Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge Produce an Album That's a Movie

Twelve reasons to buy

Rappers get to tell more detailed stories. They have a higher wordcount. They can fit War & Peace into 16 bars where other genres only have room for a fairy tale. And no rap artist takes more advantage of this fact than Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, aka Ironman, aka Tony Stark, aka Pretty Tony, aka Ghostdini, as gifted a wordsmith and storyteller as has ever been seen in all of hip-hop.

Take "Shakey Dog," off 2006's masterful Fishscale. In it, Ghost is all bluster, rapping in double time about robbing a stash house, all the while doing that could-break-out-sobbing-or-yelling-at-any-moment thing he does so goddamn well. The short track—from planning the heist, executing the heist, and the heist going wrong—is filled with impossibly vivid color: goons eating T-bone steaks with caramelized onions, fried plantains, and rice while sitting on the couch watching Sanford & Son; guard dogs; a Spanish-speaking "big titty bitch" weighing out drugs; shots fired; aliases used. Dude can paint a picture.

Which is why Ghost's new project, Twelve Reasons to Die, from concept to execution, is so perfect. It's a cinematic tale, a movie as album. Twelve Reasons' co-writer and director, to extend the metaphor, is Adrian Younge, whose production work is steeped in the same kind of vintage soul sounds Ghost has made his name wheezing over for more than two decades.

"My whole studio is all analog," explains Adrian Younge, dipped in mostly Polo gear and nestled on a leather couch in a Williamsburg chop shop. "All old mics, old bass, all that shit. I approach music like a hip-hop producer that was producing in the 1960s." Everything in Younge's studio predates 1976. For this reason, and the crisp, funky, needle-to-the-record pop of Younge's past productions, the two seemed like natural collaborators.

"I'm a soul baby," says Ghost, backstage at The Late Show with Jimmy Fallon. (The emcee performed a track off Twelve Reasons, "I Declare War," earlier this month.) "I come from that era. I was born in 1970 so that type of music is just in me. That old shit, that fly shit . . . it sticks with you. I can do all genres but I like that chamber best."

The aesthetic dovetail Younge and Ghost share is why Bob Perry introduced the pair. Perry is partners with Wu Tang figurehead RZA in Soul Temple Records, which released the album. RZA also served as a Grand Poohba of sorts on Twelve Ways. His past productions have certainly influenced Younge's own style, and on this album in particular, he offered notes and advice where applicable. But it was mostly the result of Ghost and Younge, actor and director.

Twelve Reasons is crime saga. Younge wrote the script. "It's an Italian crime story from the late 1960s starring Anthony Starks. Starks is part of an Italian mob called the Twelve DeLucas. Because he's black, he can't rise above a certain rank. So he starts his own criminal faction against them, and they go to war."

A very detailed setup ensues in which Tony is betrayed by a woman he's fallen in love, leading him into the waiting arms of the DeLucas, who kill him by dropping him in a vat of vinyl. Twelve records are then made out of this vinyl as souvenirs of his death. Whenever one of the DeLucas plays one of the records, the spirit of Tony emerges and kills them. "It's a transformation from Anthony Starks to the Ghostface Killah," Younge says. "Thing is Ghost completely exceeded my expectations."

RZA agrees. "Ghost did his thing," he says while picking at a plate of rice, beans, and plantains in studio. "There were topics and guidelines, but Ghost expanded the story with his own creativity. But you have this guy, Adrian Younge, who has studied soul music and studied me as a producer and was able to catch the meaning of my albums. Like, for instance, to me, Cuban Linx [Wu Tang's Raekwon's solo album] was a movie. [GZA's album] Liquid Swords was an audio movie. This was the proper way to approach making music. And Adrian is a student of that."

Younge must've studied until his eyes bled because the chords he uses emote the same feelings a lot of RZA's earlier works did. "I would step in on occasion and make slight adjustments," says RZA. "But I was careful to not overshadow Adrian's choices and allow it to be a reflection of his creativity."

Younge's creativity offered Ghost a platform.

"It was easy because Adrian Younge, he had a real clear idea of how the concept should go," Ghost says. "I just had to play the hit man and murder the tracks he sent me. He gave me some direction, you know, the foundation was already laid out so it was just about execution. And the foundation that was laid out is important to me. That record needle popping and the dusty vintage becomes more [precious] as we get further away from that time period. That's why Adrian deserves mad credit for re-creating that."

"When I'm creating music I always ask myself, 'Why should someone care about this with the thousands of kids making music nowadays?'" Younge says, tweaking knobs and pushing buttons on the mixing console as Twelve track "Enemies All Around Me" bumps from the monitors. "Once I thought of the script and the details in the script, I knew that people would care. And I hope I'm right."

Twelve Reasons to Die is out now

 
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3 comments
Naida GD
Naida GD

Almost 5,000 Palestinian prisoners - 235 children - are held in 27 Israeli jails and detention centres. More than 100 have been in prison for more than 20 years. About 200 are "administrative detainees", prisoners held without charge, including 14 elected members of the Palestinian legislature. Nearly all the Palestinian families have experienced the jailing of a relative. Of Laila Issawi's eight children, six – including a daughter – have spent time in prison, and a seventh was shot dead aged 16 by Israeli soldiers. Laila Issawi, 65, spent six months in prison in the 1970s accused of "supporting terrorism" after treating wounded militants as a nurse. Samer Issawi, the prisoner on prolonged hunger strike for an unfair and motivated trial, is not a “terrorist” but a patriot against the occupation, the violences, the Israeli expropriations of the Palestinian land and life. Hear his words, aimed at the Israelis, but of universal value: “I am Samer Issawi the young “Arboush” man according to your military terms, the Jerusalemite, whom you arrested without charge, except for leaving Jerusalem to the suburbs of Jerusalem. I, whom will be tried twice for a charge without charge, because it is the military that rules in your country, and the intelligence apparatus that decides, and all other components of Israeli society ever have to do is sit in a trench and hide in the fort that keeps what is called a purity of identity - to avoid the explosion of my suspicious bones.” Can this man be a “terrorist”? Listen to him again: “Intellectuals, writers, lawyers and journalists, associations, and civil society activists, I invite you to visit me, to see a skeleton tied to his hospital bed, and around him three exhausted jailers. I haven't heard a single one of you intervene and try to silence the voice of the growing death as all of you have turned into gravediggers, wearing military uniforms: the judge, writer, intellectual, media, merchant, academic, poet. I am unable to believe that an entire society has turned into the jailers of my death and life, to the protectors of the settlers who are pursuing my dreams." You men of culture – you can you suffer this? Listen to his voice, mobilize a world campaign for the liberation of Samer Issawi and of all the Palestinian political prisoners:

toontown
toontown

@Naida GD oh just fuck off please

toontown
toontown

@Naida GD oh just fuck off please

 

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