June 19, 2010

My Gut Reaction: Ghostface Killah - Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry In Emerald City (September 29, 2009)

Here's another one of those albums that took me forever to get to.  Given the artist involved, I'm sure a lot of you two are shocked at the delay, but hey, shit happens. 

When Dennis Coles, who only responds to the names "Ghostface Killah" and "Snookums", announced that he would release an R&B album, the Interweb collectively worried.  Even though the man never shied away from his emotions on all of his other albums and guest appearances (even on the Theodore Unit album 718, you could feel everything the man was saying, even when he was talking about food, as he is wont to do), and even though he had a working relationship with the likes of Mary J. Blige and Ne-Yo, everybody still wondered exactly what he meant.  Was he going to sing himself?  How would that even sound?  Would his soulful candor translate into a Motown/Stax mutation mixed with The RZA's pointy claws, or would it come across like all of the other rap & bullshit that plays on the radio every single day?  Would he write his own songs, or would he go to the professionals, such as Diane Warren, Linda Perry, and Rodgers & Hammerstein?  Why would I immediately go to those particular names as references?  And will I ever get to the beginning of this write-up?

When Def Jam announced a release date for what turned out to be Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry In Emerald City, Ghostface's eighth (eighth!) solo album, we received answers to a few of those questions.  It turns out that Pretty Toney simply made an entire album's worth of songs that featured him with some R&B backing, although some of the choices he made are questionable at best.  (Lloyd?  Does anyone really think Lloyd has so much clout that a member of the fucking Wu-Tang Clan would hand-pick him to appear on here?)  Ghost sticks with what he knows best (that would be rapping) and turns in fourteen tracks of love songs (with one huge exception) that share two common themes: none of them feature any of his other coworkers from his day job with the Clan (including behind the boards: no Wu-Elements on board this time around), and all of them ultimately betray a slight misogynist bent.  Otherwise, Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry In Emerald City (which is a terrible title) is just your typical Ghostface Killah album, albeit one that fails to explain how Ghost's alleged nickname GhostDeini (see: Supreme Clientele and GhostDeini The Great) somehow changed to Ghostdini overnight (great job, Def Jam proofreaders).

Ghostface's R&B experiment, which is rumored to be his swan song from Def Jam as a solo artist (if this is true, it's a weird way to end a relationship), was met with generally kind reviews and typical low sales, because nobody buys Wu-Tang Clan albums anymore.  I've heard surprisingly good things about this project from fellow bloggers, but the project never appealed to me: even though I picked this one up a month or so after its release, I hadn't bothered to open it up until now.  I think it might have been the ugly neon green album cover poisoning my eyes and, by proxy, my ears. 

But hey, I've been wrong before.

Okay, maybe I have nothing to worry about. Aside from the Shareefa-helmed chorus, which isn't all that bad, Dennis rides this Scram Jones production as if it were an outtake from The Pretty Toney Album. Ghostface Killah has proven time and again that he can rhyme over damn near any kind of beat, and on here he does not disappoint. This search for a life partner set to music is a fairly good way to kick things off. If I had one complaint, it's that the title implies that Ghostface Killah is not your average girl, which might be due to the fact that he has a penis.

While “Not Your Average Girl” came across as a Ghostface track featuring a special guest, “Do Over” is the exact opposite: on here, Dennis barely registers while “Radio” Raheem (who swiped his nickname from the Spike Lee joint Do The Right Thing) mans the ship. His verses are inconsequential, and his monologue at the end is cut off before it ends, leading me to believe that even the producer didn't care for Ghost's contribution. For what it's worth, DeVaughn sounded okay, but overall this song didn't work for me.

I can get with this one, though. Over a moving instrumental that reminds me of Jay-Z's “Lost Ones”, “Radio” Raheem and Pretty Toney show love to their respective babies. Ghost was custom-built for beats such as these (which helps whenever The RZA is otherwise occupied), and his guest's chorus, even though Auto-Tuned to such a degree that an ATM may as well have performed on the track, hits all of the right notes. I prefer the more aggressive GFK, but this tamed-down version is pretty good, too.

Only Ghostface Killah (and, to a far lesser extent, Method Man) could get away with a rap song about being lonely. (I suppose Chef Raekwon could also sound credible on a song about being friendless while surrounded by bricks of cocaine, but where's the fun in that?) “Lonely” relies far too much on the Jack Knight-crooned hook and the Sean C & LV beat, which believes itself to be more clever than it actually is, and the overall product suffers in the end.

I remember early promotional material proclaiming that Ghostface Killah dedicated this dirty-as-fuck track to Natalie Portman, who had earlier proclaimed her love for filthy sex raps. While the mental image of Natalie Portman enjoying this song works for me in an entirely different way (okay, I just keep thinking of her line from The Lonely Island's “Natalie's Rap”: “I bust in dude's mouths like gushers, motherfucker!”), Sean C & LV's beat successfully captures a seedy 1970s porn vibe, and the track is short enough that you won't feel guilty for enjoying it, even if you'll need to shower afterward. This is easily the most graphic song that any member of the Wu-Tang Clan has ever recorded, although some of The RZA's solo bars come pretty close.

Uses the sped-up R&B vocal sample technique throughout that Dennis tends to ride like a prize-winning llama, but the sentiment here falls flat, probably because all the beat consists of is that fucking sample. Boring as shit, as even Ghost would probably attest to.

Ghostface Killah swoops in and tries to snatch a pregnant woman away from her fiancée. There isn't much actual rapping on here, but I remember Starks talking about random food items, which is one of his longtime trademarks, so this wasn't bad at all.

Ghost's first uttered word on “Guest House” is a pissed-off “Fuck!”, which means that this will most definitely not be a love rap. Dennis starts to panic while at home alone, as his girl was only supposed to be going to the store, but when he goes out to his guest house (where he hides his gun) to prep for the search, he discovers her getting banged by, of all people, the cable guy (played by his labelmate Fabolous), who tries to talk his way out of getting shot the fuck up. F-A-B-O doesn't end up dying (oh, sorry: SPOILER ALERT!), but this track proves that Pretty Toney is one of the best storytellers on wax, period, even with the bizarre interlude featuring one of his girl's friends on the phone that can barely be understood. I don't know if this actually belonged on Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City: this sounds like a much better fit for More Fish or The Big Doe Rehab.

The pairing of Ghostface Killah and John Legend isn't entirely unnatural: indeed, GFK is the most soulful member of the Clan (the late Ol' Dirty Bastard would have been a close second). Which makes it a shame that this track never fully clicks. Both men appear to be performing on separate songs, which doesn't exactly make for a cohesive listening experience. That's just too bad.

The only track on Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City that features Ghost going for dolo, but even without assistance, he carries the theme of the project admirably, delivering a monologue that adheres fairly closely to his previously mentioned requirements from “Not Your Average Girl”. The beat probably could have also fit in seamlessly on The Big Doe Rehab. Not the greatest GFK performance ever, but not bad.

I hated this song, and not just because it isn't a cover of the Reggie Noble classic. From the production on down to the uninspired verses of our host, this shit sucked pretty hard. However, kudos to the fact that I was able to sit through ten full tracks before stumbling upon a song that I absolutely hate, so that counts for something. I wonder if the fact that the guest artist on here used to be a part of Disney's The Cheetah Girls means anything.

This track sounded pleasant enough, but other than one section that featured Pretty Toney singing a couple of bars in a fashion that mimics Snoop Doggy Dogg's “Gin & Juice”, this was entirely forgettable. How is it possible that this is the final song on the actual album, Ghost? What the hell?

The following two tracks are considered to be bonus songs not a part of Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City's regularly scheduled programming.

Ron Browz is a detriment to hip hop and needs to shut the fuck up. There, I said it. However, unlike everyone else on Earth, apparently, I don't hate this song. Erase the annoying vocals from the aforementioned Browz, and what you're left with is a minimalist arrangement (save for where the chorus would be) from producer Anthony Acid that Dennis Coles rips the shit out of. It aims for a club audience, which may be why this is simply a bonus track: the rest of Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City was far more subdued. But this shouldn't be completely ignored. I understand if Ron Browz is too much for you two to look past, though.

I can see why Def Jam included this track on Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City: not only does it adhere to the album's theme (a love rap, albeit one that turns into a revenge tale), it features two other Def Jam artists that can obviously use the free publicity. However, “Back Like That (Remix)” has already appeared on two previous Ghostface Killah projects: More Fish and the overall shitty GhostDeini The Great. So the third time is definitely not the charm: in fact, it verges on overkill. At least the label had the sense to designate this as a bonus track this time around.

THE LAST WORD: Leave it to Ghostface Killah to render the concept of a rapper's R&B album into something so goddamn appealing. The awkwardly titled Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (mostly) works because Dennis Coles doesn't water himself down in any way: his mixture of love and anger is a skill he's been honing since Ironman. All of his solo albums contain love songs, as you will notice when you pull out the man's back catalog: he's just never done an entire disc full of them until now. The project is overloaded with guest spots, and a few of the songs outright suck, but otherwise, this was a pleasant surprise. Ghost's storytelling and emoting (he truly is one of the finest emo rappers today, although he would probably dismiss that categorization) appears in full force, and while the harder-hitting production values and cameos from other Wu-Tang Clan members are missed, Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City makes for the perfect complement to Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Part II, in that it sounds absolutely nothing like it. Who says the Wu isn't versatile? I was expecting to hate this shit, but I was shocked at how well this admittedly absurd premise works.


Click here to catch up on the rest of Ghostface Killah's albums.


  1. AnonymousJune 19, 2010

    I actually really liked this album lol.

  2. A.R. MarksJune 19, 2010

    I liked the Fabolous track off here but that was about it. Of course I don't like R&B raps, but "Guest House" was pretty fucking innovative imo.

  3. ilike all of Ghost's albums man is very consistent and this album is no exception. Thanks for finnally reviewing the album.

  4. AnonymousJune 19, 2010

    at least Ghost didn't use autotune in this album, because before i bought this album, i was scared that he added autotune in this album because it's RnB project

  5. AnonymousJune 19, 2010

    I'm going to have to check this out. Thanks for the review


  6. The album is OK, all in all. I never believed that Ghost would turn his style into singing.

    About the title and the announcing of an RnB album: I think that Ghost tried to find out a method to make higher record sales. A combination of a weird-interesting and a (these days) popular music genre.

  7. YungSunnyJune 20, 2010

    Still waiting for a j dilla/slum village review.

  8. AnonymousJune 20, 2010

    No thanks, I'll pass on this album even if I'd get paid for it. God knows how much I hate love songs and a whole album of it is like a whole hour of someone screaming in my ear,´.

  9. I've been very scared to listen to this album. But I do love ghost, and this review has convinced me to give it a shot.

  10. AnonymousJune 21, 2010

    nah, i'll pass, i'm listening to Supreme Clientele anyway, so don't ruin my appetite

  11. Y'all need to get over yourselves. Don't call yourself a fan of a man's music without giving this a chance. He tastefully pulled off being vintage GFK. Sure there were bumps but overall it was a pretty enjoyable experience. Baby & Guest House are my shit >>>

  12. Good review Max. I too was leary on this one but was pleasantly suprised, pretty solid album. Ghost's line at the end of "House Guest", about Fab's character "jumping out the window on some Jim Carrey shit" was hi-larious!

  13. Good review as always. Though I don't know about "Guest House"'s production (not the lyrics, just the production.) it feels like the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. just jacked the beat from one of their earlier productions (from an album from early 2009 no less) and slightly tweaked it.

    Still, good review.

  14. I appreciate the sentiment, but this album is wack. Best song on here by far is "Stay." I'd listen to Baby more often but Raheem's TERRIBLE autotuning kills a promising beat (very Lost Ones-esque as you rightly pointed out)