With a title that refers to nine years away from home, 36 Seasons finds Wu-Tang rapper Ghostface Killah returning to his Tony Starks character, who is himself returning home to a different and more dangerous Staten Island. Starks is just looking to spend his later years chilling in familiar territory, but as the action movie lyrics and the accompanying comic book written by Matthew Rosenberg, explain, betrayal and Berettas are everywhere, so Starks dons his gas mask and schools the hood on what's good. The concept and presentation are wonderfully reminiscent of the rapper's 2013 collaboration with Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die, but if that excellent album was influenced by the Italian murder mystery/slasher film genre known as giallo, this one is bringing '70s Blaxploitation films back with all their funk and flare.
Fulfilling the wildest dreams of nerds everywhere, Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah has released his 11th solo album, a comic book-rap concept project called 36 Seasons based on the storyline by Matthew Rosenberg. Ghost has always been considered a master of storytelling, and on 36 Seasons, he paints the usual sordid pictures in his songs, except this time he's cast an all-star team —Kool G Rap, AZ, Pharoahe Monch and others — as characters in an audio comic that's as action-packed as a kung-fu film. Throughout the entire project Ghost is also lent a musical hand by the vintage southern soul sounds of Brooklyn band the Revelations, who even cover '70s soul hit "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" and close the album with the entirely instrumental "I Love You For All Seasons.
Starting around 2001’s Bulletproof Wallets, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah has incorporated wide-ranging musical styles and structures into his solo albums, with varying degrees of success. With some exceptions (like his sexed-up Missy Elliott collaboration “Tush”, off 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album, and 2009’s R&B exploration Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City), most of Ghost’s albums since Supreme Clientele have sounded like ’90s East Coast rap even as they favored melody and chord progression over the choppier, more barren hardcore sounds the RZA built the Wu empire on. Following last year’s Twelve Reason to Die, a collaboration with Los Angeles composer Adriane Young that owed to the Italian murder mystery/slasher film genre giallo, Ghost has teamed with Brooklyn band The Revelations for vintage grooves on his 11th solo album, 36 Seasons.
The catalog of Ghostface Killah is an impressive one. With the release of his new album, 36 Seasons, Tony Starks has now dropped eleven albums in 18 years. And consistency has always been key. On Ironman, he introduced Wu-Tang fans to his own brand of storytelling and relied on it for most of his subsequent work.
Members of veteran NYC rap collective the Wu-Tang Clan have always been wide-ranging with their references. Now, to the cast of martial artists, mafiosi and chess masters thronging their records, Ghostface Killah has added a Homeric hero of sorts. On his 11th solo album, a man returns home after a nine-year absence to find a suitor lording it over his turf, where his name has “faded out like some old dead socks”.
While Ghostface Killah’s Wu-Tang career has been spent in the shadow of his more colourful colleagues, a prolific solo oeuvre has seen him blossom into one of hip-hop’s most revered artists. This latest effort (issued a mere week after Wu-Tang’s A Better Tomorrow) revisits his favoured form of the concept album with a reprisal of the Tony Starks alias, here returning to a much-changed Staten Island after nine years away, determined to clean up its crime-ridden streets and get back his girl. With an accompanying graphic novel by Matthew Rosenberg and notable cameos by the likes of Kool G Rap, AZ and Pharoahe Monch, production duties are handled by Brooklyn revivalists The Revelations, who drive Stark’s tale with a raft of polished, live soulful grooves.
36 Seasons was released the week after Wu-Tang Clan’s new album, A Better Tomorrow, and the way Ghostface has just moved on with his solo career in the face of a new Wu-Tang album – which should be an event, at least a celebration of the group’s 20-plus years – is curious. Granted, it might not be a bad move to just head on to the next project, to get out from under the expectations A Better Tomorrow shoulders and ultimately can’t live up to. Ghostface Killah has plenty in the works: another Wu Block album, a collaborative record with BADBADNOTGOOD, all following 36 Seasons.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: dashing bon vivant Tony Stark is mangled in a horrifying accident on the job, is resurrected by a confluence of mad science and divine intervention, strikes out to defend his turf and smite his enemies. This is the basic origin story of “Iron Man”, the comic book franchise that gave Ghostface Killah, aka Tony Starks, his first album title and likely, his last shot at a major movie role. It is also the essence of 2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die, where a linear narrative of revenge was told over live-band, time-stamped soul music with the guidance of a young and new collaborator.
Here’s an idea: Take Ghostface Killah, pair him with a distinct producer or production team, assign him an album-length concept, then let him rip. That formula proved so winning on last year’s Twelve Reasons To Die, Ghostface’s collaboration with composer Adrian Younge, that nobody can fault his latest album 36 Seasons for trying to repeat it. This time production duties fall to The Revelations, a Brooklyn soul outfit whose original material could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a lost Blaxploitation film.
Street-level mythology is always a winning strategy for Ghostface Killah, both in and beyond the Wu-Tang Clan. “36 Seasons” (Salvation/Tommy Boy), due out on Tuesday — one week after “A Better Tomorrow” (Warner Bros.), the latest Wu-Tang solidarity project — continues his recent custom ….
Ghostface Killah follows up last year’s impressive “12 Reasons to Die” with a similarly conceived project detailing the dark exploits of his alter ego, Tony Starks, over organic R&B and funk produced by his backing band, the Revelations. Part crime drama, part love story, part superhero fable, this has more emotional resonance than “12 Reasons,” but it lacks the kaleidoscopic musical vision of composer-producer Adrian Younge. Eleven solo records in, Ghost remains one of the great narrative MCs; even without his patented hallucinatory allusions, the lean, dexterous verses are undeniably potent.
It's a bold move for a member of the Wu-Tang Clan to name a solo album after "36" of anything. But Ghostface Killah's "36 Seasons" is much more than an allusion to his group's beloved 1993 album, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)." It's an urgent, soulfully steely album of hip-hop unconcerned with the genre's current twists into pop structures and woozy electronics. Recorded with the Brooklyn production crew and live band the Revelations, "36 Seasons" rides a tight mix of live and digitally treated instrumentation that conjures up the '70s soul of Ghostface's youth and the '90s boom-bap rap of his career's ascent.