The Slang that Made Ghostface Killah A Rap Legend

Ghostface's debut album, 'Ironman,' turns 20 today. We took a look at the lyrical innovations that made him a hip-hop legend.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

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It’s been 20 years since one of the most consistent rappers OF ALL TIME (© Yeezy) dropped his debut album, Ironman. Of course, Ghostface Killah wasn’t exactly a newbie, as the masked rapper had already played a key role in two classic albums—Wu’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…—but “since the face been revealed, game got real,” in ‘96, it was time for Tony Starks to take his turn in the spotlight. In the two decades since, Pretty Toney made a name for himself as a slang innovator, whose verbiage is rivaled by few in its sheer creativity. In honor of his 20th anniversary as a solo artist, we take a look at the biochemical slanglord’s most novel entries into the English language.

“Grey Poupon”
Song: "Fish"

The French mustard known as Grey Poupon is apparently one of rap’s favorite condiments (Raekwon mentions it on Ironman’s ‘Assassination Day’ as well), but, while most rappers use it in similes, Ghost told EW he uses it as a synonym for smooth shit: “This is my smooth shit because Grey Poupon is like some hype French mustard, you know what I mean?”

“Wally shoes/Wallys/Wally Champ”
Song: "Glaciers of Ice"

Before he had even dropped a solo album Ghost had already solidified his legacy as the Wally Champ. Because Ghostface is a unique individual, he can’t go running around in some regular-ass Clarks Wallabees, his favorite type of shoes. So he dyes them in inimitable colors, like he excitedly explained on the intro to Raekwon’s ‘Glaciers of Ice’: “Just imagine you bought [...] a navy blue pair right, boom. But dyed—get this—dyed cream on top. You got it dripping like it's marble cake.” A legend was made. Boom.

“Bubbling good”
Song: "Glaciers of Ice"

It wasn’t just the intro that had Ghost was amazing folks. “Niggas in the hoods bubbling good” might be one of his less obtuse references, as it’s pretty self-explanatory what it is they’re bubbling. The album it’s on after all, is loosely based on the premise of two drug dealers pulling one big, final caper before they get out of the game. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... would eventually become the blueprint for the entire subgenre of crack rap, making this entry essential.

Song: "Camay"

Like the rest of the Wu, Ghostface is no stranger to Five Percent Nation terminology, but he often plays around with it the most effortlessly, shortening “Wisdom," which symbolizes the Original Woman, to “Wiz.” He uses it to refer to his woman at home, but in this specific song he’s telling another one he “should have left my Wiz a thousand times.” Let’s hope for Ghost’s sake his Wiz doesn’t wise up to his macking.

Song: "Ice Cream"

“Camay” wasn’t the first (and certainly wouldn’t be the last) time we’d find Ghost in Casanova mode. “God damn, backyard's banging like a Benzi” he compliments the sumptuous posterior of a certain “Maybelline queen” in The Chef’s classic single.

Song: "Daytona 500"

Sure, there have probably been people on Staten Island or even other parts of NY who referred to a razor blade as an “ox," but how many of them “breathe oxygen” while “both sides of my jaw carry oxes?" That’s some next level, low-tech, stealth weaponry up in the cut. Don’t piss off Tony Starks, is what I’m saying.

“Bulletproof Wallets”
Album title

When Ghost spoke to Dutch music magazine Oor while promoting his third album, Bulletproof Wallets, back in 2001, he explained to the interviewer that, no matter what happens, nobody can ever take your knowledge away from you. And since knowledge has value, and you can keep collecting it and building on it, your brain is like a bulletproof wallet. The surprised interviewer said he figured it simply meant nobody could take his money, to which Ghostface replied, “That too.”

Ziti/Strawberry Kiwi
Song: "Apollo Kids"

One of the most equally indelible and inexplicable lines outta Starks Enterprises has to be “Ayo, this rap is like ziti, facin’ me real TV/Crash at high speeds, strawberry kiwi” from the banging “Apollo Kids." The first part is fairly easy to grasp, as long as you have Ghost explaining it: “The rap’s good because it’s like ziti, which was my best food back then.” The second part is more dense, though: “I threw ‘strawberry kiwi’ on because I’m into experimenting. I was thinking of a style to write without nobody knowing what I was saying except for me.” Mission accomplished.

“He UFO”
Song: "Kunta Fly Shit"

Ever the storytelling master, Tone needs nothing more than a single minute over a menacingly slow rolling drum, to tell how he spotted an “out of town nigga” he dubs a “UFO” in his hood. This unidentified character flying into Shaolin soon needs to “empty his pockets” and make a run for it before Ghost has his…

“...Brains hanging out his onion”
Song: "Kunta Fly Shit"

Pretty sure those were some layers the poor sap did not want to have peeled back on his onion.

“Your sock’s hangin’ out, yours is talking”
Song: "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)"

Ghostface: “You know when you walk around in your shoes too much and get a hole in the sole? The rubber is split — it’s like your shoes are talking.” Not a good look.

Crew name

The name of Ghostface's crew, Theodore Unit, is apparently derived from “The Open Door,” as well as an anagram for “The Do-ers.” Pretty cool name, but not as cool as that other crew name Ghost came up with. We'll get to that soon.

“Metal Lungies”
Song: "Metal Lungies"

Spitting out your gross, hocked up throatsnot as a lungie is hella gross. Spitting metal lungies is hella deadly, though. Just ask Ghostface, Sheek Louch and Styles P.

“Both hands clusty”
Song: "Mighty Healthy"

When you don’t have just a gem or two on your hands but clusters of them. Remember when Ghost went around with a solid gold eagle perched on his bracelet?!? Of course you need to invent a whole new word to describe something like that. That guy is clusty AF.

“Duracell knot”
Song: "Mighty Healthy"

To get your hands that clusty, you need some serious wads of money. So much perhaps, that when you roll them up they turn into fat, solid cylinders, like they’re some sort of Duracell knots, perhaps. Certainly not the kind of association the battery company was aiming at with those annoying drumming pink rabbits of theirs.

“Gray Dogs”
Song: "Wise"

A track only found on the Canadian pressing of Supreme Clientele, "Wise" is one of the lesser known gems in Ghost’s discography. It’s a dedication to his deceased homie Wise, rapped over "In The Rain" by the Dramatics, a song also sampled in GZA’s "Cold World" and interpolated in Ghost’s own "The Grain." “Hard to even picture god eaten by gray dogs” Ghost spits in the song, vividly referring to the bullets that took his friend, giving form to the sudden rawness of the event. A highly emotional song, which Ghost never shies away from, and well worth a spin.

Crew name

Once upon a time, when RZA was just Robert Diggs, and his cousin Dennis Coles wasn’t known yet as the Ghostface Killah, they used to hang out at the apartment RZA shared with his brother. They liked to watch old school kung-fu flicks and discuss Five Percent Nation philosophies, along with several other guys that used to roll by. Their favorite Shaw Brothers films featured a seemingly undefeatable clan called Wu-Tang, and Dennis started using it as an adjective, referring to everything that was hard and dope as “Wu-Tang." When RZA went on to record a track with producer Easy Mo Bee for an EP, he placed his own, more hardcore remix to that track on the B-side, labeling it the “Wu-Tang Mix.”

Rza’s EP didn’t really pan out, but the Wu-Tang stuck around when he decided to create his own crew. Slang innovator Dennis was a part of it too. You’ve probably heard of them. It was a pretty good name.

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