Five years ago it was clear that Ghostface Killah was going to be the last Wu-Tang Clansman standing. Career-wise, not literally, Russell Jones Dirt McGirt R.I.P. Chalk it up to Big Ghost’s Everyman appeal—to the fact that he’s now made five solo albums that the people enjoy and not one movie directed by Jim Jarmusch or about getting high at Harvard. I love Jarmusch, RZA, and GZA and think Meth is the tightest cameo artist in hiphop history—just don’t try and sell me one of his own albums. And somehow we just know there are no Lee Iacocca or Charlie Rose appearances in Ghost’s future, no Beyoncés either, and that’s all fine by us. Us being the ones who actually listen to hiphop to satisfy the basest of urges, the artform’s smooth and savage concoction of stupid beats, surreal rhymes, and that je ne sais quoi we know as unrepentant, unreconstructed, around-the-way negritude.
It also doesn’t hurt that Ghost has got that rarest of hiphop gifts, namely a big grimy personality that translates to whole albums and DVDs. Lookahere brothermansisterlady, I don’t know how it is between you and Ghost but I’m enough of a closet Marxist to get turned on by the idea of a blood who in another era would be carting a lunchpail to the plant being a monster poet up in this suddenly glitzaramic hiphop sheet. Call it his Black working-class hero factor. The stuff of August Wilson legend. Half the time Ghost invents slang off references more obscure than Dennis Miller, but the other half the time you know exactly what he’s talking about. So you scratch your head every fourth line, but you get the ones about roaches in the cornflakes, the wifey back home boning your boy while you’re on tour, and the Shaolin crime narratives where fists and bullets are foreverever flying—all like he’s Burroughs, Ellroy, and Bukowski rolled into one garrulous gregarious grungy gruesome ghettofied writer.
No surprise then that Ghost’s Fishscale is the most creative album to come out of New York hiphop since his own 2000 Supreme Clientele. The music is top shelf—full of Blaxploitation beats and brass, Philly strings and rumble-tumble basslines made to blow out Cadillac woofers. As always Ghost shows up with that homemade slang we suck through a straw to catch every scintilla of meaning. Even the skits are that good. Elsewhere Ironman Starks reconnects with his Wu family, proving mainly that Ghost’s spit encompasses that of all the other Clansmen. He can be as verbose and esoteric as RZA, as patently logical as GZA, as outrageous as ODB, as partied and sexed out as Cap, as game for dicing the game as Rae, as airborne as Meth, as tongue-twistingly rhapsodic as Deck—a one-man Wu reunion out his own mouth. He’s also one of the few MCs around who actually shares— his fond, graphic memories of childhood beatings, and so much more.
At April 23’s Nokia show, Ghost told the light man to kill the bright whites because lights can fuck with your moods and emotions. Some color therapy for your ass. He also let us know that he favors old-school orchestral r&b for his tracks because those were the records your parents used to fuck to, and that his dream was to have an audience of sisters, my word not his, screaming for him like they do for Marvin on the piped-in live “Distant Lover.” But then he and his equally tone-deaf hypemen paid homage by singing over the chorus of the Delfonics’ “La La Means I Love You,” a bloody earbleeding nightmare—partly made up for, OK, by the Wu classics they covered, albeit like shower stall fans rather than stadium pros. His other bid for epic loveman status was to invite mad honeys up to shake their ass to “Cherchez Laghost.” But only after they were made to endure a ranting wrathful a cappella rendering of the wifey-lambasting “Wildflower” were the good women of Nokia allowed to shake their asses—a worrisome sight that went on far too long as I made good my escape into the torrential twilight. Thanks to Ghost, we now Know exactly the distance traveled between the days of screaming for Marvin and the self- inflected misogyny of the modern era.