Ghostface Killah is currently Wu-Tang Clan’s best member for creating pieces art that both pays homage to popular culture such as Gangstar stories and Comic-book culture as well as creating a compelling, engaging narrative that utilises his guests in the best ways. He’s also Wu-Tang Clan’s busiest member; since I started this blog in the summer of 2014, this is the fourth project that I’ve reviewed that’s had Ghostface play a massive part.
With the exception of Wu Tang Clan’s last album all of these albums have had massive instrumentation from other talented artists like the Jazz-fusion group BADBADNOTGOOD or The Revelations. Ghostface’s album with BADBADNOTGOOD, ‘Sour Soul’ was triumphant because it was predominantly BBNG’s album with Ghostface spitting entertainingly over the top. Whereas ’36 Seasons’ with The Revelations paled in comparison to ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ because it felt like a lesser, more rushed version of a revenge based narrative that everyone acknowledged as being entertaining before; it made many worry that this formula had run its course all too quickly.
It comes with great relief to say that ‘TRTD2’ is better paced, more thought out, grander and more of a cinematic experience than any of his other recent narrative based projects. The narrative alone feels so ambitious in its plot points yet it’s never haphazardly handled. Following the events of the first instalment of ‘TRTD’ which saw Ghostface Killah Aka Tony Starks killed by members of the DeLuca clan — a family that raised Starks up the ranks until they had bad blood and started a war of clans — his remains were pressed into 12 vinyl records and whenever they play Starks is resurrected as the Ghostface Killah to take his revenge.
On ‘TRTD2’ this narative has been complicated somewhat; the album is set in the mid-70s as the DeLuca clan are at war with Lester Kane (played by the fantastic Raekwon) and his clan, and GFK is caught in the middle of all of this piecing together parts of the last story. There are an incredible amount of twists and turns within the narrative of this plot, that literally for spoilers sake won’t be delved into too much. Allies become enemies and revenge and murder becomes much more essential as the story unfolds. These narrative twists are delivered and pieced together with the narration of The RZA who shows up every few tracks to deliver a synopsis of what’s happening. It makes the narrative feel a lot less clumpy and although it replaces some of the grander vocal moments from the first album, the end result has it sounding so much more coherent.
Ghostface still has a tendency to be extremely literal in the way he delivers his stories much like on the last album, but with him being paired up with Rae on this album the two bounce off of each other with incredible chemistry. It’s the sound of two MCs being genuinely invested in the concept of their album, something that was missing from Raekwon’s latest album. Rae fully takes on the character of Lester Kane and on tracks like ‘King Of New York’ the pair trade rhymes with such eloquence. On the tracks where bullets are flying and violence breaks out the pair’s rhymes hit full-force with the descriptive powers of two people who have been mastering the art of storytelling for decades. Despite some of the short comings in story telling every now and again, it’s got to a point where Ghostface’s enthusiasm in his music is enough to keep that fire alive and prove that he can still stand side-by-side with modern-day MCs and up and coming musicians. This is evident on tracks like ‘Get The Money’ with the fantastic Vince Staples who plays an associate of Lester Kane; an unlikely pairing that results in one of the best tracks on the entire album. Elsewhere we have the vocals from the fantastic Bilal, who recently collaborated with Kendrick Lamar on ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’, GFK is someone who gives to artists as much as he gives to his audience.
Adrian Younge himself tones down a lot of the more grand elements from the first album to let the story unfold in a more organic way. He still draws influence from 70s B-movies with a somewhat spaghetti Western flavour to them. The guitars swell when they need to and the instrumentation holds back when it needs to. The hooks hit harder as well and the multitude of MCs’ flows on here slotting into the grooves with ease like Scarub on ‘Rise Up’. The pairing of GFK and Younge sounds more fully formed than before with them sounding like they’re comfortable with each other and the song-writing reflects this.
‘Twelve Reasons to Die II’ isn’t perfection, there are a few tracks that pale in comparison to others but the relationship between these two musicians is forming into something ambitious and brilliant. GFK is on a creative streak in his career, and much like the end of this album suggests, ‘this is a new beginning’ – this streak will hopefully continue and expand to see the legendary MC become even more ambitious and take even more steps towards greatness. GFK is proof that a musician in any genre doesn’t necessarily lose their flair when they get older and their song-writing can in fact sound enhanced.
Best Tracks: Get The Money, Let The Record Spin, King Of New York