(Island Def Jam) The new Ghostface album is the classic that you would expect...if you've been paying attention to Ghost....which, it seems, not enough people have. It seems as though a lot of people have been completely missing out on Ghostface records, and really any Wu-Tang records over the past few years (with the possible exception of Ghost's R&B experiment). Honestly, 2007's The Big Doe Rehab is an excellent album, and I know exactly twelve people who have heard it, and nine of them heard it at my house, so I'm hoping Apollo Kids gets the heat it deserves.
Throughout Apollo Kids, Ghostface Killah stays on point. Like the legendary New York emcee that he is, Ghost creates innovative and highly specific worlds of true crime and B movies, Gucci leathers, and two-dollar wave caps, expensive vodkas & bodega snacks, all types of pastas and automobiles, conversations in Spanglish and Itanglish (I invented that word), nice loafers and fresh fruit, dirty burners, women with nice nails and dumpy apartments, obscure similes, and cultural insights. Ghost proves that he still has the ability to tell a story so full of particular detail that, if it isn't true, it should be. Personally, I think classic Ghostface tales, like "All That I Got Is You" and "Yolanda's House," could stand toe to toe with Biggie's "Juicy" and "I Got A Story To Tell," and the tracks on Apollo Kids are no different. Even if Ghost isn't telling a story, however, he stays hip hop. His verses have subjects and throughlines. He never spits random stock lines and never falls back on punchlines to make his verses pop. This is particularly refreshing, because right now, all of the hottest mainstream rappers are punchline rappers, or singers. As great as they are, Lil Wayne verses tend to be filled with clever but meaningless boasts; Kanye verses play like a standup act full of excellent but random jokes, as if all of his ideas emerge in studio rather than in real life. And that's not easy to do or hard to listen to, but it's good to hear some East Coast rap again. You'll never hear Ghost singing cheesy hooks or throwing you melodic Mother Goose verses. And there's no autotune. In traditional (yet refreshing) fashion, Apollo Kids draws clear lines between the verses and choruses. The hooks are short, catchy, and separate, reminding those who have forgotten that this isn't trance, this isn't pop, this ain't no boy band--this is hip hop. Remember, Wu-Tang is the crew that invented the term R&B (rap & bullshit).
At the risk of sounding regionalist (or coining the phrase regionalist), it may be that only East Coast emcees can do what Ghostface does. Most of the guests on this record are usual suspects, and most of them turn in sick verses. On the track "In Tha Park," (which is about east coast hip hop), Black Thought kills it. Raekwon, Busta Rhymes, Killa Priest, Gza, and Method Man all turn in hot verses that clearly communicate the intricacies of a very specific culture--one that only exists between The Bronx and DC. Maybe it's an East Coast thing. Then again, maybe it's a matter of age. It could be that these emcees (all around forty years old) represent the last generation of emcees who truly paid dues and made it on their own--the last generation of emcees who grew up in the cypher and emerged from the underground via the sweat of their own brows. Before the Wu-Tang sound surfaced, no one could've imagined it. Wu-Tang was/is a true crew (and a family...RZA, GZA, and ODB are cousins) with a very specific style. Their sound only could've been developed by eight dudes from Staten Island and one wild cat from BK. It only could've come from a group insular enough to create its own secret language and spread that language without any outside interference. So maybe it's not an East Coast thing or an age thing so much as it is a family affair. Maybe most rap isn't regional or specific or exclusive anymore because rap crews aren't rap crews anymore. Most rap crews now are industry people who know each other through work. I'm not implying that they are any less talented as entertainers, but they can't do what a crew does. For instance, if the Wu is a crew, Young Money is a cast. There is no way that Nicki Minaj (an actress from LaGuardia Arts) and Drake (a rich kid who found success acting on Nickelodeon) could guest on a Lil Wayne track and tell stories about New Orleans the way Meth and Raekwon can guest on a Ghostface track and tell stories about Staten Isle. I digress.
As far as the beats are concerned, Ghost primarily sticks with the '70s sounds over hittin' beats that we all want from his albums. There are no Saturday Kung Fu samples and no mob movie snippets, but there are plenty of tasty and obscure R&B and Soul samples from the likes of The Intruders and Roy Ayers. There are horns, guitars, and basses that could've easily come from an exploitation soundtrack. And beyond all of this, there is "Black Tequila," which sounds like it could be a Morricone score, and there is "Starkology," which I'm pretty sure borrows some sound effects from the original Star Wars. Starks is expanding his '70s universe into spaghetti westerns and budget sci-fi. There's really not much else to say about it. The beats are almost all bangers, and the samples will definitely be new to most younger fans so everything comes off super fresh.
Long story short: If you're from NY, Dirty Jerz, Philly, B-mo or DC, or over sixteen years old, you need this album. I don't know if other people will appreciate it to the same extent that we will, but I hope so.
For Fans Of: Wu-Tang Clan, The Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Dead Prez
Standout Tracks: "2Getha Baby," "Troublemakers," "Purified Thoughts"