If you listen to enough Ghostface, you'd know that he loves telling stories. You might also know that he's good at it; increasingly good at it. On Supreme Clientelle, he's got little skits setting up songs, but not exactly focused storytelling as far as i remember. On my next Ghostface album, Fishscale, he's showing off some seriously developed writing and ambition to tell a story in his songs. In "Shakey Dog", he tells what could have been a simple story about a break-in and armed robbery. Instead, that story is laced with a just-about unnecessary level of detail. We pretty much get to know the robbers and at least the appearance of the victims. The telling even makes it a diverting story. That story could have been two sentences. "We broke into a house with a couple already there. A dog attacked us before we could shoot it." That kind of detailed scene building and interesting writing informs what makes much of the rest of that album so interesting and compelling. He wants to put you there at the scene.
36 Seasons represents the kind of thing I think Ghost has been building up to. A full-blown, album-length story. Basically, it's a rap musical gangster-crime story, where Ghost eventually becomes a superhero. Sounds hokey when it's all laid out like that, right? It's amazing and possibly the best thing he's ever done that I've heard. Ghost plays himself and raps opposite Kool G Rap and AZ, while Kandace Springs plays his girlfriend Bamboo.
This isn't the only story project he's working on either. He's also done Twelve Reason to Die (haven't heard) and Twelve Reasons to Die Part 2 (pretty cool) just came out. But this one is my favorite, so it gets a review.
Should I go into the story? Okay, spoiler-free. Ghostface goes to war in the middle-east and gets back nine years later and his neighborhood has become an unfriendly, nastier place. His girlfriend Bamboo has a new boyfriend and rejects him after nine years. After that, things keep getting worse until he's back in jail. After Bamboo bails him out, he knows who his enemies are and goes Punisher on their asses. In practice, I was truly rooting for Ghost to stomp his enemies, so clearly this album works. I'm really not translating this well. If you take some time to figure out the story, it's a lot of fun.
For better or worse, there are practically no catchy choruses or radio=ready hooks or digital tricks. It's almost all straight verses to futher the story over old-school-sounding beats. Of course, those verses still rhyme, flow well and sound great. This is an album for hip-hop heads and people that want to pay attention to it. 36 Seasons features some great rappers and they prove it by making this thing work as well as it does. Don't look for super-fast rapping or driving strings of rhymes or anything. Nobody's here to explititly impress you with their abilities. It's an exposition in telling the story from their characters' perspectives, like a musical.
A standout track is "Love Don't Live Here No More", where Bamboo (Kandace Springs) and Ghost have the conversation where she explains that she's moved-on after nine years. She sings the beautiful-sounding chorus "Too little too late, love don't live here no mooooooore", while Ghost's hopes are dashed by her hurt feelings.
Later, on one of my favorite tracks, "Emergency Procedure" with Pharoahe Monch, Doctor X rebuilds the wounded Ghostface with strange science. We get the catchiest beat on the album, a funky 70s tune, and finally a catchy chorus. We also get a description of what happened to Ghost and of Doctor X's gas-mask created to save him. It's probably not the strongest example of gritty crime-fiction on the album, but I love this song so it gets a mention. Now sing along:
"Fuck 911, private doctor on speed-dial
slid to the aisle, fixed-up the golden child
exquisite doctor, his work an art
created a gas-mask to save Tony Starks"
I can imagine Ghostface seeing Les Miserables or some musical and going, "I can do this shit!". Well, I'm glad he did.
If you like the occasional Ghostface album, get this one if you don't have it yet. If you love Ghostface, you probably have this already and don't really need this. If you don't know how a ghost can have a face or what that has to do with rapping, uh, ask your mother. So basically, this is my new favorite Ghostface album. And that's weird, because it's got nothing as infectious or catchy as the best of Fishscale or Supreme Clientelle. But it works so much better as an album and as a well-told story.
PS. Twelve Reasons to Die 2 is a similar project by Ghostface that also came out recently. I also heard that one, but I like this better, thus the review. Twelve Reasons 2 is also good, though. It has much nicer beats and is often more fun to listen to musically. I just think it's less ambitious and less impressive. But I mention it because if you like one you'll probably like the other.