The Lost Tapes (released October 5, 2018)
If it ain’t broke, why fix it?
That’s been the battle cry of the venerable Ghostface Killah, who for the better part of 25 years – yes, TWENTY FIVE YEARS – has consistently delivered the gritty, speaker-rattling wordplay that revolutionized hip-hop in the mid 90s.
Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean Ghostdini hasn’t evolved over the years. He’s matured from the rapid-fire rhyme-slinger of his early days to a more measured, deliberate tone. He’s stepped outside his comfort zone for impressive collabo projects with Sheek Louch and BADBADNOTGOOD. And he’s also flexed his creative muscles in recent years, giving us cinematic-level storytelling with his 36 Seasons and Twelve Ways to Die series.
But as the musical landscape changes, and his peers scramble to keep up with the times, Ghost never falters.
No autotuning. No weird choppy flows. No bad crooning.
The packaging may be different but it’s the same ol Tony Starks. And that’s made him one of the game’s most consistent, and beloved, voices.
That’s why you shouldn’t expect The Lost Tapes, Ghost’s 13th studio LP, to be a reinvention. It’s more of a reclamation – Ghost is back to remind y’all who helped start all this.
He’s joined behind the boards by Internet phenom Big Ghost, whose entire online persona is one massive tribute to Ghostface himself. Big Ghost is a big stan, so best believe he’s more than eager to replicate Toney’s classic dusty, soul-drenched sound. Sonically speaking, it’s one of the best-produced projects of the year.
You don’t have to wait long to be captivated by the beats. Once those horns come blaring in on “Buckingham Palace,” Ghostface immediately goes to work: “My Clan bring heat like the summer, check the forecast/We kamikazes, microphone aeronautics … It’s all fun and games ’til your eye’s hangin’ out your socket.” He’s joined on the track by 38 Spesh, Benny the Butcher and KXNG Crooked, who is especially focused this time around – “I went from roaches in the cereal to flowin’ the most ferocious in your stereo/But culture vultures don’t hear me though.”
In many ways, The Lost Tapes feels like a throwback mixtape. Nearly every song features multiple guest verses, and not just from Ghost’s Wu-Tang brethren. Ghost takes a trip out west for “Saigon Velour” with Snoop Dogg and E-40, and it’s a treat to hear E-Fonzarelli spit over vintage Wu beats. LA the Darkman and Rass Kass on “Cold Crush,” Big Daddy Kane on “Done It Again” – the album is full of nods to hip-hop history.
And again, I can’t overstate how great the throwback atmosphere feels. “Majestic Accolades” feels like it was plucked right from 1996. The adrenaline of “Cold Crush” feels like an offshoot of “Daytona 500” while “Done It Again” floats like a new-age “Camay.” Cappadonna even shows up for that one to really kick in the nostalgia.
But this ain’t some greatest-hits montage. Fresh sounds help push Ghost’s narratives in new directions. “Constant Struggle” is a modern-day Negro spiritual, with Toney stepping away from the machismo to wax poetic about life’s pressures. Priest comes in to really take the message home: “Freedom’s kinda vague when they’re’s all types of slaves/Slaves to the money, slaves to the fame/slaves to addiction, slaves to the pain.”
Ghost hits rock-star status with “I Think I Saw a Ghost,” with heavy guitars that turn the booth into a mosh pit. GFK proclaiming on the intro that “this is rockstar s***: Radiohead and all them n****s with all them fly names, Green Day, Van Halen” is the most Ghostface rant on the entire album. The bars live up to the boasts, too, with guest Sheek Louch again proving that he’s criminally underrated: “new faces, blue faces, safe look like Avatar.”
That’s why The Lost Tapes works so well – it’s the classic Wu-Tang sound that plays off fans’ nostalgia but throws in a few curves to keep things interesting.
And as long as Ghost is behind a microphone, you’re guaranteed quality every time. Twenty-five years strong.
Best tracks: “Buckingham Palace,” “Constant Struggle,” “I Think I Saw a Ghost”
4 stars out of 5