What if Tony Stark(s) had to become the Mandarin in order to take down an unformidable crime family? If the only way to take down these ruthless Kingpins was to embody the martial arts perfection and murderous practices of Iron Man’s most potent arch-nemesis?
That’s exactly what the legendary Wu-Tang Clan emcee Ghostface Killah achieves with his latest album Twelve Reasons to Die, and thankfully — he isn’t alone.
Ghostface paints a vivid story of slaughter, redemption and justice over a haunting composition from upstart hip-hop producer Adrian Younge. The often chilling, soulful instruments from Younge’s band, Venice Dawn, could easily mistake themselves for the sounds of (Ghost’s longtime executive producer) The RZA. Even fellow Wu-Gambino, Masta Killa, references “RZA Tarrantino” during one of Younge’s deep compositions, to which Quentin’s pal had no problem narrating throughout the concept album.
If Younge’s goal was to sound like the descendant of our two masters of modern kung-fu drama, then he’s certainly the golden child.
Over the haunting 70s-style percussion and trembling strings of “I Declare War,” Starks proclaims his latest depth into the dark trade as “officially wartime Starky on some Black Avengers / Shadowboxin’ with killers that move like ninjas.”
The next track ups the ante, incorporating screeching turntable scratches, soaring horns and a thunderous drum roll with a seemingly rejuvenated guest appearance from U-God. And that’s just the thing. Though Ghost’s longtime partner-in-crime Raekwon the Chef is off on another mission, the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Dark Avengers” come through in the spotlight. Inspectah Deck — whose recently released album with Boston’s 7L & Esotoric, Czarface, is equally as great — serves as this Iron Man’s War Machine.
This is also the first time Ghostface Killah (a.k.a. Tony Starks) has ever rhymed over a live ban with the strict intention of performing an entire score. With that, will come more interesting live shows; certainly it doesn’t hurt that Twelve Reasons is the closest thing fans will get to the sounds of Ghost’s industry-shattering debut, Iron Man. Even more intriguing, perhaps, Detroit producer Apollo Brown gives Twelve Reasons a RZA-inspired remix treatment with The Brown Tape. This once cassette-only release — yes cassette!! — which sold out on Record Store Day, is now available through Ghostface’s Bandcamp. If Younge’s version packs the soul of the 1996 classic, then Brown masterfully emulates the funk of Ghost’s other magna opus, Supreme Clientele.
From the marching keys on “Blood on the Cobblestones” to the cheery funk of “Enemies All Around Me,” The Brown Tape infuses the genius of Adrian’s composition with darker backdrops and even more spiritual vocal samples. It’s a tricky task, but Apollo’s tunes serve well behind Ghostface’s most straight-forward flows. The superheroic triumph of “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” highlights Apollo’s most enchanting staccato: ” “Tommy Guns are irrelevant, I’m bulletproof now / I can fly through the air and duck your ‘chicka-pow’…”
Thus, with Starks going on to conquer all his bottled-up demons (yes, I did) and murky Mandarin-like transformation come album’s end, it’s a more than a refreshing victory for the numero uno rhyming superhero, a brilliant composer, one filthy beatmaker, and an entire legion of comic book listeners worldwide.
Hip-Hop, consider yourself avenged.