Published on April 16th, 2013 | by Boman12l0
Twelve Reasons to Die – Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge [Review]
Ghostface Killah is a storyteller. In fact, he is one of the best. Since emerging with The Wu-Tang Clan some twenty years ago, he has told some of the wildest and grittiest tales imaginable. Often seen as one of the strongest defenders of the Shaolin style, Ghostface has continued to experiment with his craft taking part in unlikely collaborations, unexpected guest spots, and creating concept albums. However, he has never done a project like this before – a project that seems tailored to his strengths. Joining with Adrian Younge for Twelve Reasons to Die, Ghostface, for the first time, releases an album with a singular narrative and live instrumentation, resulting in something everyone should hear.
What follows are twelve tracks that sound more Ennio Morricone than Pete Rock, a plot that is parts crime-drama and parts slasher film. Most importantly, it creates an experience that is truly nostalgic with clear signs of progression. Adrian Younge, known for his work composing the score to the 2009 Blaxploitation spoof Black Dynamite and his recent release with William Hart of The Delfonics, is an old soul at heart. Much of the album’s conception was inspired by the Italian Giallo films of the 60s & 70s and comes across perfectly. Adrian’s compositions are performed by his band, Venice Dawn, and the live instrumentation adds new layers to the signature Wu-Tang sound.
In “Enemies All Around Me” featuring William Hart, paranoia can be heard in Ghost’s voice. The song is a haunting experience driven by hollow keys and guitar strings. In contrast, “Rise of the Ghostface Killah’s” ensemble keeps building as the intensity increases, resulting in a harmonious explosion, signaling the triumphant return of Ghostface. “Blood on the Cobblestone” is like a scene from Black Dynamite, with squeaky horns and a ever present organ pumping out cords, it scores the lyrics perfectly with quick shots and sharp cuts – it is all out action. The album is filled with organic sounds that twist and turn with the story. Perhaps best seen in songs like “I Declare War,” “Center of Attraction” and “The Sure Shot (Parts One & Two)” There are underlining details that accompany each verse, Cappadonna’s concern, Masta Killa’s pledge of loyalty and Ghost’s declaration of war are scored beautifully with arrangements that react with them.
Filling out Ghost’s crew, in the battle against the DeLuca families are fellow Gambino’s Masta Killa, U-God, Inspectah Deck Cappadonna and Killa Sin. All are as sharp as ever and are fully on board for the album’s vision. Ghost’s rhymes are as vivid and as descriptive as they have ever been. Sticking with the source material, some of the rhymes in the latter half are particularly gruesome, reaching comic book levels of violence and absurdity. However, that is not always the case, as Ghost’s imaginative and witty wordplay is a constant throughout the album’s brisk 39 minute runtime.
Glass slipper, my wallows is made from lion skin
King of the jungle, ain’t shit about me humble
Rock a black panther hoodie, nigga, made from panther skin
I’m black on the outside and black within
The hood superhero, the motherfucking Don Dada
Unfortunately, the narrative of Twelve Reasons to Die is the weakest aspect of the album. Those working on the project will tell you it was conceive as a story first, music second and lyrics last. Ironically, the musical compositions and lyrics are the strongest parts of the album and the actual story falls flat. The core of the story was developed by Adrian with some input from The RZA. Seeing how he has written songs like “Shakey Dog,” “Angels” and “RAGU,” songs that defy listeners’ expectations by playing with plot structures, character conflicts and resolutions, possibly including Ghost more in the development process could have resulted in a tighter story.
With Twelve Reasons, the latter half of the narrative seems like a first draft or synopsis, with the finer details waiting to be included later. So a song like “Murder Spree” that features U-God, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killa, and Killa Sin, by the billing alone sounds exciting becomes dulls because the violence enacted in the rhymes are no longer advancing the narrative. Things pick up again with Ghost’s closing number “The Sure Shot (Parts One and Two).” The last verse has Ghost reflecting over all the killings and violence. Ghost questions whether he should use his new powers as a force of good or evil. Listeners are left to ponder the answer, but by then, the resolution is too abrupt. This one verse is the only bit of characterization in the last ten minutes of the album. It leaves fans wanting more and not in a good way.
Even with the slightly disappointing story, the music of Twelve Reasons to Die is well worth the experience. Fans are encouraged to pick up the deluxe version of the album, as it comes with the full Instrumentals for the entire project. This was a new direction not only for Ghostface, but Adrian Younge, as this was his first Hip-Hop release. Whether they work together again or not (there is talk of Adrian possibly contributing to the new Wu-Tang album), we can only hope they explore this concept more in future releases.