When Adrian Younge was asked to produce an album for Ghostface Killah, he didn’t want a traditional rap collaboration from the Wu-Tang Clan rapper. “I wanted it to have some fervent brand behind it. Something palpable. Something you could touch and feel,” he says. The result — 2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die — was a critically beloved concept album that laced Ghost’s theatrical flow into the mafioso story of Tony Starks. This week, the saga continues with Twelve Reasons to Die II, out July 10.
In the sequel, the Staten Island rapper returns to the gritty landscape of Seventies New York City and is joined by Lester Kane (played by Raekwon). “Without giving too much away, basically it’s a story about Ghostface and Raekwon,” explains Younge. “Raekwon is a gangster in New York in 1974. He gets into trouble and basically summons the spirit of Ghostface Killah to come help him and solve his problem…and there’s the crazy twist at the end.” The partnership is introduced in the track “Return of the Savage,” which also features RZA. “I want revenge now,” raps Raekwon in the shoot-’em-up. “I need answers. I’m a vigilante killer.”
Younge uses Twelve Reasons to Die II as an opportunity for unexpected collaborations, and it includes tracks with ascendant rapper Vince Staples and underground relic Chino XL. “People expect one thing when it comes to Wu-Tang, and it’s usually somebody who’s in the Wu or somebody else in New York. You never really hear West Coast cats on Wu-Tang albums and I wanted to change that a little bit,” the L.A.-based producer says. “Chino XL is from New York, but he’s West Coast now and he’s a good friend. I’ve always felt he and Ghost should be on an album.”
The album has a cinematic quality that’s become Younge’s signature, which he describes as “looking back to look forward.”
“My influences stay the same for everything I do. I’m always listening to European composers like Ennio Morricone. I’m always listening to Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield. I’m listening to Premo, RZA. When I’m making an album, I choose the direction.” His dramatic-soul-funk-rap hybrid has caught the attention of some famous ears, including Common, Fabolous, and 50 Cent. Rap’s kingmaker, Jay Z, sampled tracks from Younge’s 2011 Something About April for “Picasso Baby” and “Heaven” on Magna Carta Holy Grail. “I essentially became the most sampled modern artist,” says Younge. “The hip-hop collective of exemplary artists kind of took me under their wing. That really helped the acceptance of what I do because it’s going against the grain of everything of what you hear on the radio or what you’re supposed to hear on the radio.”
The iconoclast is currently touring with Wu-Tang Clan and just finished producing soul singer Bilal’s new album, In Another Life. He’s also slated to release a collaboration project with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad this year. He’s not sure yet if Twelve Reasons to Die will follow the trajectory of The Godfather and become a trilogy.
“The story is set up to be a third installment,” says Younge. “We’ll see what the future yields. I want to make sure people enjoy this, because I make music for people to enjoy. If people dig it, maybe. We’ll see what happens.”
Twelve Reasons to Die will be released on July 10 via Linear Labs.