January 28, 2008

Ghostface Killah - Bulletproof Wallets (November 20, 2001)


Dennis Coles recorded his third album, Bulletproof Wallets, around the same time that The Wu collective disc The W was created. Hopefully, Ghostface's immediate goals had nothing to do with any sort of financial compensation, because Bulletproof Wallets was the first of many discs in the Tony Starks catalog to not find a mainstream audience, even though he tried to reach out to the fans by including Raekwon on the majority of his songs, in a throwback to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...

Remember what I wrote about sample clearance problems during my Supreme Clientele write-up? And the multiple tracklisting problems? Here's where it all comes to a head. The album booklet, the back of the packaging, and even the fucking sticker on the front of the disc advertises a track called "The Sun", featuring Raekwon, The Rza, and fucking Slick Rick, over a beat by Prince Rakeem himself. Needless to say, this song is nowhere to be found. Another victim of Epic Records's accounting staff. (To be honest, I've heard this song, since, as we can all expect, it leaked to the Interweb almost immediately, but I wasn't very impressed by any part of the track. Maybe this deletion was a blessing in disguise.) In a bizarre twist, although the liner notes list the songs in the wrong order, the disc itself actually has the correct sequence, although it includes something called the "Figure 8 Skit", which also doesn't exist. The story goes that Ghostface accused Epic Records (as he was apparently moved over from the at-this-point defunct Razor Sharp Records) of not being one hundred percent behind Bulletproof Wallets, what with the label not providing the financial backing to clear most of his samples, leading to an album that not only sold very few copies (thanks to a lack of promotion and no successful singles), but an album that was far removed from Dennis's vision.

He would fulfill his Epic contract by dropping what is known in the business as "the bullshit greatest hits album", and jump ship to The House That Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons Built, which is still considered a questionable career move to this day. But for now, let us hide behind these Bulletproof Wallets (which, honestly, conjures up a very ridiculous image of bullets bouncing off of your ass like Flubber).

1. INTRO (FEAT RAEKWON)
So to begin this "reunion" album, Raekwon and Ghostface have another conversation a la "Shark N----s (Biters)", except that this time Rae is the level-headed dude and Ghostface is the apprehensive cat. You can't say that Ghost doesn't have a point, though.

2. MAXINE (FEAT RAEKWON)
A lot of people seem to forget that The Rza actually has production credits on Bulletproof Wallets. (It's not until after The Pretty Toney Album where Robert Diggs starts roaming the earth like David Carradine in Kung Fu.) This song is representative of how Dennis Coles's storytelling abilities have evolved; even though on the surface he sounds like he's spitting nonsense, he draws you into his gripping narrative. I've always been a fan of Raekwon shouting "Broke the TV/N----s watching Knight Rider!". You've just got to hear this one.

3. FLOWERS (FEAT RAEKWON, METHOD MAN, & SUPERB)
There's that overused Bob James "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" sample again, but that's only because the original version was killed in the sample wars by friendly fire (and besides, it could have been "Nautilus"). Superb should have been deleted from the track, since he brings nothing but an inane catchphrase to the table, but Raekwon and especially Meth deliver the heat. Ultimate! Ultimate!

4. NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN (FEAT RAEKWON & CARL THOMAS)
The radio track. As if anyone would ever actually play a Ghostface Killah song on the radio. Silly rabbit! I've always hated it.

5. TEDDY SKIT (FEAT SUPERB)
Although it is goofy to hear Ghost singing, this skit gets the mandatory "...".

6. THEODORE (FEAT TRIFE & TWIZ)
I'm guessing the seeds for Ghost's weed-carrier group Theodore Unit were planted during the studio sessions for Bulletproof Wallets. This song isn't bad, but as I've mentioned numerous times, I actually kinda like Ghost's baggage handlers.

7. GHOST SHOWERS (FEAT MADAME MAJESTIC)
A sequel of sorts to Supreme Clientele's terrible "Cherchez La Ghost"; it even features the same female vocalist. Technically, this is a better produced song, but it still sounds awful.

8. STRAWBERRY (FEAT KILLA SIN)
Good song, helped by the fact that Killa Sin actually sounds like he actively wanted to be a part of Ghost's album. You may not want your children to hear Ghost's verse, but if you're really letting your kids listen to Wu-Tang, then I both congratulate you on your good taste and punch you right in the fucking eye. Listen carefully for The Rza and Gza/Genius during the interlude; it was an interesting surprise.

9. THE FOREST (FEAT RAEKWON)
While I was hoping for a cover of The Cure's "A Forest", I still welcome this collaboration between The Alchemist and Ghostface, the first of its kind, if I'm not mistaken. Dennis gets his Gza on and peppers his rhymes with cartoon character references; I'm just happy that he's not rapping about food. (His line "Droopy got knocked, he turned Muslim in jail" is just hysterical.) Raekwon's singing at the beginning is hilarious; Ghostface's singing was deleted from the retail version, as it was murdered in the sample clearance stages by the copyright holders of Annie.

10. THE JUKS (FEAT SUPERB & TRIFE)
Another Al Maman beat. Pales when compared to "The Forest", but then again, it doesn't help that it was sequenced immediately following the superior track: it's almost like following up The Godfather with Deuce Bigalow: European Gigalo.

11. WALKING THROUGH THE DARKNESS (FEAT TEKITHA)
Possibly started Ghostface's habit of adding his vocals onto an already established R&B track, which would continue on to reach such singers as Sunshine Anderson and Amy Winehouse. This song was originally Tekitha's, from The Rza's Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai soundtrack, and since I never cared for the original song, I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

12. JEALOUSY
Really nothing more than a skit, although it is produced by The Rza. That's not an endorsement, by the way.

13. THE HILTON (FEAT RAEKWON)
My favorite song on Bulletproof Wallets. The imagery on this track is just fucking incredible, with bonus points for the ridiculous attention to even the most minute details. Besides, any song that describes Raekwon running out of the shower and slipping on a bar of soap, but landing on his back with gat in hand deserves your fucking attention, even if you're just laughing your ass off.

14. INTERLUDE
Not so much an interlude as a one-verse wonder.

15. LOVE SESSION (FEAT RUFF ENDZ)
Ghost's obsession with making songs for the ladies doesn't bother me: everyone is allowed to be multifaceted. However, that doesn't mean that I've ever cared for these silly excursions. I'm pretty sure the only song Ruff Endz was ever known for was that "No More" track from whatever the fuck their album was called. Although, admittedly, I like that song, so there goes my argument, right out the plate glass window.

16. STREET CHEMISTRY (FEAT PRODIGAL SUNN & TRIFE)
A great way to end your album. Supposedly Al Maman put this song together as well, but as it doesn't appear in the album credits anywhere, there's really no telling.

FINAL THOUGHTS: You know that guy that constantly says that Ghostface Killah is the most consistent member of the Clan? He's telling the truth. Bulletproof Wallets is a very damn good album that deserves to be discovered, as long as you ignore his forced attempts at songs for the ladies (although, to be fair, they aren't traditional songs for the ladies: Dennis makes them his own). Ghost is truly the one that single-handedly saved The Wu from extinction, and Raekwon proves that whenever he and Ghost rock the mic, and whenever he remembers to drink his morning eight cups of coffee, he is a beast. I would actually put this album right up there with Supreme Clientele, it's that good.

BUY OR BURN? This is a must-buy. Bulletproof Wallets didn't get the love it so rightfully deserves, so now is your opportunity to reverse that trend. Although I am not responsible if you pick this disc up and start to get visibly upset when you read about the Slick Rick feature inside the liner notes. Sorry, that's just not my fault.

BEST TRACKS: "The Hilton"; "Maxine"; "Flowers"; "Strawberry"; "The Forest"

-Max

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10 comments:

  1. Man you are ON POINT! Fantastic album!

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  2. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessJanuary 29, 2008

    This is definitely the shit. I prefer Supreme Clientele by a decent margin because it's more of a Wu-Tang album to me but this is a must have for anyone with even a slight inclination to enjoy quality music. This album got a lot of hate in my circle largely because of the video with Carl Thomas. Myself, I was simply in awe of the costume that Ghost was rocking during this era. He had the robe, a chain with a medallion the size of a dinner plate, and a fucking life size golden eagle on his arm. Throughout his career, he's done a great job of keeping intact the mystique that the entire Clan entered the scene with. He always stays in character, so to speak, and what a character he is. As for the Slick Rick song, I enjoy it even if it's not the colossal achievement that I imagined it would be. My favorite part is when Rae says that he loves the sun so much he's willing to go to the store for it. That is true devotion.

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  3. good album, dunno if i'd put it with supreme clientele tho'...
    AND "the sun" was a beautiful track, wholesome and inspiring, the kina track that make even a hard rock crack a wry smile, the kina track that could have dudes guesting on sesame street.. close your eyes and meds it max

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  4. as you say in the fila thoughts, i definitely slept on this album, even as a GFK fan.

    even if usually i don't agree 100% with your taste, i'll take the dust off my old cd (bought for a few pounds while living in london)

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  5. man, i remember the tracklisting problems on this and supreme clientele, i remember back in the day when i bought these two albums, i thought ghostface did it on purpose just to be weird, great albums

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  6. RZA has the album's highlight moment and its not even his album.

    "AWW SHIT SON SHE SLURPIN AND BURPIN"

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  7. Great album. I probably wouldn't have looked at it without this review, so thanks for that. The Juks is pretty classic don't you think? Strong verses all round, particularly from Trife, and a thumping Alchemist banger underlying it.
    On a different note, I agree with your assessment of Rockstars from OB4CL2 Gold. Man, if a track with RZA production AND three great emcees falters... it's not a good situation. What is with that chorus?
    Anyway, thanks for the frequent posts, they are uch appreciated. If you're looking for albums to do, a gut reaction of Born and Raised would be interesting. Frankly, I think it is a damn good effort, even though some of the production doesn't hit as hard as his previous work, it's still a damn consistent album. Check out Rapture for some serious kicking og knowledge!

    Blake

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  8. WOW, you trashed half the album and still put it up there with Supreme Clientele? You are right though this album should be praised more, it's great how ghostface killah is able to create a good amount of bangers on each album to weigh against the shitty radio tracks, but it's a bad move for the label to force radio tracks out of Ghostface anyway, he's not the 'radio' type

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  9. A crying shame that this is the last truly awake Raekwon outing on any Wu solo. After this, he slipped unnoticed into his comatose flow and has never looked back. Le sigh.

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  10. lol the beats were SO wack on this album!! Sorry but it's true it's like Ghost went back in time to the 70s or some crap to get his beats; shame because you're right the rapping was tight. It for sure is better than terrible Pretty Toney album.

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