Apollo Kids By Ghostface Killah
Though the release of their debut album, 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), saw the rise of the Wu-Tang Clan as both a collective of artists and an iconic branding system, it was around this time that they largely ceased to exist as a group of musicians: the ensuing decade saw them branch out into any number of solo careers and entrepenurial ventures and they released only one additional album during this period: 1997's Forever. And while the 1990s saw the release of seminal hip-hop albums by RZA (Six Feet Deep with Gravediggaz), GZA (Liquid Swords) and Raekwon (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx), as well as the mainstream success and eventual cooling-off of Method Man, the 2000s belonged to Ghostface Killah. Releasing two of the most critically acclaimed hip-hop albums of the period in Supreme Clientele and Fishscale, Ghostface proved himself to be the most enduring creative force to emerge from the group. Nineteen years after the release of the first Wu-Tang demo tape, and having recently turned 40, Ghostface Killah releases his ninth studio album, Apollo Kids.
Lead-off track "Purified Thoughts" makes interesting use of time and tempo-shifts: the introduction and percussion-less choruses feature, in 6/8 time and at a tempo of 185 beats per minute, a loop of the original sample from which producer Frank Dukes has created the verse beat, which is in 4/4 time at a tempo of 85 beats per minute. Based around a chopped up sample of "Am I a Good Man" by Them Two--an obscure 1960's Miami Soul duo--the track finds Ghostface Killah and his two guests, Killah Priest and GZA in top form, each delivering an inspired verse. Following this is the cheekily brilliant "Superstar": featuring a blaxploitation-style funk beat, a chorus sung in the third-person--think "Theme from Shaft": "he's a superstar, yeah!"--an even better verse by Ghostface, and a noteworthy appearance by Busta Rhymes. Another strong track is the western-tinged "Black Tequila," which features another excellent production by Frank Dukes, taking more than a few cues from the school of RZA and, like the preceding two, barely exceeds three-and-a-half minutes--the entire album clocks in at a little over 40--which is always the safest route to go in the production of hip-hop albums.
The skeletal, highly percussive production style of "Drama"--provided by Bad Boy alumni Sean C & LV--would have only worked as a tasteful frame for some prodigious lyrical display: for this reason it's safe to say that, though not a great track, it certainly could have been were it not for the slightly annoying and desultory presence of Joell Ortiz and a bored Ghostface; with its abrupt shifts in dynamic, lead single "2getha Baby" is a fine piece of work--though it may be a bit of old hat--and "Starkology" features Scram Jones' valiant attempt at crafting a beat almost entirely out of DJ-scratches and atonal sound effects: though it doesn't really work. The decent "In Tha Park" features another superlative production by Frank Dukes--still, strongly evincing a RZA influence, which is more than welcome since it's a style that RZA himself has largely abandoned at this point. Following this is the much better "How You Like Me Baby" produced by the legendary Pete Rock and strongly invoking his seminal early '90s work with CL Smooth.
"Handcuffin' Them Hoes" and "Street Bullies" are nearly just as strong, if also a little dated: both strongly convoke any number of east coast hip-hop tropes of the second-to-last decade: the quoting of old school rap songs, pitched-up soul samples, chanted choruses and too many off the cuff overdubs. The excellent Wu-Tang mini-reunion "Ghetto" is a retread of the '70s movie soundtrack-funk of the earlier "Superstar," replete with a vocal sample of Marlena Shaw's "Woman of the Ghetto." Rounding out the set is the anti-climactic but still brilliant, deep soul-sampling "Troublemakers." These blasts from the recent past are more than refreshing: by assembling a "justice league" of both hip-hop veterans and their progenies, the self-proclaimed Tony Starks (Iron Man) of rap has helped to facilitate the creation of a consistently entertaining, retrograde listening experience, to which he has contributed many as ever excellent verses.
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