Phantom and the Ghost (released April 29, 2014)
Call him The Phantom, The Ghost, Holiday, Pinero or just plain P.
Just make sure you also call him consistent.
If you’re a fan on Styles P, you know exactly what to expect on his seventh solo album, Phantom and the Ghost – rugged beats, intriguing wordplay and a commanding presence. It’s the same formula fans have been treated to since P burst on the scene in the mid-90s with his LOX cohorts.
Last year’s highly underrated Float featured Styles settling in to a more soulful sound. But here, it’s all sparse piano keys, intimidating bass and bellowing horns. It’s haunting – the perfect mood music for a Phantom.
Consider P a street philosopher. He’s above the usual rap posturing and fairy tales of machismo. Instead, he ponders the rigors of the game, offering both warnings and wisdom.
“Never Safe” and “Deeper Self” paints pictures of a concrete jungle, with P dropping gems on the latter, “I’m from the hood where everybody need the help/You a follower? Better lead yourself.”
He gets lots of help sharing his message. Sheek Louch wrecks shop on “Creep City” where he claims to be “Iron Mike with the birds.” The Bull Pen join P on “Don’t Be Scared” for a solid posse cut but Ghost’s threats soar highest: “I heard your gangsta rapping ain’t resonating/We don’t believe you, you’ll never make it.”
Not to be outdone, Chris Rivers offers his own wisdom while standing shoulder-to-shoulder with a veteran: “Sleep with one eye open long enough you do it comfortably.” And Styles also shows a surprising amount of chemistry with Vado on “World Tour,” where P embraces his hometown roots.
Besides a grating autotune hook on “Smoke All Day,” the flaws on Phantom and the Ghost are barely visible – save for one. The album is in dire need of more diversity. We get it in spurts – the riddims of “Rude Boy Hip Hop” break up the eerie atmosphere and “For The Best” conjures images of Styles as a Wild West desperado. He sounds great getting his Red Dead Redemption on. The bonus cuts “So Deep” and “Same Scriptures” also change the pace slightly. Besides these tracks, most of songs sound a bit too similar, muddling Styles’ poignant messages.
By now, we know just what to expect from a Styles album, and Phantom and the Ghost follows suit. There are no theatrics, no embarrassing attempts at mainstream acceptance. It’s just a dose of reality from one of the game’s foremost poets.
No surprise there.
Best tracks: “World Tour,” “Creep City,” “Rude Boy Hip Hop”
3.5 stars out of 5