Why Ghostface Killah Is My Favorite Rapper
Ghostface released his fourth collaborative album today with BADBADNOTGOOD.
Image via Complex Original
Ghostface Killah is the most consistent rapper in hip-hop history. How long has it been? 22 years? Six Wu albums, 11 solo albums, four collaborative albums, and not to mention his countless features on other Wu solo joints including Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, the album that made him my favorite rapper. That's as long a run as anybody. One can make an argument for cats like Jay Z, Nas, and Scarface, but none of them are as prolific creatively as GFK, and he's been influential in just as many classics as they have. Ghost has made the music he's wanted to make since he got out of his Def Jam deal. Yes, Apollo Kids and Wizard of Poetry were relatively weak by his standards, and a couple albums would've been better if it weren't for sample clearance issues or having to have a "radio" single on them, but he's more than made up for it with his last several offerings.
Ghostface Killah is the most consistent rapper in hip-hop history.
Ghost first stuck out to me because he didn't show his face and he was named after one of my favorite kung fu villains. When Ol' Dirty Bastard introduced him on "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" and Ghost came on the track like a maniac saying: "Speaking of the devil. Psych, no it's the God, get the shit right/Mega trife, and yo, I killed you in a past life," I lost my goddamn mind.
Kung fu flicks were always a part of my life. My uncle was into Shotokan and boxing, and he would always come home with a different Shaw Brothers movie or something involving the Wu-Tang. So when I first heard Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers I couldn't wait to find the movies they sampled.In the 1979 film Ninja Checkmate a.k.a. The Mystery of Chess Boxing, Ghost Face Killer is a relentless assassin out to seek revenge against those who tried to kill him. He introduces himself by throwing a medallion marked with a face toward his victims, and then he destroys them while using a fighting style dubbed the five elements technique.
Ghostface the rapper and Ghost Face the killer each have deadly techniques and each are consistent in their respective fields of work, so the moniker works for Tony.
"When I struck I had on Timbs and a black mask/Remember that shit? I know you don't remember jack/That night, yo, I was hitting like a spiked bat."
Ghost is known for two techniques: undecipherable raps—a style he invented on Supreme Clientele—and story-telling. He previewed the former style on Wu-Tang Forever's "Older Gods" when he said:
"God, the old chain and ball technique/Got these vegetable lasagna niggas in they whips, jumping out they seats."
And he perfected it on "Nutmeg." That track may very well change your life if you were once a wack dude who tried to spit his darts but couldn't spit 'em.
"Scientific, my hand kissed it/Robotic let's think optimistic/You probably missed it, watch me dolly dick it/Scotty Wotty copped it to me, big microphone hippie/Hit Poughkeepsie crispy chicken verbs throw up a stone richie"
The first couple bars mean nothing and everything at the same time. It's like time and space. What does it mean? It doesn't mean anything—it just is. Ghost's verses on Supreme Clientele are like the Dead Sea Scrolls of rap. Scientists will never be able to find the meaning or the origins of them. But one thing I've always loved was his lyrical dexterity and raps about being the best at his craft, as he does on "Criminology."
"No question, I send your ass back, right to the essence/Your whole frame is smothered in dirt, now how you resting/While I'll be trapped by sounds, locked behind loops/Throwing niggas off airplanes 'cause cash rules."
Take "Guest House" featuring Fabolous and Shareefa off his hip-hop/R&B album Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City. The J.U.S.T.I.C.E League-laced beat features two veteran rappers at their storytelling best. This song plays out like a novela. Imagine Ghost in a robe, coked up and paranoid while driving in the pouring rain to find his wife laid up with Fabolous, the cable guy. That track was on his eighth studio album and was the first of his recent concept albums. Ghost has always been a romantic. Vulgar? Yes, but a hopeless romantic nonetheless. Check "Camay" for proof.
I might play that shit at my wedding. He's also a soulful dude. His debut solo LP had a more soul than previous Wu works and featured a bunch of classic movie samples. Wu-Tang is for the children because they put a new generation on flicks like The Education of Sonny Carson, Crying Freeman, J.D.'s Revenge, and the aforementioned The Mystery of Chess Boxing.
Ghost is so soulful, he sometimes chooses to simply rap over whole soul songs. It's a travesty "The Watch" couldn't be cleared in time to make the Bulletproof Wallets tracklist. The Almighty GFK and Chef Raekwon over Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby" is one the greatest concepts ever put on record. That song was made to be rapped on, and it is arguably my favorite Ghost track. This was a concept he did again on The Pretty Toney Album's "Holla" and The Big Doe Rehab's "Supa GFK." The former featured him rapping over "La La (Means I Love You)" by the Delfonics while the latter found Ghost walking through the Amazon over Johnny "Guitar" Watson's "Superman Lover."
Most recently Ghost gave us his remarkable album with Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die, a concept album about a vengeful ghost that's trapped in vinyl records and comes to life whenever they're played complete with a comic book and ill visuals mimicking a '60s Italian film. He then followed that up with the solid 36 Seasons, another concept album complete with a comic about Ghost's return to Staten Island after a nine-year hiatus and notable offerings from the legendary Kool G. Rap and AZ with most of the heavy lifting done by funk/soul band the Revelations on the production side. Today he released his collaborative album Sour Soul with Canadian hip-hop/jazz instrumental group BADBADNOTGOOD. Ghost, DOOM, Danny Brown, Elzhi, and Tree over smooth, jazzy beats? Sign me up.
Those three albums are as creative as one can get, especially for someone who's been in the game for as long as Ghost has. It's quite refreshing, actually. Instead of making excuses, he continues to push the envelope.
GFK is relatable and honest, and that's what makes him endearing. His MTV2 The World According to Pretty Toney spots turned audio book were brilliant and provided tons of gems for "smart, dumb cats" like me. He touched on topics such as the Hustla's Diet and advice for you sucka for love ass n****s. And pardon me for waiting this long to mention his style. Wallys are still relevant in the hip-hop community today because of him, and the robe is as recognizable as Slick Rick's eye patch. And let us not forget the Wonder Woman bracelet. He taught us how Dennis Cole is a wise man who has traveled the world. Take heed to them jewels he provides whenever he opens his mouth. It may open your mind to new ways of doing things.
Angel Diaz is a staff writer for Complex Media. Follow him @ADiaz456.