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 Elliott 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, along with More Fish, followed in 2006, but not before 718 -- an album from his Theodore Unit.
Always prolific, the rapper put out The Big Doe Rehab -- whose release date had originally coincided with Wu-Tang's long-awaited fifth full-length, 8 Diagrams, which RZA agreed to push back a week so as to not coincide with Ghost's effort -- in early December 2007. Ghostface returned in 2008 with a pair of compilations: The Wallabee Champ (rarities and B-sides) and GhostDeini the Great (including remixes, alternate versions, and career highlights). Influenced by R&B and focused on the ladies, his 2009 album Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry was a significant departure.
The more traditional effort Apollo Kids landed in 2010 with special guests Redman, Busta Rhymes, and the Game. Another significant departure arrived in early 2013 with the release of Twelve Reasons to Die. The album was a collaborative effort with film composer Adrian Younge and was inspired by the Italian murder mystery/slasher film genre known as giallo.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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?
Words: Andy Kellman
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.
Words: Andy Kellman
At a time when Lil’ Wayne was quite literally the most sought after rapper in the world, his success, like most, bred comfort, and with that comfort came the desire to experiment. Having always expressed an interest in rock music and indie culture, whether it be in the way he dressed, the occasional shout out, or his love of skateboarding, Rebirth ended up being Wayne’s way of paying homage to his other interests. Not received all that well critically, it didn’t matter. Selling over 775,000 copies in America alone as of 2011, the fans appeared to enjoy Wayne’s guitar-driven offering. Dipping his toe in to the various manifestations of rock music, the likes of punk, grunge, and emo were all apparent. Playing with auto tune and heavy duty instrumental soundscapes, rap was still a key element throughout. Rapping side by side with Eminem on “Drop The World”, as well as spitting some angry raps on “Ground Zero”, it proved you could take the boy out of Hip Hop but you couldn’t take Hip Hop out of the boy.
Words: Will “ill Will” Lavin
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 Elliott, 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.
Words: David Jeffries
Take that word "Poetry" with a grain of salt and then check your expectations at the door, because Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry is a significant departure for Ghostface Killah, at least when it comes to the album format. This oversexed, always fun, and occasionally hilarious effort was inspired by the rapper's previous work with R&B artists, although the production -- from Scram Jones, Skymark, the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, and others -- goes way back, sampling smooth soul folks like Marvin Gaye, Joe Simon, and Love, Peace & Happiness. Unlike his GhostDeini guise, this new Ghostdini character is a lover plus a pimp more than a player, hanging in the "Guest House" with "Glass pianos and Portuguese drapes hangin' from the ceiling/Persian rugs, Moroccan sofas/I walk through the house in paisley robes and Ferragamo loafers." Things don't always go right for this cool customer, as both "Guest House" and "Lonely" are bitter, brokenhearted highlights, and being suave isn't always the rule as "Stapleton Sex" gets the seven dirty words off within the first ten seconds and then proceeds to describe a Hustler cartoon. The cause and effect of sex are covered on the great slow jam "Baby" ("I'm all right, it's just that the baby's kickin'/And I want some Popeye's chicken, and my back kinda hurts from the way I was sittin'/Hurry home so you can rub my big belly and kiss it"), and after the slick "Goner" pleases with some George Benson-like guitar, the album goes modern with two great "bonus tracks," "She's a Killah" and the Kanye West plus Ne-Yo showcase "Back Like That." Nasty as he wants to be, Ghostdini is nothing more than the Face and friends having a good time. The results are as improper as they are infectious.
Words: David Jeffries
Just what the hardcore ordered, Ghostface Killah’s 2010 effort is a return to the grimey soul and stream-of-consciousness street flow of the man’s best work, but without those final touches that made Supreme Clientele or Fishscale masterpieces. Odd artwork and a title that’s stolen from a Supreme Clientele track are the first clues that something is a little off here, and when a Pete Rock production previously used on the 2007 mixtape cut “Chunky” appears here under the title “How You Like Me Baby,” one begins to wonder if Apollo Kids is really a clearing house for homeless cuts, making way for Ghostface’s promised Supreme Clientele 2. Still, that Pete Rock cut is one wicked monster fans should revisit, as the rapper attracts the ladies with examples of his talent and sense of responsibility (“Cats like the way I write/Dressed like a superstar/Take care of family/So I don’t have stupid cars”) along with his craftiness (“Back in my reefer days/Sellin’ you parsley”). The trilogy of “Superstar” (“Blowin’ smoke at the Hookah Bar!”), “Black Tequila” (a spaghetti western sample and then Ghost yelling “Where’s my horse”), and “Drama” (“Had that ass swayin’ like TD Jakes/If you don’t believe it, ask your momma”) is killer, although the Wu-Tang snob might have trouble with the numerous guests artists on these tracks and elsewhere on the album, especially with so many coming from outside the Wu-niverse. Put everything on shuffle and the album has the same impact, and with no skits or interludes to link this short effort, Apollo Kids feels just the slightest bit unfinished. Approach it track by track and accept all the guest artists, and this is a no crossover, no compromise, straight-up victory.
Words: David Jeffries