Ghostface Killah has been rapping for two decades, and he's still finding ways to be fresh and relevant.
In 2013, the Wu-Tang Clan legend's first installment of Twelve Reasons to Die, was hailed for its fascinating songwriting, Adrian Younge's brilliant production, and the conceptual storyline that paired an LP with a slick comic book. Twelve Reasons to Die II is a very good sequel, but is it as good as the original?
Lyrically, this album may not be quite as interesting as the first TRTD, but there is lots of impressive stuff happening. One of the strengths on TRTD2 is the captivating thematic hooks in songs like "King of New York," "Get The Money," and "Let the Record Spin." Without giving away any spoilers, this is an album all about sweet violent revenge in a world of power and luxury.
Younge has taken the timeless soulful sound from early Wu-Tang Clan records and made it more lush and sophisticated. He keeps the great instrumentals coming here, combining elements of old school hip hop, funk, jazz, and R&B with a cinematic score appropriate for a mob film. Sprinkled in are elements from other film genres like Western, horror, suspense, drama, and science fiction. Straight from the opening of "Powerful One," the distorted electronic sound marks a step into the future from the last album.
Founding Wu-Tang members Raekwon and RZA are all over this record. Raekwon appears on six tracks, starring in the role of rising NYC kingpin Lester Kane -- a man at war with Ghostface Killah's mortal enemies, the DeLuca crime family. Not coincidentally, Raekwon and Ghostface are currently on tour together celebrating the 20th anniversary of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. RZA provides narration between tracks, just as he did on the first Twelve Reasons to Die. Other notable guests include Vince Staples, Scarub, Chino XL, Lyrics Born, and Bilal.
TRTD2 is actually Ghostface Killah's 4th album in less than eight months. In December of 2014, Ghostface's efforts couldn't help Wu-Tang Clan's long-awaited LP A Better Tomorrow from being an overall clunker (he appeared on 7 of the 13 tracks). Later in that same month, he released a solo album called 36 Seasons. In February of 2015, Ghostface teamed up with instrumental trio BadBadNotGood for Sour Soul. The sheer productivity is impressive, but you'd hate to think Ghostface is sacrificing quality for quantity.
The biggest weakness on Twelve Reasons to Die II is that the lyricism and the beats feel overly complicated at times. The plot is challenging to follow, and there isn't as much character development or intrigue as there could have been. There aren't any great songs that stand out as potential hits, but Ghostface has always been more of an underground rapper in large part because of what makes him great: dense and gritty lyrics.
This LP isn't flawless, but at 31 minutes it's a good listen that doesn't get tired. Ghostface is wrestling with his own mortality and place in rap history, and he's found a way to tell new stories that are imaginative and unique while so many of his peers have faded into obscurity. As he develops a mythology around the Ghostface Killah, he ascends to a higher level of rap god status.
For more of Ghostface Killah's music, news, and tour dates, check out his Zumic artist page.