It’s safe to say Ghostface Killah has found his new niche. Starting with 2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die, he’s asked various producers (in order: Adrian Younge, the Revelations, and BBNG) to provide him with 1970s-inspired, soundtrack-esque beats while he lays down heavy-concept and light-affect verses on top. With Twelve Reasons to Die, this was just what he needed, and indeed, he played his new role to perfection. And why wouldn’t he? The new Tony Starks was essentially the old Tony Starks, just in a different era. But with 36 Seasons, Sour Soul and now the proper sequel, he seems stagnant: relying on the story, the cinematic beats and the live band as a crutch.
Want proof? Twelve Reasons to Die II barely clock over the 30-minute mark (compared to the 40-minute albums of Twelve Reasons to Die or Sour Soul) and that’s included the time devoted to interludes, and in this album’s case, additional narration from RZA so we understand the story.
A question: who really cares about the concept? Are any of us that invested in a story where Ghostface Killah gets melted into twelve different vinyl records and who becomes resurrected when they’re played? Didn’t think so.
All that being said, it’s still hard to complain. Ghostface Killah’s consistent solo career is a point of jealousy amongst his fellow Wu-Tang Clan members, and brevity aside, there isn’t much wrong with Twelve Reasons to Die II. Among the flaws, the beat of posse cut “Death’s Invitation” is too sparse (or too slow) to handle the four rappers (and the laser-hook is recycled on “Resurrection Morning” anyway), and the transitions in “Let the Record Spin” could have been handled better. The residual momentum from the verses, plus those climactic chords, all crash clumsily into the choruses.
The main difference between the sequel and the original is Raekwon, the secondary character of the story, and who was absent throughout Twelve Reasons to Die. Compared to Fly International Luxurious Art released earlier this year, Raekwon sounds at home here, either because of the beats or because Ghostface’s inspiring presence, or perhaps both. Take “Blackout” for example (not to be confused with “Black Out”, from The Man With the Iron Fists) where Ghostface Killah takes a step back and basically plays hook-man for Raekwon’s excellent flow (“Relentless, murderous intentions / The henchmen’s garments”; “tunes are suicidal / And now we ain’t homies, they call us the homicidal / Get ready for the mayhem, just call it my arrival”). Elsewhere, Raekwon’s gritty imagery far surpasses Ghostface’s verse on opening “Return of the Savage”: “Decapitating heads like a journalist snatched with Isis” and “I blammed them / Taking their tops off like a convertible dry burgundy phantom.”
Actually, as on Sour Soul, the highlights on Twelve Reasons to Die II all go to the features. Ghostface can’t keep up with the weaving piano and breakneck speed of “Rise Up,” so he doesn’t even try, letting Scarub do the heavy-lifting. Elsewhere, Vince Staples steals the show on “Get the Money” (though Ghostface gets the last laugh with the headscratcher, “We crippled ‘em, but they go deeper then white meat”) and Lyrics Born walks away with the best line on “Death’s invitation” (“… irrefutable stench of mutilated flesh and the death of human beings”).
And of course, Adrian Younge delivers for the second time this year (recall: Bilal’s In Another Life, released just one week prior). The details, in order: there’s the soul sample driving “Return of the Savage”; the anxious guitar line throughout “King of New York”; the incredibly fluid bass line and muscular drum rolls that would make “Get the Money” an easy highlight even if Staples wasn’t involved; the triumphant one-note hook leading into the impressive keyboard melody of “Blackout.” Meanwhile, Bilal adds impressive shading to “Resurrection Morning.”
While quality control can only help Ghostface Killah (four albums in three years) so long as he keeps working with producers as talented as Adrian Younge, he’ll keep delivering solid albums.