Friday, December 17, 2010

Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids Album Review

There isn't too much to say about Ghostface Killah -- the consistent and reliable rap artist and prolific lyricist who on Tuesday will release Apollo Kids, the ninth solo album of his accomplished 14-year career -- that hasn't already been said.

By now, we know what to expect -- soul samples galore chopped up to perfection and vivid story telling with lively tales of ghetto grandiosity accompanied with the requisite braggadocio boasting his inimitable self confidence.

Classic Ghostface music, plain and simple.

So imagine the level of anticipation from his fans when it was announced earlier this month that he would name his latest album after one of his greatest and most popular songs that appeared on arguably his best album, setting the stage for the listener to expect yet another in a long line of impeccable albums from Ghostface.

And Ghost doesn't disappoint. When he actually gets the chance to rap, that is.

No, he doesn't sing on R&B tracks, as he has been known to do on occasion. However, Apollo Kids features a whopping 14 guest rappers on nine of the concise 12 tracks offered on this recording that just barely exceeds 40 minutes of playing time.

But after getting over those mental hurdles, the album promptly jumps into that good old Wu-Tang sound we all fell in love with nearly two decades ago, and the distraction of the prospects of a short album quickly fades.

One listen to the gem Superstar, a duet with Busta Rhymes, following Purified Thoughts with GZA and Killah Priest, and it's clear that Ghost is back!

Unlike past Ghost opuses, this album is devoid of skits and interludes, quickly launching into one banging track after another.

By the time we get to the fourth track, Ghost is in prime crime story-telling mode, humbly rhyming first to clear the way for Joell Ortiz (who has had one hell of a 2010) and a song-stealing and near flawless verse from the ever-improving Game ("I son/sun n*ggas like it's daytime").

Also worth mentioning is 2getha Baby, the album's lead single that features Ghost rapping over those ever elusive horns that I’ve been missing from Hiphop.

But the crowning moment of musical achievement comes from In Tha Park, a duet with Black Thought that is also a fitting ode to Hiphop in the form of a veritable checklist of true school Hiphop-isms ("linoleum breakdancing, Rust-Oleum cans"), complete with a very suitable MC Shan sample.

(Editor's note: It's refreshing to see a rapper of Ghostface's stature not be intimidated of teaming up with and possibly getting outshined by Black Thought, one of the most severely underrated rappers of all time.)

Ironically its on the three-year old song How You Like Me Baby (the Pete Rock-produced song formerly known as Chunky that was a mainstay on mixtapes) where Ghost is at his best, waxing poetic with his words of "wizdom" and effortless styles and flows:

“I came to play no games so stay in ya lane, and the ratchet’s on ya brain and fuck entertainment, y’all, the big spender rocks a robe in November, I never broke bud I throw my trees up in the blender!"

Without taking anything away from this heatrock of a song, it's too bad Pete couldn't have blessed Ghost with a previously unheard beat, considering the obvious musical chemistry these two have.

A curious duet with Jim Jones is the album's lone official misstep, seeing as though 1) Jim Jones is a below average rapper/sidekick who, over the years, has lost much of his musical appeal, 2) Ghost and Jim have never worked together before, 3) the track is a saccharine neo-R&B song that will probably never gain momentum in its presumed destination -- the club. Never mind the fact that the cheesy-sounding song wouldn't have even made the final cut for Ghost's excellent R&B-influenced opus released last year.

And maybe it's a budget thing but Ghostface has eliminated from this album the traditional presence of at least one high-profile, critically acclaimed producer. Hell, there aren't even any Wu-Tang producers associated with this project. No RZA, no True Master, no 4th Disciple. Not even past collaborators J-Love, Bronze Nazareth or Mathematics make an appearance.

Instead, Ghost employs the sounds of lesser celebrated -- but still very much able -- beat makers like Frank Dukes (3 tracks), Scram Jones and Sean C & LV, among others. Ghost has more than proven his ability to make quality music independent of Wu-Tang producers, but ultimately it's still not quite the same as hearing Ghost spaz on a RZA beat.

Despite the overwhelming amount of rappers on this album, it's never a bad thing to hear new rhymes from some of the core Wu-Tang Clan members, and, after some years of musical futility and legal snafus, a rejuvenated-sounding U-God is very much welcome on the song Ghetto, where he rhymes about the neglected portion of society ("run up in ya crib with 12 black brothers that'll die just to live").

Raekwon -- who continues with his recent streak of dope verses since the release of his album this year -- and Cappadonna and Theodore Unit member Trife Da God are all in attendance, and none disappoint in the least. Even Red and Meth join in on the fun, trading verses with Raekwon and Ghost on the Jake One-produced Troublemakers, the album's final song.

But just like that, the album’s over. No skits, no outro, nothing. Just an abrupt ending.

After listening to the album, the listener is left with a couple of certainties: 1) Ghostface is still well in his prime, miles ahead of many of his rapping peers, crafting complex rhymes with ease, and 2) Ghostface is either losing his love for rapping or he’s letting lazieness get the best of him.

Because in 2010, with just 12 tracks, the album had either better be a classic a la Illmatic, or it had better have limited to no features that take away from the lyrical wizardry that make his fans some of the most loyal in music.

Perhaps Apollo Kids is just one part of a larger marketing plan for a quick follow-up to this album much like More Fish was released months after Fishscale, but somehow that just doesn’t seem likely.

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