29 April, 2013@5:14 pm
Ghostface Killah has never explained why he wore the mask. In the early days of the Wu, the most mysterious member of the Clan was Tony Starks, who shrouded his face in early videos and promo pics, creating a mystique for himself greater than that of his peers. While we were just getting know all of the colorful personalities of the 36 Chambers – RZA’s leadership, GZA’s intelligence, Meth’s cockiness, Dirty’s insanity – Ghost chose remain anonymous, before eventually revealing himself to be the Clan’s most freshly dipped member.
12 Reasons To Die, the new album from Ghostface Killah and producer Adrian Younge, gives us the untold origin of Tony Starks, and how he came to don his Ironman armor (which would include the mask, a Hefner-esque smoking robe, overly sized medallions, and a giant, gold eagle that sits on his wrist.) It’s a concept album that tells the tale of Tony, a young criminal that works for an organized crime family called The Deluccas, who turn on him after he falls in love with one of their women. They kill him, burn his body, and press his ashes into twelve vinyl records – here represented by 12 songs – only to see him resurrected as The Ghostface Killah, an invincible, revenge seeking spirit, with rhymes like ziti.
While this album does not top Raekwon’s Only Built For Cuban Links, it’s narrative is much stronger, and perhaps the best executed hip-hop concept album of all time. The story is airtight and easy to follow, and it never strays off course for the sake of a single or marketable guest appearance. Starks weaves a tale that increases his mystique tenfold, completely redefining any preconceived notions one might have for a Ghostface album, and notably does this on his tenth solo album. Talk about defying the odds.
But aside from being a strong story, what really makes this record arguably classic is the approach taken on the production. Adrian Younge – whom, prior to this LP, wrapped up producing a record for The Delfonics – arranges a full band to back Ghostface, and does it in the most unique way possible. Rather than simply hire a band to play generic “hip-hop beats”, Younge taps into what made all of those Wu-Tang records classics, evoking a heavy, sampled 90′s sound, yet live. The cracking snares and heavy, looming basslines sampled from 70′s soul records and earlier spaghetti western soundtracks, would equally carve out the classic RZA and Portishead sounds of the late 90′s, and Younge has flawlessly captured that element here, with his band. Not to mention while sounding completely original, this is a glorious homage to that era, one that’s been copied and bastardized many times over. Everyone else did it wrong. Adrian Younge nailed it.
Narrated by The RZA, this is perhaps the most original body of work of Ghostface’s entire career (not saying it outdoes Ironman, but it is the most original). The concept is executed through the lyrics rock solidly, while Younge’s production flawlessly builds upon the Wu-Tang architecture, perfectly complimenting an otherwise lost sound. While many artists age and lose touch with what made them popular in the first place, Tony has tapped into a younger version of himself, and finally explained the rise of the Ghostface Killah.
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