Album Review: Ghostface Killah, Twelve Reasons to Die

Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge

Twelve Reasons to Die (to be released April 16, 2013)

I’ve been preaching on this very blog for years that a truly good album should tell a story. Love and heartbreak, trust and betrayal, revenge and redemption – they’re all characteristics of a compelling narrative. Elite artists have used those elements as building blocks to construct classics.

Ghostface Killah sticks to the script.

Ghost’s 10th solo set is a concept album entirely produced by Adrian Younge, who also scored the 2009 cult classic Black Dynamite. Ghost has long been known as one of hip-hop’s premier storytellers but with Younge’s help, Twelve Reasons to Die takes rap storytelling to cinematic new levels.

Twelve Reasons to Die opens with “Beware of the Stare,” a haunting overture that warns Pretty Toney’s enemies of impending doom. “He spares no one/he was forgotten but he was someone.” That paves the way for “Rise of the Black Suits,” where eerie keys are the backdrop for our hero’s back story – a young man born into a life of crime. What follows is a tale of love, mob betrayal and brutal revenge. Part Goodfellas, part slasher flick. But like any good film, it’s best to experience the twists for yourself. I won’t spoil the plot.

Never fear, diehard Wu-Tang fans. Twelve Reasons to Die isn’t a departure from the gritty sound that birthed a movement. It’s quite the opposite, Younge’s soundscapes fit right in. And Tone hasn’t forgotten his family ties. As he says on “Rise of the Black Suits,” “it’s the cash that rules,” in case you forgot.

“Murder Spree” reunites the Clan as U-God, Killa Sin, Master Killa and the criminally underrated Inspectah Deck all spaz out with a vicious blood lust. “The Catastrophe” is equally threatening, with the Iron Man himself warning “I don’t do that tit for tat, I’ll blow your s*** up like dynamite.” Meanwhile, the hook features angelic voices singing about a catastrophe like Easter Sunday gone horribly wrong. If you’re looking for subtlety, look elsewhere.

Ghost has never had a problem painting mental pictures and he’s at the top of his game here. On “I Declare War,” he sums up his character in just a couple of bars: “Rock a Black Panther hoodie, made of panther skin/I’m black on the outside and black within.” See, he’s down for the cause, yet always fashionable; true to his roots but still cold-hearted. Hip-hop’s Picasso, ladies and gentlemen.

Rain falls on “The Center of Attraction” as the beat wobbles and distorts before mellowing; a somber backdrop as Tone and partner Cappadonna to clash over a woman. “She was the jelly to my peanuts/Mars to Venus,” the lovelorn Ghost says. Cappadonna retorts, “She’s not your peanut butter, more like a f***ing nutcase.” What follows are three tracks that build to the plot’s climax,  featuring emotions ranging from paranoia (“Enemies All Around Me”), panic (“An Unexpected Call (The Set Up)”) and, well, PISSED (“The Rise of the Ghostface Killah”).

“Revenge is the spice of life, it’s so sweet,” Ghost spits on “The Sure Shot (Parts 1 and 2).” Truer words were never spoken. Chances are pretty good that nuances of Twelve Reasons to Die will be lost on you if you thought I Am Not A Human Being 2 was hip hop at its finest. It’s not a loud, soulless, big-budget action movie, it’s a gritty independent flick destined to be the next cult classic.

Like Ghost’s panther-skin hoodie, Twelve Reasons to Die is just as outlandish as it is fearsome. You can’t take your eyes (or ears) off of it.

Another Oscar-worthy performance.

Best tracks: “The Sure Shot (Parts 1 and 2),” “The Center of Attraction,” “Rise of the Black Suits”

4 stars out of 5


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