Monday, January 15, 2007

Ghostface Killah

As one of the original members of the seminal '90s rap crew The Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah (aka Tony Starks) made an impact before he released his debut album, Ironman, late in 1996. Like all members of The Wu-Tang Clan, the rapper used the group as a launching pad for a solo career, which was assisted greatly by other members of the Clan, particularly producer RZA. Ghostface Killah had rapped on Wu-Tang's 1993 debut, Enter The Wu-Tang, but he didn't distinguish himself until 1995, when he was showcased on fellow Wu member Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. Ghostface received good reviews for his appearance on the record, and his contribution to the soundtracks for Sunset Park and Don't Be a Menace to South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood also were well-received. All of these guest appearances and soundtrack contributions set the stage for Ghostface Killah's solo debut, Ironman, in late 1996. Like all Wu-Tang projects, it was produced by RZA and was quite successful in the large hip-hop/rap underground, debuting at number two on the pop charts upon its release. Ironman was also the first album to be released on Razor Sharp Records, RZA's record label on Epic Records. Work with The Wu-Tang and their various members kept Ghostface Killah busy until solo singles started appearing at the end of 1999 followed by his sophomore full-length, Supreme Clientele, in early 2000. Supreme Clientele was a success, but it was followed a year later by Bulletproof Wallets, an album that didn't sell well and had fans declaring the Ironman had gone soft. Once again it was back to The Wu for a couple years before the rapper would be appearing solo again. Epic issued the compilation Shaolin's Finest in April of 2003, and by the end of the year two new Ghostface tracks had started to appear on mixtapes. The chaotic "Run" with Jadakiss and the more commercial "Tush" with Missy Elliot raised the anticipation for the rapper's first album for Def Jam and his first under the simpler moniker Ghostface. The Pretty Toney Album hit the streets in April of 2004. The Top Ten hit Fishscale followed in 2006, but not before 718, an album from his Theodore Unit.
Ghostface Killah - Ironman
Every Wu-Tang Clan solo project has a different flavor, and Ghostface Killah's Ironman is no exception. Though it boasts cameos from nearly every other Wu-Tang member — notably Raekwon and Cappadonna — Ironman is unlike any other record in RZA's catalog of productions, particularly because it's significantly lighter in tone. There are still touches of The Wu's signature urban claustrophobia throughout the record, but the music is largely built on samples of early-'70s soul, from Al Green to The Delfonics, who make a guest appearance on "After the Smoke Is Clear." Consequently, the mood of the album can switch tones at the drop of the hat, moving from hard funk like "Daytona 500" to seductive soul with the Mary J. Blige duet "All That I Got Is You." Ironman bogs down slightly in the middle, yet the record is filled with inventive production and rhymes, and ranks as another solid entry in the Wu-Tang legacy.


Ghostface Killah - Bulletproof Wallets
Sprucing up the scratchy soul samples of his sophomore Supreme Clientele into a relatively pristine mainstream gloss, Ghostface Killah also, unfortunately, removed much of the flair from the most distinctive sound in the Wu-Tang camp. And fans looking for the genuine pain and emotion of his standout, "Hollow Bones" (from Wu-Tang's The W), won't be rewarded, either. Bulletproof Wallets is basically a party album, at least compared to the usual Wu-Tang gloom and doom, featuring smooth, romantic R&B tracks like the single "Never Be the Same Again" (with Carl Thomas & Raekwon) and "Love Session." One of the few highlights is the opener, "Maxine," an inner-city nightmare given heavy menace by Ghostface's tight rapping and an excellent one-note-horns production. From there, Bulletproof Wallets heads south, with a few oddball interludes (usually nursery rhymes substituting weed references) and smooth or stale productions from Wu associates RZA (five songs total), Alchemist, Allah Mathematics, and Ghostface himself. (Listeners should also beware of the back-cover track listing, which is completely wrong.)


Ghostface Killah - Supreme Clientele
Most of the members of rap's Roman Empire, the Wu-Tang Clan, experienced sophomore slumps with their second solo releases, whether artistically or commercially (usually both). The second offerings from Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, GZA, and Raekwon featured some of the old Wu magic, but not enough to warrant a claim to their once total mastery of the rap game. Just as the Wu empire appeared to be crumbling, along came the second installment from the Clan's spitfire element, Ghostface Killah (aka Tony Starks, aka Ironman). Every bit as good as his first release, Supreme Clientele proves Ghost's worthiness of the Ironman moniker by deftly overcoming trendiness to produce an authentic sound in hip-hop's age of bland parity. Some of the Wu's slump could be contributed to Wu-Abbott's (aka RZA) relative sabbatical. This album has RZA's stamp all over it, but the guru himself only provides three tracks. On this effort, the Wu-Pupil producers at times seem to outdo their teacher. RZA's best composition is the piano-driven, double-entendre-laced childhood retrospective "Child's Play." But of the many standout cuts, it's the slew of disciple producers paying homage to the Wu legacy that truly makes this album fresh-sounding: "Apollo Kids" (Hassan), "Malcolm" (Choo the Specialist), "Saturday Nite" (Carlos "Six July" Broady), "One" (JuJu of the Beatnuts), "Cherchez la Ghost" (Carlos Bess), "Wu Banga 101" (Allah Mathematics). While the album is complete and characteristically Wu-sounding, each track is distinctive lyrically, thematically, and sonically. Ghostface's Supreme Clientele is a step toward the Wu-Tang Clan's ascent from the ashes of their fallen kingdom. The once slumbering Wu-Tang strikes again.

Ghostface Killah - The Pretty Toney Album
Ghostface Killah fields questions from reporters on the intro to The Pretty Toney Album, the rapper's first under the just-Ghostface moniker and his first on Def Jam. According to the intro, The Wu-Tang are doing fine and waiting for the right moment to drop their next album, and it's none of your business why Pretty Toney took so long to come out. That's about all Ghostface wants to say about any of the drama surrounding the album. With tracks this good, who can blame him for the "let's get to it" attitude? The Pretty Toney Album has a lack of Wu-related references on it. It's Ghostface's album entirely and all the better for it. It's partly a party album like 2001's Bulletproof Wallets, but freer, more inspired, and tempered with pure street tracks that were missing last time round. Perhaps feeling the lack of hood interest for his last album, Ghostface puts a handful of Pretty Toney's hardest tracks at the beginning as if he's ready to prove something right away. The best of the lot, "Metal Lungies," could be the theme for any aspiring mack, but the rest are very good, suffering a bit from being laid out one after another. The sleazy "Bathtub (Skit)" has the repeat-play value of a porno movie, but it brings on the lighter and more rewarding part of the album. "Save Me Dear" is a bumpy and fun Ghostface production and another great singalong from the rapper. Don't expect a ton of chemistry between Ghostface and Missy Elliot, but their "Tush" is a hedonistic, club-aimed highlight with both in top form on their own. Jackie-O connects much better with the man on "Tooken Back," one of two great productions from Nottz and first of the three solid tracks that finish the album. The chaotic "Run" and the sentimental laundry list of beloveds on "Love" finish the album on a high note, but there's something missing. Rumor has it Def Jam wouldn't pony up the dough and clear samples for the tracks that didn't make the album. Songs the rapper has posted on his own website and mixtapes like DJ Kayslay's No Pork On My Fork, Vol. 1 or the MC's own Pretty Toney (The Lost Tracks) (released under his original Ghostface Killah moniker) tell the whole story. Get them all and you might be able to piece together a classic Ghostface album. Pretty Toney comes close, very close, and puts the man's solo career back on solid ground.
Ghostface Killah - Fishscale
Whenever a veteran artist professes disinterest in modern music, a safe retreat into the past — a tired attempt at recapturing the magic of classic material — tends to follow. Since Ghostface Killah towed that line after the two least-thrilling albums of his career, Fishscale seemed destined to be just another part of his discography; if his fans were lucky, they'd get a couple flashes of his mad maverick genius and nothing as clumsily foul as "Tush." Fishscale is much more generous than that. It's evident that Ghost knows where he's at in his career, and it's directly acknowledged by the Mickey Goldmill-like boxing coach during "The Champ": "You ain't been hungry...since Supreme Clientele!" Ghost responds by pouring all that he has, both lyrically and vocally, into every track on the album. The scenarios he recounts are as detailed and off-the-wall as ever, elaborate screenplays laid out with a vocal style that's ceaselessly fluid and never abrasive. This is especially remarkable since each one of Ghost's lines, when transcribed, require one-to-five exclamation points, and every frantic scene's details — from the onions on the steak, to the show on the television, to the socks sticking out of the "big Frankenstein hole" in a shoe worn by an accomplice — are itemized without derailing the events. Since no active MC sounds better over obscure '70s soul samples, Ghost was wise to select productions that are best suited for him, no matter how bizarre or un-pop. Just Blaze, Lewis Parker, MoSS, Crack Val, Pete Rock, Doom, the late J Dilla, and several others supply Ghost with a tremendous round of productions. "Underwater" is the loopiest of all, even by Doom standards; its balmy Bobbi Humphrey flute and slippery beat, aided by burbling water effects, backs a hallucinatory journey in which Ghost swims with butterflies, casts his gaze on numerous riches (rubies, the Heart of the Ocean, "Gucci belts that they rocked for no reason from A Different World") and bumps into a Bentley-driving, Isley Brothers-listening, girlfriend-smacking SpongeBob Squarepants before hitting spiritual paydirt. "Back Like That," featuring Ne-Yo, is the lone apparent crossover attempt, and it hardly compromises Ghost's character the way "Tush" did in 2004 ("In the summertime, I broke his jaw — had to do it to him quick, old fashion, in the back of the mall"). Another completely unique track is "Whip You with a Strap," where Ghost recalls the pain of being whipped by his mom with more than a hint of misty-eyed wistfulness. How many other MCs are capable of making you feel nostalgic about leaking welts you never had? More importantly, how many MCs entering their late-thirties have made an album as vital as any other in his or her career?
Ghostface Killah - More Fish (Dec 19, 2006: Def Jam)
Loosely speaking, More Fish is to Fishscale what Theodore Unit's 718 was to The Pretty Toney Album, albeit with more focus on Ghostface. While the title of this disc seems synonymous with Have Some Leftovers, it's not at all stale, if not nearly as spectacular as its precursor. Again, Ghostface showcases Trife da God, Cappadonna, Shawn Wigs, and Solomon Childs, while Sun God (Ghostface's son), Killa Sin, Sheek Louch, Redman, and a few others also assist. Ghost goes it alone on four tracks, and three others are left strictly in the hands of his protégés. With the exception of weak link Wigs, each one of them continues to improve. Unsurprisingly, Ghostface's performances are never outstripped by those of the other MCs, and no track — with the exception of the tacked-on "Back Like That" remix — makes any kind of commercial concession. Since Fishscale wasn't even close to going gold at the time of the disc's release, it's obvious that More Fish was issued to get the instant sales of Ghost's devout fanbase. "Guns 'n' Razors," "Outta Town Sh*t," and "Block Rock" generate the trademark breakneck high adventure, with Ghost on full, furious blast. Apropos of nothing, one of "Block Rock"'s tangents is an amped-up dismissal of Lil Jon: "If Little Jon could ice his cup, I'd chop that sh*t, it'd ice my nuts." After that, the intensity drops for several tracks, regained temporarily by "Alex (Stolen Script)," where Ghost makes the life of a fledgling movie mogul sound as dramatic and nearly as twisted as the crack trade. In the "too much information" department: when, in "Street Opera," Ghost recalls exploits shared with his son, "We ran trains for hours up in the Days Inn" probably has nothing to do with a dictionary's definition of "train" (unless, of course, your source is www.urbandictionary.com).

4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

shit I just found your site update this thig on the regular i found a couple of albums I had when I was like 11 and 12 that I've lost.....brings back memories.
Salam Aleikum my brother.

philip

No Good said...

Wa Aleikuma As Salam...InshaAllah

Antonio said...

goo stuff.
wu-tang 4 ever