’t fit – but is forgiven because is so well produced. Plus, he has a slew of collaborations. “Metal Lungies” has appearances by Sheek Louch and Styles P. While the RZA produced “Run” has the third member of the Lox, Jadakiss. The radio-friendly “Tush” has Missy Elliot which would have been as good without Missy because is that much of a club banger. By the time, the CD wraps up with “Love” featuring Musiq, the CD leaves you not regretting the money you spent on it.
The Pretty Toney Album proves that Ghostface is one of the most consistent MC’s in the game.
Any objective Wu Tang fan will tell you that no other member has had a better solo career than Mr. Tony Starks. Maybe Meth has more charisma, the GZA is sharper with the sword or The Chef can cook it up better but all three can’t match the consistency of Ghostface. After releasing an album of the year candidate with Fishcale, Ghost is back to close out 2006 with the equally impressive More Fish.
Gone are the skits that sometimes slowed Fishcale and in their place are more gritty narratives and witty non sequiturs that show Ironman cannot be duplicated. His unique style is fully displayed on the opening track “Ghost is Back” (sampled from Rakim’s “Know the Ledge”) and the noise filled “Blue Armour” featuring Sheek with Ghost ripping the mic with lines like “I’m a fisherman I own this like / When I catch fish I fry em to their backside flake / I smash you all motherfuckers like a seedless grape / And hang niggaz like some ceiling fans and K-Mart drapes” over some dirty drum lines courtesy of his mask-wearing friend.
When he is not spitting his curious couplets, Tony Starks is a gifted ghetto story teller penning classics like “All That I Got is You” that will bring even the hardest of the hard to tears. On the Hi-Tek produced “Josephine”, featuring Trife Da God and the soulful singing of the Willie Cottrell Band, Ghost further demonstrates his knack for touching hearts with sad stories of young girls turning into fiends. His softer side spits,
“Infatuated by the life of dope fiends and crack pushers Prostituting for old pimps who mack hookers Putting dope in the cooker, searching for a vein Tracks all over her arm, she never felt the pain The monkey on her back is now a gorilla Fiending for hit knowin’ one day it is going to kill her The clinic didn’t help She’s just another young black woman destroying her pretty image and her health It got me thinking to myself damn how could this happen I seen her on the corner nodding off sniffing and scratchin’”
After those lyrics are digested, Ghost steps aside to let Trife Da God shine on his solo cut “Grew Up Hard” and he almost steals the show from the album’s host, which is no easy task on an album filled with guest appearances including the hard to find Redman. There are times when More Fish seems more like a posse album rather than a Ghostface album but he is able to maintain his strong presence while also allowing the other members of Theodore Unit to get some exposure and even shares the booth with his oldest seed, Sun God, on the dark “Street Opera”.
Compiled mostly of “left overs” from Fishcale, Ghost has another album of the year candidate with More Fish. In an era when most rappers struggle to produce one quality album in every two years, Ghost has no problem blessing fans with two in eight months. Tony Starks is still deserving of the title of most consistent member of Wu Tang but maybe its time to give him The Crown because no one is matching his consistency.