If you were to compare solo career resumes, Ghostface Killah has probably been the most prolific of the Wu-Tang Clan members. Ironman, Fishscale and Supreme Clientele are all staples of any self-respecting hip-hop collection, and his reputation within the world of rap music is beyond reproach. That being said, Ghostface has been in somewhat of a slump of late, with three passable albums on the bounce leaving a noticeable smudge on his impressive discography. A fresh approach was needed — and fortunately, Twelve Reasons to Die is just that.
Most of the credit for this new direction actually belongs to Adrian Younge, the man behind both the concept of the material and the production of the album. His previous work on the Black Dynamite film score had piqued the interest of Soul Temple Records, the home of Ghostface, which is co-owned by another illustrious Wu-Tang member, RZA. Younge was asked to develop a new project, and what he came up with was a detailed Italian crime story coupled with a smooth, soulful range of organic instrumentation. Make no mistake, this is a film being told through the medium of music, and Younge is the perfectionist director at the helm.
His story is this — an enforcer for the powerful and notorious DeLuca crime family, Tony Starks, is killed in cold blood by his employers before his melted remains are forged into a series of LPs. When these records are played, the physical manifestation of Ghostface Killah appears, eager for bloodshed and revenge on DeLuca and his evil henchmen. It’s an ambitious narrative that works remarkably well for one reason — Ghostface is one of the few people in hip-hop with an imagination vivid enough to make you suspend your disbelief. He simply lives the persona that Younge has presented him, relishing in every twist and turn.
What makes Twelve Reasons so unique, though, is Younge’s fantastically rich backdrop. He orchestrates with staggering maturity, utilizing a whole host of live instruments, from drums to pianos to strings, aided by fierce basslines and gospel vocal samples. He is also a tinker, constantly challenging Ghostface with shifting time signatures and key changes, but thankfully they are taken in the stride of the veteran rapper with nonchalant ease. All manner of soul-based styles run through the core of the album, and all of them carry this tangible cinematic quality, weaving around Ghostface’s gritty delivery as if the pair had been working together all their lives. In some ways, the production is a throwback to the sound of hip-hop in the 90s — fitting given that’s the era in which Ghostface made his name in the first place.
Twelve Reasons to Die is a welcome return to form for Ghostface Killah, and a huge indication of the talent possessed by Adrian Younge. Perhaps by not being responsible for every facet of the story, Ghostface is able to fully concentrate on fleshing out the characters, much like a skilled method actor on set of a big production. Granted, if you look beneath the veneer of the context and analyse the sub-plots, its just an album about violence as a response to violence, but honestly, I think that’s what we all expected in the first place.
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