In the interest of variation, I didn’t really want to review another Wu-Tang album so soon, but hey…it just worked out that way.
As far as I can tell, there’s two types of Ghost fans – ones who think ‘Ironman’ is his best album, and many more who prefer ‘Supreme Clientele.’ I’m in the former camp, wearing out my copy of that album way more than this. It’s one of my favourite rap albums of all time. But there’s no doubt that this was a classic album existing at a time when not only the Wu had arguably fallen off, but the East coast rap scene was entering an era of unprecedented commercial success at the cost of a messy creative slump where the sample heavy sound was being traded in for a profit-boosting MIDI-heavy direction. Hip-hop was probably sick of paying out royalties, and even worse – being sued by old musicians and their estates. It’s understandable, but in my opinion at least, rap always struggled to sound authentic without samples – up until Atlanta figured out how to make rap’s own nihilistic brand of heavy metal – trap music. Don’t get me wrong, the dirty south and west coast g-funk had their own sounds on lock, but back then, it was New York that ruled rapland. As the South began to rise, the East tried to adapt – an awkward process that still exists to this day. Anyway I digress…
This album bucks that trend, with a host of glorious sample-led beats produced by mainly lesser known contributors, but reportedly all overseen by The RZA, who himself was going through a tough production (d)evolution. No signs of that here – the beats are absolutely stellar all the way through and are the project’s biggest strength. ‘Ghost Deini’ is The RZA at his most ruggedly delicate, and ‘Stroke of Death’ is cheeky creativeness that just happened to be genius.
But what would it be without Ghostface? He’s always been a rapper rich in both style and substance – top 3 MC in the Wu for sure. With charisma arguably only topped by Ol’ Dirty; visceral, vivid storytelling skills perhaps matched only by BFF Raekwon and easily the winner of the conveyor of emotion crown within the clan. This emotion is in how he tells the stories, not necessarily the content of the story so much – but then, that’s always going to be more of a subtle, underlying element when these stories are fables from the streets Ghostface spent his younger years, undoubtedly forced to act like a man shielded in iron – in the face of rival gangs and imminent police intervention – cold on the outside but incredibly thoughtful and creative internally. Don’t expect any ‘I Can’t Go To Sleep’ moments here, but Ghost always manages to weave a little vulnerability into the tough guy braggadocio. And there’s braggadocio in spades – Ghost sounds genuinely disgusted by the caliber of rappers in the game at the time – always finding creative ways to boast that most can’t hold a candle to his descriptive genius. And he’s not wrong. Fuck rapping, Ghost is a true poet.
Now, I wouldn’t skip a moment of the aforementioned debut album ‘Ironman,’ it’s just amazing songs back-to-back – but this album suffers from some horrendously drawn out skits. Maybe their content goes way over the head of a British whiteboy like myself, but the penultimate ‘Clyde Smith’ in particular clocks in at almost 3 minutes, consisting of a pitched down voice rambling on about what appears to be a series of in-jokes. The entire Wu family may have been rolling around the studio in stitches at the time, but this along with the other skits are truly detrimental to the flow of the album and stop it from reaching unskippable masterpiece status even if the songs were all good enough without them – which I would personally say they’re just short of anyway.
For example, there’s two loaded Wu posse cuts, which on paper should be absolute slobberknockers. The beats are on point but the guest verses just don’t quite make the Wu classic grade. The Cappadonna from ‘Winter Warz’ doesn’t quite turn up on ‘Buck 50’ or ‘ Wu Banga 101’. All members contribute good verses, but theres just an intangible hunger missing from that 1993-1998 heyday.
This album is a classic in the context of the time, but my hindsight remains the same as my feelings when it was released – it’s not quite the masterpiece many people claim it to be. This album is great, but I’ll be taking my copy of ‘Ironman’ to the desert island instead.
Best songs: ‘Ghost Deini’; ‘Stroke of Death’; ‘Malcolm’; ‘Cherchez la Ghost’; ‘One’; ‘Nutmeg’
Worst songs: The skits
Please leave your comments below on mine and your own thoughts, I want to hear them!