Release Date: Apr 16, 2013
Record label: Relativity
Genre(s): Rap, East Coast Rap, Hardcore Rap
This "groundbreaking concept album" (as the press release calls it) tells the story of an internecine mafia war, which erupts when Ghostface Killah's alter-ego, mobster Tony Starks, a member of the Deluca crime family, falls in love with "Logan," a woman from the Deluca's circle – and I'm falling fast asleep trying to recount these ludicrous plot details. Ignore the banal "concept" altogether, and focus instead on Ghostface, whose shaggy, breathless flow remains one of pop's most transfixing sounds, whether cooing endearments to the object of his affection ("The Center of Attraction") or spitting out silly drug-trade lyrics ("The coke was brought in from bad Colombian mules"). Younge's production, combining breaks with live instruments, is familiar Blaxploitation soundtrack-style stuff – a touch dull but not intrusive, it doesn’t detract from Ghost's riveting presence.
To immerse oneself in Twelve Reasons to Die is to go swimming in a pool of pulp entertainment so deep and so intoxicating that it’s probably best to fall back on producer and composer Adrian Younge’s own words to describe it: Younge’s breathless excitement for the project is palpable enough to animate those dead words taxidermied across your screen above. That same excitement animates every second of Twelve Reasons, an album that is at once a blaxploitation shocker cutting a violent swath through an oppressive white hierarchy, a gangster epic chronicling the rise and fall of a criminal kingpin, a campy superhero origin myth, a grisly EC Comics horror story, and a blood-soaked Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy. At this point in his career, Ghostface could be forgiven for just sticking with what works.
Wu-Tang rapper Ghostface Killah is no stranger to the concept album, having just dropped the R&B pillow-talk effort Ghostdini the Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City in 2009, but Twelve Reasons to Die is something bigger, and better. Produced entirely by film composer Adrian Younge, this creepy cool effort is a comic book on wax that relates to a real series of comic books released by executive producer RZA's Soul Temple imprint. On top of that, it's influenced heavily by the Italian murder mystery/slasher film genre known as giallo, where everything is smoky, sinister, and '70s, and while that may sound complicated, overwrought, and insider, the end product is none of the above.
In the manner of sporadic fellow travelers Quentin Tarantino and Jim Jarmusch, the diasporic endurance of the Wu-Tang Clan represents a real coup for nerd culture. Ghostface Killah, gangster persona and all, is no exception. His latest album, Adrian Younge Presents Twelve Reasons to Die, recounts the spaghetti-western origin myth of Ghostface's longtime alter ego Tony Starks, who, we now learn for the first time, rose to prominence as a cocaine-rich foot soldier in the Deluca mafia super-syndicate.
Aside from the ever-changing musical identity of RZA (or Bobby Digital, Prince Rakeem, etc.), Ghostface Killah has arguably been the Wu-Tang Clan’s most multifarious member as well as one of the most active. After dabbling in the R&B scene and handling collaborative efforts with east coast brethren Sheek Louch, Method Man and Raekwon, Ghost now teams up with composer Adrian Younge for a project that could have been green-lit by Quentin Tarantino. Built around the cinematic events of a comic book by the same name, Twelve Reasons To Die follows Tony Starks, a gangster upstart who lands himself in a deadly clash with the DeLucas.
Ghostface Killah's rep for vivid, cinematic street narratives is well established, but in recent years the potency of his gritty yarns has been diluted by the spotty quality of his output. Twelve Reasons to Die marks a return to form and co-collaborator Adrian Younge is the primary reason why. A multi-instrumentalist and producer who came to create classic soul after knocking beats out on samplers, Younge is an apt foil for Ghostface's rhymes, which have always liberally cribbed from sweeping '70s orchestral soul.
Ghostface KillahTwelve Reasons to Die[Soul Temple Records / RED Distribution; 2013]By Chul Gugich; April 18, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGObscure soul revivalist Adrian Younge likes to dream up artistic worlds that are holistic in scope, where different musical flights of fancy are plucked from disparate genres and reassembled into vanity pieces that reflect the man’s obsessions. He likes the pulp of blaxploitation flicks and of kung-fu folklore, the camp of spaghetti westerns, and the sleaze of softcore porn soundtracks. In a recent interview with Fresh Air he revealed that, while he came up on hip-hop, he finds the lack of composition in its beats unsatisfying, hence his preference in reviving the cult career of 1970s soul group The Delfonics as opposed to, say, doing one-offs with MF Doom.
When I saw Ghostface perform with Adrian Younge at SXSW last month, it seemed like the two hadn't figured each other out at all. Younge's band would launch into thrilling versions of classics like "Buck 50", then lurch to a halt while Younge demanded we pay our respects. Ghostface stood by, looking bewildered and clearly just wanting to rap. After several false starts, Younge asked Ghostface if he wanted to rap over vinyl; "I'll do anything you want," Ghostface said, somewhat plaintively.
It’s approaching the 20th anniversary of the release of Wu Tang clan's landmark debut, and Ghostface still retains a heavy presence in the hip-hop world. He’s proved himself to be the most consistent Wu Gambino through his rapid workaholic output, releasing some of the few highlights of the 2000's sparse rap landscape, Fishscale accompanying albums such as Madvillainy in the decade's greatest rap releases. His flirtation with R&B and guest stars on Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City proved to be a bit of a misstep, but the fairly low key release of its successor, Rise of the Apollo Kids, once again returned to friendly territory and strong rapping fare.
The Wu-Tang Clan veteran has clearly found a new sonic chum in composer Adrian Younge, not least because his obsessions – Ennio Morricone, spaghetti schlock, baroque instrumentation – aren’t a million miles away from Ghostface’s previous sonic chum RZA. The rapper’s 12th album is billed as companion music to a ’60s Italian-styled horror film and it sounds like it, all harpsichords and sepulchral organs, eerie lady vocals and reverb-soaked guitars. Ghostface calls upon most of the remaining Clan members, switches the formula occasionally and hey presto, yet another minor Wu-Tang classic 20 years on from their debut.Pete Cashmore .
In the six years since Ghostface’s last critical smash, Fishscale, Dennis Coles has spent most of that time as an ambassador for straight up, no-nonsense gutter rap. Aside from the Ghostdini record, an R&B-infused pop album that will likely remain the most divisive moment of his career, projects like Apollo Kids, Wu-Block and Wu-Massacre have all invited an atmosphere of returning to the basics of hard drums and harder rhymes. It’s been a good period for heavy Ghostface Killah heads, but anyone looking for that little extra hook like a “Be Easy” or “Tush” weren’t going to get it.
As far as alter egos go, Ghostface Killah couldn’t have chosen a more apropos one in Tony Starks: both he and the fictional Tony Stark/Iron Man made tragic circumstances into triumph. Iron Man turned a kidnapping plot and damaged ticker into a role as Marvel’s elite hero, while GFK spun life in the projects into a reign as rap kingpin. GFK explores those fictionalized origins in a new concept album, Twelve Reasons To Die, with composition by Black Dynamite composer Adrian Younge.
Having been in one of the greatest super-groups hip-hop has ever seen, Ghostface Killah has every right to just rest on his laurels and coast on his legacy for the rest of his career, but the prolific rapper never shies away from a new project. Back in September, he announced that he would be embarking on his tenth studio album, donned Twelve Reasons To Die. The album, produced by composer Adrian Younge (Black Dynamite soundtrack) and based off of a comic book with the same title, finds Ghostface and Younge combining their skills to craft songs that play with and test the boundaries of the familiar RZA-indebted sounds of ’90s rap.
Ghostface Killah wisely shakes up his aesthetic in this collaboration with composer Adrian Younge. It's a savvy pairing, as the Wu-Tang Clan MC flaunts his masterful narrative skills over powerfully evocative music. The set traces a black gangster's journey in Italy and his dark dealings with the mob. Power plays, seduction, retribution, and a hallucinatory resurrection all ensue.
With 20 years of experience and a resumé of critically acclaimed albums, Ghostface Killah has established himself as one of hip-hop’s most consistent and reliable acts. With 12 Reasons to Die, the Wu-Tang veteran joins forces with composer Adrian Younge. The result is a gritty partnership of live instrumentation and lyrical slaughter. On 12 Reasons to Die, Ghostface is in full Tony Starks mode, looking to exact revenge on the DeLuca crime family that betrayed him.
There aren't too many albums, hip-hop or otherwise, that necessitate a plot summary before you can get down to pontificating, but Twelve Reasons To Die, Ghostface Killah's new horror hip-hop opera, necessitates it. Not knowing its plot would be like talking about the final court scene in Goodfellas without having watched the rest of the movie. You can get into the nuances of the scene that make it great if you possess an overly-analytical, critical mind, but some or most of the emotional weight is lost if you don't know and care about what Jimmy and Paulie have been through with Henry before he betrays them.