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Album Review: Adrian Younge Presents: Twelve Reasons to Die II by Ghostface Killah
Very Good, Based on 13 Critics
Drowned In Sound - 80 Based on rating 8/10
Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah’s Twelve Reasons To Die series plays out as a parallel universe steeped in violence and mob sensibilities. An exaggerated gangster fiction, depicting a blood strewn world which takes as much influence from the twists and turns of familiar Mafioso plot lines as it does from the stylised violence of far eastern martial arts flicks. The two complement each other incredibly well and is something that Wu-Tang have been making a career out of for the past 20 years.
Coming hot on the heels of Sour Soul, Ghostface's collaborative album with Toronto jazz band BadBadNotGood, this second 2015 LP reunites the Wu-Tang rapper with film composer Adrian Younge and acts as a sequel to the pair's critically acclaimed 2013 release, Twelve Reasons to Die. "Here's twelve more reasons to die!" Ghost declares on "Return of the Savage," giving up the album's alternative title, although Younge's music alone would alert fans that this is the sequel, as '70s funk and that era's Euro-slasher film soundtracks continue to frame the rapper's story of Mafioso warfare. The gritty electro found on "Powerful One" and the eerie-crossing-into-indie sound of "Resurrection Morning" widen the spectrum ever so slightly, while most everything else sounds like Curtis Mayfield and Ennio Morricone were genetically spliced together, and judging from Ghostface's enthusiasm and heightened inspiration, that's just what the rapper ordered.
New Musical Express (NME) - 80 Based on rating 4/5
This sequel to the Wu-Tanger’s 2013 concept album reunites him with producer-composer Adrian Younge. As well as continuing the labyrinthine plot from the first record – the backstory, in which the supernatural intersects with 1960s Italian mobsters, is voiced here by RZA – Ghost and Younge revisit the first instalment’s sparkling soundbed. Arguably Wu-Tang’s most talented MC: his third album in as many years shows he’s on a streak that’s both prolific and high quality.
Ghostface Killah’s renaissance – see his solo album 36 Seasons, and Sour Soul, the collaboration with jazz trio BadBadNotGood – continues with the second instalment of his hardboiled hip-hop caper made with Adrian Younge, LA producer and soundtrack composer: Younge’s lavish, jazz- and soul-tinged production providing the aural red carpet for one of rap’s greatest yarn-spinners. The story – featuring Ghostface as Tony Starks, the betrayed gangster who gets stabbed in the back by the DeLuca crime family – is at times ridiculously bellicose (the closing track, Life’s a Rebirth, makes the end of The Wild Bunch seem tame), but these kinds of over-the-top payoffs are what the Wu Tang Clan have always traded in. RZA’s narration and appearances from Raekwon (who plays Starks’ avenger, Lester Kane) keep the Wu connection alive, but cameos from Vince Staples (Get the Money) and Bilal (Resurrection Morning) make sure it’s not the same old faces going over the same ground.
The first Twelve Reasons to Die scanned like gangster fan fiction. It's Wu-Tang revisionist mob history, the rap equivalent of retroactively inserting Captain America into the World War II timeline. Longtime Ghostface Killah alter ego Tony Starks—Marvel's Iron Man, repurposed—acts as the enforcer for the DeLucas, a Cosa Nostra-esque crime family terrorizing 1960s Italy.
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.
Ghostface Killah has always served as the Wu Tang Clan’s Quentin Tarantino-in-residence. Where his partner-in-rhyme Raekwon’s braggadocio sprang from a hard-boiled Scorsese-style underworld, Ghostface was always more in tune to the technicolor excess that gave Pulp Fiction its DayGlo sheen. The throwback blaxploitation that runs through so much of Ghost’s catalog has realized its most complete manifestation in his latest release, 12 Reasons to Die II.
Twelve Reasons to Die II may be a Ghostface Killah album, but fellow Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Raekwon gives reliably solid turns on five of the 13 songs. The Chef's gruesome lyrics on early track "Return Of The Savage," are complemented by that tune's sudden organ note jabs, along with Ghost's spirited but simplistic chorus chanting and his competent, yet brief, closing verse.It's a summation of why fans have had so many gripes with Ghost lately. While he may be more prolific than ever (dropping more than an album a year since 2013 if you include his collaborative Sour Soul LP with BADBADNOTGOOD in February), most of those releases have been saturated with enough guests to sideline the once tenacious Tony Starks.
Although its two installments have been marketed as concept albums, Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge’s Twelve Reasons to Die series is really more of a rock opera. And I will always prefer the rock opera over the concept album. That’s not to say that the rock opera is always better than the concept album. It’s just an art form that’s inherently more risky and thus, more interesting — a collection of songs that, in addition to being thematically connected, must form a coherent narrative arc.
If Ghostface isn’t the greatest rapper of all time — and he might be — he’s at least the most detailed: Fishscale’s “Shakey Dog” cycles through most of the five senses in its first minute: “Backseat with my leg all stiff,” “Whip smellin’ like fish from 125th,” et cetera, finally introducing a 77-year-old lady with a shopping cart who turns out to be a hitwoman. But that album turns ten next March. Ever since Dennis Coles’ Def Jam deal fizzled following his riskiest creative venture ever, 2009’s drastically underrated R&B pastiche Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, his work has suffered from a lack of (his own) interest.
Over the last two years Ghostface has been Wu Tang's busiest body: Die II comes on the back of the superb Sour Soul (with BADBADNOTGOOD), which was fresh off 36 Seasons, which was a year removed from the original Twelve Reasons To Die. Adrian Younge's film score-like production on this latest team-up doesn't feel as atmospheric or inspired as their first go-round; and despite casting Raekwon and RZA in a '70s crime story, this isn't among Ghostface's better-realized concepts. While this prolific streak has coincided with some of Ghostface's best work since Fischscale, this sequel record may signal a loss of steam.
There are no stunning levels of innovation and originality evident on Twelve Reasons to Die II; Ghostface Killah has been frequenting similarly gristly and gun-wielding organised crime milieu throughout his solo career, notably on 2006’s drug-slinging opus Fishscale. Starring Wu-Tang Clan partners Raekwon (voicing the character of gangster overlord Lester Kane) and RZA (as the narrator), however, the sequel to 2013's Twelve Reasons to Die is anything but routine and phoned-in. Mr.
In the second part in this comic-book--inspired album trilogy, a supernatural Mafia story set in 1970s New York, Ghostface Killah stars as his Tony Starks alter ego alongside his Wu-Tang Clan cohorts Raekwon, RZA and of-the-moment- rapper Vince Staples, among others. Ghostface and Raekwon (who appears on five tracks) have an easy rapport that reminds us why they’re one of hip-hop’s most endearing duos, but it’s really Adrian Younge’s soul-fired analog production and its near-constant barrage of dusty percussion that set the mood for the album’s Tarantino-esque blood lust and fetishistic nostalgia. What it lacks is an interesting emotional – and thus truly cinematic – dimension.