Release Date: Feb 24, 2015
Record label: Lex
Aesop Rock :: The Impossible KidRhymesayers EntertainmentAuthor: Sy ShacklefordComplex, bizarre, and disjointed are words often associated with Aesop Rock. His lyrics and wordplay have been difficult to decipher, but meaning can still be derived from them. His 2001 track "Labor" became a rallying ….
A shared love of hip hop was all that was required to set Matthew A Tavares, Chester Hansen and Alexander Sowinski on the road to becoming hot property in the genre’s production game. Three Toronto guys in their early twenties, who met through a jazz program at the city’s Humber College and bonded over MF Doom and Odd Future, have found themselves working with their heroes in both the studio (‘Hoarse’ from Earl Sweatshirt’s Doris; ‘Float On’ from Danny Brown’s Old) and the live arena (playing with both Frank Ocean and Tyler, The Creator in recent years). And now, five years after first meeting, Badbadnotgood are about to release a collaborative record with Staten Island’s ‘Rap Champ’ that’ll almost certainly go down as one of the best albums of the year.
Who would of thought that a collaboration between Shaolin mastermind Ghostface Killah and Toronto jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD would not be bad or good, but exceptional. That’s how I feel about Sour Soul, Ghostface’s first release of 2015. The meticulous jazz of the trio complements Ghostface’s trigonometric slang. And what’s most amazing is the breadth of subject matter: from ruminations on life back in NYC as a “Stapleton nigga” to food advice: “eat fish, that brain food will get you smart.” A line like that could fit in a Michael Pollan book.
Ghostface Killah is all over the hip-hop map these days. The founding member of Wu-Tang Clan has built a small empire for himself, on the foundation of being one of the Wu’s central figures and his first two timeless solo LPs, Ironman and Supreme Clientele. Eighteen years after Ironman dropped, he now boasts more than 10 solo releases and has been teaming up with free jazz beat conductors as of late, on his recent Twelve Reasons to Die collab with soulful producer Adrian Younge and now with young Canadian jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD for Sour Soul.
Nearly a decade ago, the enduring Staten Island rapper Ghostface Killah put out a very good solo album called Fishscale, named after a particularly fine grade of cocaine. It coincided with a profile in the New Yorker, in which critic Sasha-Frere Jones described a telling moment at a 2006 gig. The rapper’s DJ put on an old soul record, My Ebony Princess, a sweet-natured 1975 single by Jimmy Briscoe & the Little Beavers.
Ghostface Killah has gotten around in the last three months. In December came the long-awaited new Wu-Tang record, A Better Tomorrow. A week later, Ghostface delivered his latest album: the quasi-concept LP 36 Seasons. Sour Soul, his third release in as many months, isn't technically his record—but it's the best of the lot.
Prolificity is a dangerous game amongst Hip Hop legends. It tests early work and current relevance and raises questions about consistency. Ghostface Killah is again offering himself up to those risks less than three months removed from his last album with what is now his dozenth solo release and third consecutive collaboration with a live band. Of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “upper tier” — a literal pay hierarchy that revealed itself in interviews leading up to the group’s last release — Ghostface has been the most dependable, even if sometimes perilously experimental (see the 2009 R&B effort Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City).
Ghostface Killah's 2015 collaboration with Toronto jazz/hip-hop trio BadBadNotGood seems to be turning his 2010s work into a themed trilogy, as his 2013 LP, Twelve Reasons to Die, found the Wu-Tang rapper partnering with Adrian Younge for a '70s slasher-themed release, while 2014's 36 Seasons was action movie-inspired and recorded with Brooklyn band the Revelations. Sour Soul is more abstract, as the title track tells the tale of a character that's a cross between Johnny Mnemonic and a pimp, while the music touches upon a wide range of soundtrack styles from the '60s and '70s, including the soft-porny "Stark's Reality," where vibes and strings float about the speakers. "Tone's Rap" is either semi-drunk funk or the sound of a warped Fat Albert record, and to their credit, BadBadNotGood are more soulful than usual, laying down grooves that could complement any adventurous MC.
Since the announcement that Toronto trio BadBadNotGood and Wu-Tang Klan’s Ghostface Killah would be working together, the products of their labour have been nothing if not hotly anticipated. In the last few years, BadBadNotGood have built up a reputation for producing explosive fusions that experiment with the traditional parameters of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music. Having collaborated with such hip hop heavyweights as Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean and Leland Whitty, their collaboration with Ghostface then seemed like something that would be a natural and exciting step for the trio.
Everything about the formula for Sour Soul screams instant classic. Toronto trio BadBadNotGood made a name for themselves over the last couple of years via a retro fusion of jazz and instrumental hip-hop. Part of that notoriety came from whip-smart covers of tracks by the likes of Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Flame, but also from imaginative, expressive originals — the keys/bass/drums trio acting as a younger generation of The Bad Plus, choosing their covers from the hip-hop and electronic canon rather than pop and rock.
Once upon a time, the prospect of hearing Ghostface over moody live-band psychedelic soul held promise. Twelve Reasons to Die dropped less than two years ago, and Adrian Younge’s outsized 8mm splatter-flick gloom funk was fresh enough to make the record sound something like a comeback. Ghost’s storytelling had certainly been stronger in the past, but at least he was spinning his conceptual tales over murky, time-faded R&B-noir.
Taken as a whole, the Wu-Tang Clan members are insanely prolific, yet there’s still a tendency to view anything related to the group through the lens of epic, especially releases from the most talented/popular/visible members. It helps that they channel larger-than-life news stories like crazy, from internal arguments over their last couple “reunion” albums to the latest, about the single-copy-only album that will reportedly be auctioned off to someone who can’t make it commercially available for 88 years.The Wu-Tang Clan tends to play up these myths and legends, even feed off them. They feed off their origin myth, off the ghost of ODB.
Toronto-based jazz and hip-hop trio BADBADNOTGOOD have come together with one of Wu-Tang Clan's most valuable emcees, Ghostface Killah, to produce Sour Soul. With a listening time of just over a half-hour, this short album of late night instrumentation showcases the Humber College dropouts reining in the expansive, layered compositions of jazz fusion and hip-hop mixtures they're known for in favour of more tightly packed 1970's-era action film rhythms and instrumentals, not unlike the ideas heard on Ghost's 2013 Adrian Younge-assisted project, Twelve Reasons to Die. On Sour Soul, the animated, impressive beats from BADBADNOTGOOD provide an interesting backdrop for the sometimes unvaried and off-kilter Ghostface Killah.
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah Sour Soul (Lex Records) While Wu-Tang Clan will reportedly wait 88 years to release its most recent album, Ghostface Killah just keeps pushing product. Three months removed from a collaboration with Brooklyn soul outfit the Revelations (36 Seasons) and less than two years from a co-production with Adrian Younge (Twelve Reason to Die), Pretty Toney is back, this time spitting darts over the brooding soul instrumentals of Canadian jazz trio Badbadnotgood. Sour Soul eschews the Tony Starks comic book concept narrative of the past two efforts in favor of some good old-fashioned coke rap and braggadocio: "You can't fuck with me nigga, this is one-on-one/ With the strength of 10 midgets I'ma murder you son!" The rap champ still keeps his Clarks "crispier than printed money" and offers pro tips to young drug runners on "Street Knowledge": "You can't run in skinny jeans, serve fiends by any means/ Sprinkle coke in the dust blunt to spice up the greens.
If you’ve been conscious of a Ghostface Killah release of late, it’s probably not this one. But while rap fans have spent the last few months being distinctly underwhelmed by Wu Tang’s A Better Tomorrow, New York’s Tony Starks has been beavering away elsewhere with prog-jazz protégés BADBADNOTGOOD. On paper, this collaboration is a music editor's masturbatory fantasy; underdog jazz trio partners with one of rap's most omnipotent voices on album created with strict adherence to 1960s and 70s recording techniques.