Artist: Ghostface Killah
Released: October 29, 1996
One of the difficulties of being a part of an immensely successful and influential collective is establishing an identity with the group. Hard is might be to believe, there once a point in time when Ghostface Killah was struggling to establish himself as an artist distinct from the Wu-Tang Clan. One could argue that it wasn’t until his seminal Supreme Clientele in 2002 that he truly came into his own as an artist – however, his debut effort Ironman was a critical part of his growth, giving him both the exposure and the confidence he needed to come into his own at that point in time. Musically, Ironman does not quite match up to classic first generation Wu-albums like Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, yet like its peers, Ironman has a wonderfully deep and unique sound, making it fully deserving of its place not just in Wu-Tang folklore but in the annals of hip-hop.
Like all the other Wu-Tang albums released between 1993 and 1998, Ironman was produced entirely by the RZA, with the exception of a single track, ‘Fish’, a truly inspired production by True Master. Where Liquid Swords was dark and haunting and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… was gritty and raw, Ironman is deeply soulful and introspective, largely thanks to the RZA’s selection of soul samples and dialogue from classic blaxpoitation movies and mafia movies. Therein lies perhaps the strongest differentiating factor between this album and the RZA’s elder offspring – gone are the often obscure Kung-Fu samples that once were pre-requisite of any album that carried the RZA’s distinctive touch. Also missing is the minimalism that made Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) so influential. In its place is a slightly more complex production style, blending in a variety of instruments and adding richness to the tracks – from (yet another) sample of Bob Jame’s Nautilius in ‘Daytona 500’ to the lament of ‘Motherless Child’ to the dampened sirens from Al Green’s ‘Gotta Find A New World’ in ‘Iron Maiden’, the sampling and new production approach are refreshing and make the track more layered. The one problem that plagues this album from a production point of view is the lack of real structure in the album. The ordering of the tracks is such that there is no real climax, no real progression. Instead, we get a somewhat chaotic alternation between fast-paced, high-energy tracks and their slower-paced, relaxed counterparts. This mood whiplash does considerable damage to the overall cohesion of the album. Nevertheless, the production on each track in fantastic, with tracks like ‘260’, ‘Fish’, ‘Daytona 500’ and ‘Marvel’ standing out for their sound.
Lyrically, this album is something of a letdown, which is surprising given the calibre of the MCs involved (yes, even Cappadonna). The trouble is that this album does not really break new ground n terms of style of content. Instead, all signs point to Ghost and RZA leveraging the success of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and especially the former’s impressive performance on the album, to create a sequel. While Ironman is certainly not a sequel, neither Raekwon nor Ghost seem to have grown since the release of the purple tape, though perhaps it is unreasonable to expect too much of a change given that this album was released only a little over a year after Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…. The lyrical theme of this album remains disappointingly similar to that of any other rap album released at the time – crime, drugs and violence. However, it must be said that while Ghost and Raekwon don’t exactly redefine the genre here, their verses are nevertheless brilliantly crafted and flawlessly delivered, with intricate wordplay and a flawless flow. Unfortunately, the final sound of the album suffers due to the damage caused by the infamous flooding of the RZA’s basement (where the recorded material was stored, presumably). The guest appearances from other members of the Clan are very much appreciated – they keep the album from becoming stale and repetitive. It has never been easy to outshine Ghostface Killah on a track, but by limiting the number of guest appearances the RZA was able to ensure the spotlight is given to the rest of the artists but never stolen away from Ghost for long. U-God and the RZA himself turn in the strongest performances on ‘Black Jesus’ and ‘Assassination Day’ respectively. Yet it is rightly, it is the Ironman himself who shines on this album showing a slight change in style, relying more on abstract lyrics and non-sequiturs, foreshadowing his some to a more stream-of-consciousness style in Supreme Clientele.
Ironman has some real gems in it – the tracks that really shine are those that tell a story (like ‘260’ or ‘Motherless Child’) or are deeply personal (like ‘All That I Got Is You’) or are just musically superior (‘Fish’, anyone?). These are tracks in which the production and the vocal mix particularly well. Special mention must go to ‘Assassination Day’ for featuring a return to the classic minimalism of the 36 Chambers and giving all three guest MCs a chance to really shine. The RZA’s verse, as mentioned above really stands out, while Rae and Ghost show some of the chemistry that made Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… such a runaway success on ‘260. ‘Fish’ is really all about the horns-and-keyboard beat True Master seemingly pulled out his hat though it is also supported by strong vocals (and a forgettable verse by Cappadonna). Ghost gets his chance to shine on ‘Motherless Child’ after Raekwon gives the introduction, with a vividly graphic description of a robbery (a concept he will later revisit in ‘Shakey Dog’ in 2006’s Fishscale).
While Ironman is not quite perfect, it is rightfully remembered as one of the most important albums of the 90s hip-hop era. Indeed, it might just be one of the most musically sophisticated albums of the first generation Wu-Tang Clan solo projects. Along with its contemporaries, it helped establish and continue the Wu-Tang Clan’s dominance of the East Coast hip-hop scene. More importantly, it introduced the rap world to Ghostface Killah and helped the then struggling, disoriented rapper come closer to cementing his style, setting the stage for Ghost’s magnum opus – Supreme Clientele.
|Track Title||Producer||My Rating|
|The Faster Blade||RZA||4.25|
|Box in Hand||RZA||4.79|
|After the Smoke Is Clear||RZA||4.96|
|All That I Got Is You||RZA||5.00|
|The Soul Controller||RZA||4.50|
Nodima’s Overall Rating: 9.73/10
Overall Production Rating: 9.5
Overall Lyrical Rating: 9.41
Overall Enjoyment Score: 4.9/5
Overall Score: 9.53