No Trivia

Archive for the ‘Ghostface’ Category

Spin: Ghostface’s Apollo Kids


Reviewed the just completely whatever Ghostface album for Spin. Anybody feeling this one? I can’t help but think of it as something of a response to all the unnecessary hate given to Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry.

Written by Brandon

December 22nd, 2010 at 9:32 pm

Posted in Ghostface, Spin

From Wifeys to Wives, From "Wildflower" to "Stapleton Sex"


“Bow down in awe all would-be songwriters”-John Darnielle on “Shakey Dog Pt. 1″

Though the obvious pairing would be Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2 and Ghostdini Wizard Poetry in the Emerald City, the latest Ghostface solo album, lovingly dipped in modern R & B, a more appropriate two-course listen would consist of Ghostdini and the Mountain Goats’ The Life of the World To Come–which you’ll need to wait one more week to drop. Mountain Goats’ Darnielle and Ghostface are lyric dudes–”lyrical”, if you will–and both should be called “songwriters”. Despite one’s more tangible roots in troubadourism, they’re doing very similar things: Word-obsessive, lived-in, omni-directional detail-filled song/tales. Ghost did put the very-serious word “Poetry” in the title of his album (and then he created the most absurd cover rap’s seen in a long while, but rap’s awesomely complicated like that).

And like a “singer-songwriter”, Ghostface seems increasingly interested in new sounds, ideas, and conceits to test his writing skills. Bob Dylan going electric. Leonard Cohen working with Phil Spector. Springsteen becoming The Boss. That’s basically what Ghostdini is, Ghostface laying down some rules for his raps, and then poking and prodding and bending those self-imposed rules for the duration of the album. It’s a fractured R & B release, part of it ready for the radio and parts of it gleefully standing miles away from anything you’d hear on Hot97.

Sorta the same way Darnielle does a kind of deformed variation on oh-so-sensitive singer-songwriters. Darnielle’s work isn’t sensitive, it’s empathetic, which is tougher than just straight sensitive. He fully immerses himself in story and character–he’s like a rapper in this sense–and breaks down that folk-rock wall of brooding bard, through which everything’s filtered. “Genesis 3:23″, the third track from Life dives into the mind of a man revisiting a former home–exactly why’s left nebulous–and touches on regret and changes but never gets schticky. It never shouts out “I’m inhabiting the moment-to-moment life of a reallistically rendered person!”, it just does that shit.

Also like Darnielle’s work, the latest Ghostface is a bit samey and though the rewards aren’t super-visceral and apparent–a la Fishscale or Supreme Clientele–they’re very much there. Ghostdini is the best Ghost album since Pretty Toney. It won’t win awards and it’ll neither appeal to those yearning for a quick dose of ugly, street rap after OB4CL2 or hipster-grabbing zaniness, but therein lies much of its appeal. That Ghost is lyrically focused again, no longer trying to rap (or write) like a guy who raps/writes well and just plain doing it, brings tiny rewards that’ll stick in your crawl much longer than one of those super vicious lines on the new Raekwon or underwater-diving with Spongebob joke songs.

This new sophistication is best represented in “Stapleton Sex”, a track previewed, with an awesomely raunchy video early this month. In a sense, this preview was something of a “SPOILER” in the sense that just how out-there dirty Ghost gets on this track is magnified by the album’s otherwise relative calm and hearing this before the other songs lessened the intended thrill. At the same time, “Stapleton Sex” was a smart teaser because it’s the perfect representation of the kind of aged, life-informed–versus say, Jay-Z’s lifestyle magazine-informed–worldview on Ghostdini. That’s to say, it isn’t a radical departure or any kind of all-out rejection of before–it’s just smarter, dripping with experience.

The genius of “Stapleton Sex” is just how dirty it gets and how for Ghost, being older and more mature manifests itself in subtler ways than turning into a boring-ass square. Dude still loves to fuck and loves every weird detail (shiny dickhead, pussy juice noises, pubes on your tongue, etc.) but there’s more of a rapport between lovers on this track, than say, “Wildflower” which “Stapleton Sex” purposefully invokes. There’s a sense of engagement between Ghost and his girl, notably different than Ghost’s interruption of a female rapper, followed by his all-out rap attack on an ex in “Wildflower”, and though there’s still aggression and dirtiness to the whole thing, there’s harmony, a comfort with the aggression–the couple might have a safe word–between the two, hilariously wrapped-up in the song’s last moments of laughing together, pillow talk.

Or you get a song where Ghostface–or really, the song’s Narrator–cheerfully envisions the son or daughter he’ll soon welcome into his relationship. It’s a quick joke on expectation, as there’ve been hundreds of love songs called “Baby” but not so many about uh, the very unsexy reality of having a baby. While most rap occupies a kind of persona and casual shifting of personas, Ghost takes this to really interesting places, more or less inhabiting the minds of a series of males in or out of love. Mistake-ridden dude doing a bid (“Do Over”), jealous guy in power (“Guest House”), classic bowing loverman (“Forever”).

Children and wives–versus wifeys–casually enter Ghost’s narrators’ vocabulary.Ghostdini is smart, conceptualized maturity; not “maturity”. Ghost takes the grown-man shit conceit a step further, slyly referencing past songs and slightly flipping the stuff that makes Ghost awesome but kinda, a little played-out by the time Big Doe Rehab dropped. Ghost, like Darnielle, and unlike most rappers or songwriters, is fully developing characters and inhabiting their narrative voices.

further reading/viewing:
-A Lover’s Discourse by Roland Barthes
-Video for “Stapleton Sex”
-”This Is Not Huehueteotl Pt. IV” by John Darnielle from Last Plane to Jakarta

Written by Brandon

September 29th, 2009 at 7:19 am

Corrective Rap: Ghostface’s "Computer Love"


From battling to sampling and anything that falls between, the roots of rap are in opposition. There’s always been a sense that indignant anger about misrepresentation, misinformation, or this-dude-did-that-and-he-shouldn’t-have type shit’s fueled the music of nearly every rap great.

But around the same time rap got actually kinda bad (1997 to the present), something changed. It suddenly got really annoying and even pathetic to hear your favorite rappers remind you how many wack emcees were out there. Maybe it was because you didn’t really want to be reminded of how bad it got, but also because it seemed kinda cheap to point out what’d become the obvious. This wasn’t the spirit of competition or anything, it plain preaching to the converted.

While Ghostface has occasionally been wrongheaded in this corrective fervor–calling out D4L for example–so much of his career since day one has been the right kind of oppositional or corrective rap. He’s always been more a “show” and not a “tell” rapper when it’s come to schooling other rappers, which makes his correctives more like a dialogue or exchange than simply, your favorite emcee bitching too much on record.

Even without it being semi-explicit on “Shark Niggas (Biters)”, it’s clear listening to Cuban Linx that the album’s something of a response or correction to Ready to Die. “If you thought Biggie was describing the life accurately…”, Ghost and Rae seem to be saying, “here’s what it’s really fucking like”. And they give you almost twenty tracks of obsessively detailed drug-dealer rap, with the same cinematic and emotional sweep as Ready while making it (arguably) even more palpable. The result: Two great records instead of one great record and a response record entirely contingent upon telling you why the first record was stupid.

Ghostface’s two most recent proper albums, Fishscale and Big Doe Rehab, had him returning to something resembling his mid-90s storytelling days and away from hyper-abstract wordplay or slice-of-life narratives of late. This obviously had to do with Ghost’s anger at the popularity of so-called “crack rap”, a sort of bastardization or gross misreading of the sub-genre Ghost had a big part in founding.

One of the more interesting convergences was the release of Fishscale on pretty much the same day as Rick Ross’ first single “Hustlin”. I can recall putting in Fishscale having just bought it and getting to the first song, the jaw-dropping “Shakey Dog” and thinking of it as the opposite of “Hustlin” in every way. Rick Ross was repetitive and slow, the song’s all-hook, Ghostface’s song has no hook and teases you with a hook–“Why you behind me, leary, shakey dog stutterin’/When you got the bigger cooker on you/You a crazy motherfucker, small hoodie dude, hilarious…”–but then Ghost just keeps rapping and you realize that just because you heard the title of the song in the song, does not mean you’ve arrived at the chorus. Interestingly, a few songs later Ghost is doing the less fun, played-out version of oppositional rap when he shits on D4L’s “Laffy Taffy” on “The Champ”; doesn’t he realize by simply making and releasing Fishscale, he’s fighting D4L?

Last week saw the internet-release of “Computer Love”, which is Ghost doing the “Holla” off Pretty Toney treatment to Zapp & Roger’s “Computer Love”. Like “Holla”, Ghost eschews sampling altogether and just raps over the original song, finding a sort of internal logic and rhythm without the aid of a proper beat.

Also like “Holla”, he’s doing more than being hilarious/show-offy. It seems in some way, the idea behind rapping right over the Delfonics was to remind people of where all these great Ghostface beats came from. The song equivalent of that moment of every Ghostface show and a ton of interviews where he tells you how this was the music his parents used to fuck to and sways and squeezes to say, “Natural High” by Bloodstone.

Doing the same to “Computer Love” has an even deeper context though and I probably don’t really have to spell it out for you: T-Pain. T-Pain’s use (and abuse?) of auto-tune is certainly on some Roger Troutman type shit and I can see it bugging a guy like Ghostface that a lot of young people probably don’t even know anything about Roger-all the more depressing given Roger’s death-by-gunshot at 47. But rather than simply complain about it, Ghost takes an old Roger song and straight raps over it, invoking–if we read R & B history backwards as so many do–the feeling of a T-Pain-assisted rap song through raps atop Roger’s vocoder croons.

Interestingly, “Computer Love” concedes a bit to 2008 rap standards as well. Ghost slows his rapping down just a bit, which gives it more of a feeling of the rap you hear on the radio. With a punchline like “Martin Luther Bling”, he even engages in some particularly goofball, purposefully bad lines like all of our favorite rappers in 2008. There’s a little more open space in this song than we’re used to from Ghost, which too plays into the ways that radio rap in the past few years has pretty much totally merged rap and R & B. “Computer Love” just kinda of plays out at the end, it doesn’t have the momentum build-up to sudden-stop and end the song feeling that most Ghostface tracks have, and there’s points where he’s barely even rapping, more like spitting a line or two, taking a pause, and saying a few more. It’s about as Jeezy-like as Ghostface can get. A good example of how to ingest all that’s weird or problematic with rap these days and still retain personality.

Written by Brandon

November 4th, 2008 at 8:38 pm

Rudy Ray Moore & Hip-Hop Pre-History

one comment

Examining and attributing influence to figures from rap’s pre-history that had an “influence” on actual rap history always feels like leap. You’re either idealizing the creation of the genre as totally outside of most other things and compartmentalizing all the differences between Tapper Zukie and Kool Herc or you kinda admit the influence even though it’s almost always a stretch. You can hear Gil Scott or Last Poets and be like, “I see how this is like rapping” but it’s just still not rapping and it’s weird.

And then, there’s the slippery slope thing of like, why these can be considered influences and not like a ton of white, rap-like stuff from way earlier, and then before you know it, you’re like some aged English teacher trying to hip the young kids to like, Lord Byron or some shit and arguing the really stupid thing that rap is just poetry, which it just ain’t.

But whatever your feelings on rap pre-history, Rudy Ray Moore’s connection to rap is pretty solid. The over-the-top filthiness of Ghostface, Too Short’s freaky tales that always have some moral edge to them, Devin the Dude’s conflation of Southern rap dirty jokes and century-plus old–let me put my professor glasses on—characterizations from the black diaspora, and Schooly D’s “Signifying Rapper” being an update on Rudy’s “Signifying Monkey” itself an update on a pre-reggae toast/routine/rap, are obvious touchstones.

See, Moore’s influence on rap is beyond “he put rhyming words in order before it was formally called rapping” but a whole big mess of more interesting and harder to put your finger on stuff. His Dolemite character and persona is like the “multiply your real persona times ten and run with it” formula that most rappers work with today and if I wanted to be douchey, I could say Dolemite’s one of the inventors of “swagger” because it wasn’t just that Dolemite told really hilarious jokes, but it was as much the way he told the joke and in many ways, more about the way he told it. Nearly all his jokes weren’t his own, variations on dirty jokes you heard your whole life, spruced up to be even more outrageous than you’re anticipating.

It’s all about self-aware exaggeration in a Dolemite routine, women with pussies so big a truck literally drives inside them, little kids that know more about pussy eating than I do, etc. etc. A weird mix of “adult” stuff and the like, cartoony, quasi-Tall Tales imagination with some kind of lesson or moral flip to it.

That is how Rudy Ray really put his stamp on rap. That thing of talking like everybody else and appealing to so-called “base” thoughts of the “lowest common denominator” (but really just where most of our brains are most of the time), but being kinda humane and almost morally serious at the same time.

While most people will rightfully point interested parties towards the movie Dolemite or Rudy records like Eat Out More Often, I wanted to highlight two of my favorite, slightly lesser-known Rudy Ray Moore projects.

-Petey Wheatstraw (1977) directed by Cliff Roquemore (Libra)

The thing is, short of the actually terrible Avenging Disco Godfather, Dolemite is by far the least entertaining of the Dolemite movies. Directed by D’urville Martin, who tried to make the movie absurd and also sort of like a “normal” movie, Dolemite lags and doesn’t have the immediate, who-gives-a-shit feeling of the later Dolemite movies.

Starting with Human Tornado, Cliff Roquemore took over and he made the movies really crazy in a way that stopped winking at itself and just fucking went there. When Roquemore’s credit pops-up on the screen, it accompanied by a small, parenthesized “(Libra)” which always reminded me of Underground nutbar director Robert Downey Sr. sticking “A Prince” at the end of his credit, because Roquemore’s working on the same exact absurdist level as Downey-and since film critics are just now getting around to taking Downey seriously, expect at least a hundred years before a Cliff Roquemore retrospective.

There’s too many great things to talk about in the movie, so real quick: The Devil represented by an old black guy in bright red track suit, appearances by Wildman Steve and Leroy & Skillet, a really incredible soundtrack (which was re-released a couple years ago and isn’t too hard to find, lots of ridiculous Devil make-up and a ton more.

Luckily, this scene happens to be on YouTube, so you’re spared a long, over-written description of one of the funniest fucking scenes of all-time:

-Afros, Macks, & Zodiacs (1995?)

This is basically a party video back when party videos still existed. Two hours of old “blaxploitation” trailers with the occasional interjection by Rudy Ray Moore surrounded by pretty busted girls half-telling one of his classic jokes. At the end of the video, Blowfly and a bunch of other surprises show up too. Here’s a clip of one of those dirty-joke interjections (fuck anybody who disables embedding by the way).

For the hell of it, here’s my personal favorite trailer from the collection, which you know, has enough “rapping” in it to maybe be an influence on rap unto itself:

And the classic “Got Your Money” video…

Written by Brandon

October 22nd, 2008 at 1:04 am

Judd Apatow Thinks Rap Music Is Really Funny!


Last night, I caught some of ‘Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story’ and was particularly annoyed by a scene late in the movie, where a rapper called Lil’ Nutzzak is introduced to an aging Dewey through this a video clip. Nutzzak’s rap samples a single-word from Dewey’s classic song ‘Walk Hard’ and the plan becomes pairing Dewey with this up-and-coming rapper (there’s some wonderfully shameless Cox and Nutzzak jokes in there too). It’s a moderately clever parody of total sell-out, music exec retardation but writers, Judd Apatow and Jake Kasdan’s disdain for rap comes through way more than a genuine disgust for corporate synergy- and it’s weird.

While the rest of the movie sends-up musical tall-tales like Brian Wilson in the sandbox and appropriately cuts-down Hollywood’s hubris for reducing a country legend’s ups and downs to a single event involving his dead brother– in ‘Walk Hard’ the brother is sawed totally in-half during a machete fight– there’s no begrudging respect or polite joshing when it comes to hip-hop’s excesses and absurdities. When Ghostface- pretty much as ethical and moral of an rapper as there’s ever been- comes out at a Dewey Cox Lifetime Achievement Concert, it’s got none of the vague absurdity of Jewel or Lyle Lovett being there, it’s just, “Ha! A rapper’s on the stage saying some dirty-words! Oh how far music’s devolved!”

Apatow’s producer/director/writer filmography contains a weird trend of using hip-hop as either a quick throwaway joke or as a way to reduce a character or scene to absurdity. Recall the intro to ‘Knocked-Up’ which uses Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s classic ‘Shimmy Shimmy Ya’ (Armond White: “white boys clowning to Old Dirty Bastard’s “Shimmy Shimmy Ya”) with emphasis on Dirty’s “Ooh baby I like it raw” hook to make it really obvious and funny what this movie’s already going to be about. Think of the constant hip-hop slang used by everyone but Steve Carrell’s character in ‘The 40 Year-Old Virgin’ and how it’s essentially used to represent just how vulgar and crass everyone’s become and how stupid white people are for adopting any part of this culture.

Leslie Mann’s bar-slut in ‘Virgin’ is speeding home, too drunk to drive, blaring and singing along to Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’, which is sort of real- drunk white sluts love Missy Elliott- but it’s sort of the icing on the cake for why this girl’s so terrible. It’s not presented with any of the sympathy given to a whiny loser who collects action figures, rides a bike, and hasn’t ever dropped his dick in a pussy. Contrast this disdain for hip-hop with the ‘Superbad’ kids. The movie’s James Brown-referencing title, constant funk soundtrack, and actor Jonah Hill’s Richard Pryor T-shirt (now sold at Urban Outfitters, by the way) are all used to invoke the characters nerdy, outsider-ness. They are characters wonderfully out-of-step with the rest of their peers because of their interest in 70s funk and soul. I won’t even begin to understand that one…

In the Apatow and company universe, which is one that despite all the blowjob and weed jokes is incredibly conservative- dumb critics say this is why his movies “have heart”- rap music and culture are one of the biggest signifiers of how low things have sunk and how distant people are from their “real” emotions: Rap as ruiner of everything. In previous Apatow movies, this was just sort of irksome, but because ‘Walk Hard’ is a movie that sets-out to make fun of just how most music biopics just don’t get it, it’s even more apparent how little Apatow and Kasdan themselves “get” about pop-music history.

The obvious contrast is between Lil Nutzzak’s inarguably offensive interpolation of ‘Walk Hard’ and Dewey’s innocuous but somehow riot-causing, priest-punching ballad ‘Take My Hand’. It seems in many ways, the movie is saying, “Here’s actual dirty stuff, here’s actually reprehensible music” with little understanding or sympathy for the mores of previous generations. It’s probably quite hard for a guy like Apatow, so clearly stuck in his own head, to think of the freedom and excitement music could and still does possess- in part, because he’s decided to skewer it in this big, dumb movie- but anyone with a working knowledge of pop history should be able to fall-back a few decades and realize just how rowdy Elvis Presley, or Jerry Lee Lewis were and frankly, still are. Lyrically of course, the songs only appeared innocent and were full of double-entendre and even when they weren’t, the songs were brimming with anger, angst, and depression. One of my go-to records is Del Shannon’s ‘Runaway’ LP. There’s a song on it just called ‘Misery’ and it’s about some other dude fucking the girl you used to fuck and how fucked-up that is! And even the music is only safe and cute if you’re not listening close enough. Plonking horns, a hard-as-fuck drums, and the limits of early 60s recording gives this an incredible raw, anarchic sound. Oh yeah, and the creepy organ solo by an under-discussed electronic music pioneer named Max Crook-Crook rewired a bunch of instruments to create a hybrid synth, shit is real!- pretty much solidifies how this music’s supposed to make you feel- less happy and cheery, more creepy, which is the same feeling Buddy Holly’s ‘Everyday’ gives you and something Dewey’s ‘Take My Hand’ is directly aping. If you can’t see why an entire generation of kids in the 50s and early 60s weren’t totally ready to explode after hearing this shit, you’re not really listening.

There’s a rough, energy to that music that was mostly sucked away in the supposedly “free” 60s– and continues through pussified 60s pop-influenced indie rock– but is still alive and well in hip-hop, dance, and club culture, all of which are very scary and silly to guys like Apatow. In David Foster Wallace’s ‘Signifying Rappers’ he discusses the significance of pop lyrics and connects it to rap in a way that Apatow’s totally blind to seeing:

“It’s well-known in pop history that slang and double entendre and even the tacit neologizing of innocuous words were used to make rock lyrics at once explicit and shocking enough to ‘rock’ and suitable enough for the radio airplay rock needed- e.g. “Baby here is my love/I’d love just to love you” equals “Baby, here is my dick/I’d just love to fuck you” (75).

What rap, in a lot of ways has done is sort of flipped this and uses very explicit lyrics to sometimes say polite, innocuous things (a lot of the time of course, it’s straight-forward but still-). Rap uses the relative freedom to say anything to chip closer at honesty because really, if you love someone you also want to fuck them, so why not say it? Stuff’s complicated Judd, think about it. In a way, it makes sense that the two most offensive and pop-culturally off parodies in ‘Walk Hard’ would be about 50s rock and contemporary rap.

-Costello, Mark & David Foster Wallace. ‘Signifying Rappers’. Ecco Press, New Jersey: 1990.

Written by Brandon

May 14th, 2008 at 7:19 am

Next To The Hood: Wu Tang’s 8 Diagrams

leave a comment

In that ‘Time’ magazine cover-story on Kanye West a few years ago, comedian Chris Rock described Kanye’s appeal through his connections to an earlier, less Jeezy-friendly era of hip-hop: “In the early days, the best rappers weren’t necessarily from the hood. Run-D.M.C was from Hollis. Eric B and Rakim were from Long Island. They lived next to the hood.” This quote rumbles around in my head a lot, because it’s a great, to-the-point piece of rap criticism that describes rap’s appeal: Rap’s ability to both be rooted in the reality of an experience and step outside of it and provide commentary, at the same time. Rock’s one-liner is a little problematic because it implicitly connects hood to bad but what he’s basically saying, if you stretch it to a generality, is that the best artists are connected to their environment but also a little outside of it all. This allows artists, and especially rappers to adopt the first-person or engage in a very sympathetic understanding of others, while never being tied completely down by the closed-mindedness of whatever subculture one belongs to and that extends beyond “the hood”.

Henry James is “next to the hood” in the sense that he’s both of the upper-class his novels document, but also beyond it: he doesn’t simply justify the upper-class, nor is he a knee-jerk, self-loathing critic of it all…he falls somewhere in between. “Next to the hood” however, makes the most sense for rap because well, there’s really no other artform like it, where it occupies this pretty-much-inexplicable space between “truth” and story and real and fiction and morality and immorality (to continue my douchey high-brow references, rap is amoral in the way that Oscar Wilde meant it in the Preface to ‘Dorian Gray’…). I said it before, but Chuck D’s assertion that rap was “the black CNN” may have worked for certain rappers, but even message-oriented raps suggest a familiarity with that which they critique that extends beyond third-person reportage.

For example, Andre 3000 is “next to the hood” on ‘Da Art of Storytellin’ Pt. 1′ when he asks Sasha, the girl he’s “chillin’ like a villian” with, what she wants to be when she grows up and she says “alive’” and it totally blows his mind. One could say Eminem is “next to the hood”- or “next to the trailer park”- on ‘Kim’ as he both performs the actions of jealous, angry, cracker boyfriend but also critiques them: “You can’t run from me Kim, it’s us, nobody else/You’re only making this harder on yourself”. Rock’s “next to the hood” point keeps coming up in relation the new Wu Tang album, in part because of many disappointed fans and even members’ assertions that what the RZA did on ‘8 Diagrams’ was not “street” or “hood” enough but also because it, in effect, defines “next to the hood”.

On ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’- the album’s most successful and rewarding track- Ghostface drops a particularly winning “next to the hood” verse as he describes walking through Pathmark and being confronted with an angry Nephew who “wants revenge” because Ghost “murdered [the nephew's] Uncle Tim” by selling “him a bag of dope”. It’s already “next to the hood” in the sense that it breaks-down the conventional tough-guy hood stuff (he’s in Pathmark, spills milk on his Clarks/He regrets drinking/Saying “murder” is just great writing and very, very moral) but that’s just what we expect from Ghost. What really makes the verse great and indeed, “next to the hood”, is how it goes from the description of the Uncle to telling the listener that after the Uncle’s death, “his wife came and copped again” and then, he croons “that bitch is craaazzyyyy/She brought her baaabbbyyyy…”. In those two lines, you get the image of Ghostface the dealer and Ghostface the human being who sells her the drugs but in his head is thinking “whatthefuckthisbitchbroughtherbaby??!!”…this isn’t some oh-so-conflicted dealer cliche, it’s so much more than that. Not quite the same, but it recalls my own “next to the hood” moment, when I once drove this dealer-kid from school home only to discover his house was like, straight out of ‘Gummo’ and his like, 8 year-old, already-brain damaged kid brother was getting high…I still put on the act of non-chalance and “oh, that’s funny your kid brother smokes up” but inside I was like, “holy shit” (to reference ‘Fishscale’s ‘Shakey Dog’, another Ghostface “next to the hood” moment…).

Most of ‘8 Diagrams’ almost reaches this “next to the hood”-ness lyrically, the Wu are fairly on-point but seem a little guarded and uncomfortable, but that’s more age and their own fault, it’s got nothing to do with RZA’s beats which are wonderfully weird and yes, next to the hood. RZA tells his fans as much with that explanatory Kung Fu sample intro demanding “patience” and “honesty”, an honesty that even members Raekwon and Ghostface couldn’t subscribe to when they began bitching the album out before it even dropped. It is only the Wu’s impossible past reputation that makes this album a “disappointment”. When you hear these songs outside of the context of “I’m listening to the new Wu Tang album” they’re really good. When ‘Take It Back’ pops-up on Sirius’ SHADE45 or on your favorite college rap radio show or as one of 3000 songs on your iPod SuperShuffle, it’s up-there with the best rap of the year. Those sorta-Gothenburg Metal guitars on ‘Unpredictable’ don’t conflict with the Wu’s energy at all, nor do those drunken crooned choruses, ‘Sunlight’ is an evil clusterfuck that’s supposed to be an evil clusterfuck. The problems with ‘8 Diagrams’ are not the choruses but that the choruses show-up a little too-often on certain songs and that there’s no sense of control or balance…songs either don’t have hooks at all, or the song is chopped-up and the energy slowed-down by a way-too typical verse-chorus-verse structure.

Even that rigid structure succeeds on certain tracks, it builds tension on ‘The Heart Gently Weeps’ and keeps ‘Life Changes’ afloat because no one brings much of anything to this supposed ODB tribute. If there is one song that defines the limits of ‘8 Diagrams’, it’s ‘Life Changes’ which highlights pretty much of all latter-day Wu’s flaws. Ghostface doesn’t even show up and the rest of the guys drop super-short verses that just feel underwhelming and dishonest; hardly “half-short and twice strong”. They fumble through cliches of being emotionally honest instead of actually being emotionally honest and for the most part, never go beyond generalities. Exceptions are Method Man’s image of pouring out some Vodka and drinking the rest, which is compact, poetic, and an appropriate homage that never elevates or lowers his image (what’s with U-God’s “fall from greatness” line?), Inspectah Deck’s real-life emotions of loss- grief and blaming one’s self- and the GZA, when he points out that he’s recording his verse ten feet from where ODB died. The rest of the Wu act about as “hood” (in the negative sense) as they can, dropping short, hard-ass verses that perform emotions and never show any actual vulnerability. It’s all the more frustrating and symbolic of the Wu’s fragmentation that they can’t even come together or get-real in a tribute to a dead member.

I saw Wu Tang in New Jersey the night before ODB died. ODB was a no-show and towards the end of the show, Method Man acknowledged this reality to the crowd and was briefly interrupted by U-God who rambled off something about kicking Dirty’s ass for not showing and telling the crowd that if they see Dirty, tell them how mad they are and then, Method Man took the stage back and as a corrective to U-God’s lack of sympathy, he said that if we saw ODB, “tell Dirty we love ‘em”; that was a “next to the hood” moment.

Written by Brandon

December 12th, 2007 at 12:11 am

one comment

OhWord Article: Say It Ain’t So Ghost, Say It Ain’t So…

“When I first read it on Nahright, I recalled the vague rumblings of ghostwriting accusations a while back and quickly dismissed it, but as I considered it more, it kinda fucked me up. It was like when I was little and Superman was killed by Doomsday and Bane broke Batman’s back. What’s happening to my heroes?!”

Written by Brandon

July 17th, 2007 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Ghostface, OhWord

leave a comment

Honorable Mentions
a. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale
I must preface this by saying that I do not belong to the ‘E for Effort’ school of writing. Simply because an artist may have reached further on an album (the Andre 3000 factor) or has pretensions to art (the Lupe factor), does not give them extra points. Perhaps, I’m unfairly comparing these albums to past albums by these artists, but I do not think so. All that I know is, I felt the tinge of disappointment when I bought these albums and listened to them. Unlike ‘In My Mind’, these albums did not grow on me. Neither of these albums are bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I would say, they feel unspectacular. So, I am left with two albums that are good, but I could not feel sincere if I put them alongside my murderer’s row year-end list. I’ll call them ‘Honorable Mentions’. These ‘Honorable Mentions’ placed higher on a lot of ‘Best of’ lists than the albums I listed, so maybe I’m just a prick.

a. Ghostface Killah – Fishscale .
‘Fishscale’ feels all-over-the-place but in a way that is too easy to make sense of. ‘Underwater’ is Ghost being totally bizarre but in a way that is digestible to listeners. It’s indie-rap weird, which is quite different from Ghostface weird. It’s weird the way that guy in one of your classes would wear a baseball helmet to school was weird. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ weird. Contrived weird. ‘Fishscale’ just tries too hard. The songs are too singularly focused (hitting on a girl, being a little kid, being underwater) and that, coupled with Ghost’s more-controlled flow, just seems a bit too predictable. I personally don’t like the indie-ish beats of ‘Clipse of Doom’, ‘Jellyfish’, and ‘Dogs of War’ because Ghost is great when he’s rapping his weirdo shit on more conventional-sounding beats. When he does this, there’s a sense of counterpoint, when he raps about weird shit over weird beats it makes a little too much sense.

There are plenty of high-points and nothing on the album is bad. ‘Shakey Dog’ is one of the most impressive songs Ghost has ever recorded, especially the way it teases you with a chorus: “Why you behind me, leary, shakey dog stutterin’/When you got the bigger cooker on you/You a crazy motherfucker, small hoodie dude, hilarious…” and then Ghost just keeps rapping and you realize that just because you heard the title of the song in the song, does not mean you’ve arrived at the chorus. The song just keeps going and gives me the same feeling as ‘N.Y State of Mind’ and I think that is on-purpose. I also kept thinking of Rick Ross’ ‘Hustlin’, which was blowing up when ‘Fishscale’ was released. How many times do we hear the chorus in ‘Hustlin’? Think of how Ghostface teases the listener with a chorus but instead, just keeps cramming details, well-wrought, novelistic details into the listener’s ear giving them no time to breathe. I don’t like to be presumptuous, but I have a feeling ‘Shakey Dog’ approximates what it’s really like to hustle a lot more than ‘Hustlin’…

‘Fishscale’ sounds like the result of compromise, something that seems to happen to just about every Def Jam release under Jay-Z, including Jay’s own album. Ghostface will never be highly successful, so the album attempts to tow the line between old-style Wu-influenced production, and newer, indie-rap production. When ‘The Champ’ begins and the Mickey impersonator says “You ain’t been hungry since ‘Supreme Clientele” it’s incredibly sad because Ghost is listening too closely to idiot fans and critics. The most consistent and accomplished Ghostface album is ‘Pretty Toney’. ‘Supreme Clientele’ seems a lot like ‘Fishscale’: an attempt at mixing Ghostface’s weirdness with his Wu Tang sensibility. Hearing anything now that resembles classic Wu Tang or just early 90s New York rap is exciting until you think about it hard enough. Take ‘9 Milli Bros’, the song is pretty good until you think hard. What happened to Deck’s voice? Why doesn’t the RZA rap on it? The incomplete-ness of the ODB’s verse is very emotional and makes his death palpable; he pops up for a few lines and then his voice just fades out, and that’s it. The song however, just isn’t that great. U-God approximating the Genius’ ‘Fame’ is pathetic and the RZA didn’t even produce the fuckin song. Ghostface knows that he doesn’t sound like he did on those Wu Tang albums and that’s good; he does not need to look back in terms of keeping that Wu Tang sound; it’s gone. The Wu’s days are over. I’d like to get excited about the recent news of a new Wu album, but I just can’t.

Although ‘Fishscale’ is hardly terrible, the very thing that has gotten it major points, its nostalgia, is what prevents it from being anything more than a good album. I think this is the least hungry Ghost has sounded on any of his albums.

Written by Brandon

December 27th, 2006 at 1:15 am

Posted in 2006, Ghostface