Artist: Ghostface Killah
Released: April 16, 2013
Concept albums in hip-hop can be tricky to get right. On one hand, the genre itself doesn’t really limit what the album’s concept can be – like in any other genre, the artist in question is free to base his/her album on anything. In reality though, the commercial need to sell albums means that you’re probably not going to see an album about video games and comic books too soon, though it’s fully possible that they’re already out there or at least on their way. The end result though is that subject matters for these albums tend to become rather repetitive – it’s usually about life on the streets, about how hard it is and about how through hard work or dedication the protagonists (usually the artists themselves) can overcome their environment. It’s not necessarily a bad concept for an album, but there are only so many variations of it one can listen to before it all starts to sound too familiar. Ghostface Killah’s newest studio album, Twelve Reasons To Die, his tenth in a career filled with highs and lows, doesn’t really offer much new in terms of a fresh plot or new content. In fact, it feels like more of the same that we’ve been hearing from Ghost for the last decade and a half – there’s more violence, more claims to his status as the boss of NYC and more semi-veiled references to their old Shaolin style. In more ways than one, this album is a throwback to a bygone era and Adrian Younge’s soundtrack encourages the comparison. There are a fair number of problems with the album on a meta level, especially when seen in the context of Ghost’s long career in the rap game, but by itself, the album is very strong musically. It stays focused on its core concept, the rise and fall of an enforcer for an Italian crime family but the soundtrack makes the whole effort cinematographically vivid.
The trouble in examining an album like this is that it is hard to point out a real flaw in its delivery. It seems clear from the first few tracks that even though Ghost doesn’t seem to have his usual energy and humour around him, he is still putting together some decent verses. On a second listen through though, you might start to notice that he isn’t actually saying anything at all – every verse could be accurately summed up by ‘I kill people, I am a criminal, I am badass, be afraid’. There are certainly exceptions and good ones too, but it feels like for every line or two that actually tells part of the story, there are perhaps five or six lines of plain filler in which Ghost goes off tangent on the aforementioned topics. Aside more that, this is a surprisingly short album, just short of 40 minutes and there is surprisingly little Ghost on it. Most tracks have two verses and on more tracks than not, one of those verses will be a guest verse. Between the lengthy hooks and the album’s generally slow pace, it feels more of a group effort than a solo album.
Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, of course. With the expected exception of Cappadonna, there are some great guest verses on this album. Inspectah Deck, unsurprisingly, doesn’t fail to deliver and indeed his two guest verses, both on climatic, more energetic tracks are very memorable. Masta Killa and U-God make appearances as will, albeit with less success. If the album is a movie though, then Ghost is only the co-star at best, because Adrian Younge’s production takes the other half of the billing. The production is certainly cinematic, evoking the mood of a vintage gangster flick but the album’s length means that Younge’s (and the RZA’s) carefully composed and arranged soundtrack ends up sounding rather rushed. The tracks don’t always flow well together even in points in the album where they really should and beyond that, there are a few too many times in the album where all the careful scene setting sound slows the album down unnecessarily. Still, the sound gives the album a musical quality that is rather unusual from the usual synthetic beats that have been hip-hop’s mainstay for the last decade or so. Despite these failings though, the production succeeds in the most crucial places and moments – the sound is, without fail, consistent with the album’s story and concept and indeed, a big part of the concept’s success comes to down to the way the music creates certain images and impression to assist with Ghost’s own more overt lyrical attempts to do the same.
Perhaps the best and the worst that can be said of this album is that it does very little wrong. It takes no real risks in its execution with both Younge and Ghost sticking to their strengths musically and lyrically. This isn’t the Ghost the made everyone sit up and take notice on Ironman and Supreme Clientele but nevertheless, he is still more than capable of delivering some solid verses. Backed with the usual (and occasionally questionable (Cappadonna)) guest appearances from his Wu-brothers and consistently reliable production, the album tells a tight tale. Yet, old Wu-addicts might end up feeling a little underwhelmed at the lack of any real hard-hitting tracks and the absence of those electrifying killer verses that typified Ghost’s early efforts.
Beware of the Stare
Blood On The Cobblestones
The Rise of the Ghostface Killah
|Beware of the Stare||Adrian Younge||5.0|
|Rise Of The Black Suits||Adrian Younge||3.8|
|I Declare War||Adrian Younge||3.8|
|Blood On The Cobblestones||Adrian Younge||5.0|
|The Center of Attraction||Adrian Younge||4.5|
|Enemies All Around Me||Adrian Younge||5.0|
|An Unexpected Call||Adrian Younge||4.0|
|The Rise of the Ghostface Killah||Bob Perry||5.0|
|Revenge Is Sweet||Adrian Younge||3.0|
|Murder Spree||Adrian Younge||3.0|
|The Sure Shot||Adrian Younge||4.5|
|12 Reasons To Die||Adrian Younge||3.0|