Ghostface Killah @ Gramercy Theater

May 13th, 2013

2013 marks the 20th anniversary of the Wu-Tang Clan's classic debut "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)," one of the best hip hop albums ever from one of the greatest hip hop groups of all time.  To celebrate, the Wu recently reunited at Coachella, and "A Better Tomorrow," their first new album since 2007 (likely their swan song), is scheduled to drop in July.  While the Clan in its entirety has struggled for years to get on the same page and release new material, some of the individual members are quite prolific.  RZA leads the way with projects ranging from directing movies to acting to producing records and much more.  Just peep his resume.  He may be turning 44 this summer, but the Rzarector still burns with a relentless creativity and unquenchable curiosity few can match.  While RZA's the hardest working killer bee, Ghostface Killah stays buzzing as well.  This year he has three major projects.  First is the upcoming Wu record.  Second is the release of "Supreme Clientele Presents... Blue & Cream: The Wally Era", a solo joint likely to drop in the fall.  Last, but not least, he is currently touring in support of his project with musician/producer/composer on the rise Adrian Younge.  "Twelve Reasons to Die", their mobster themed comic book concept album, hit the shelves on April 16th.

"Twelve Reasons to Die" is an album that tells a story and it's been crafted by artists who seem a perfect fit.  Ghostface is, without a doubt, one of rap's best storytellers.  His lyrics consistently tell tales with rich imagery and flawless delivery.  Adrian Younge is a producer and composer of music heavily influenced by classic soul and old school film soundtracks from legends like Ennio Morricone.  His output includes a masterful job in 2009 on the score of "Black Dynamite", a superbly done blaxploitation spoof.  He's also an avid collector of old vinyl, even owning a record store in Los Angeles.  RZA, the executive producer and narrator of "Twelve Reasons to Die", is no stranger to marrying cinema and hip hop.  On paper, this record should be thunder.  Unfortunately, it falls a bit short.  It may be a matter of Ghost spreading himself too thin and not giving this album the attention it deserved.  It could also be a result of him not having full creative control.  Adrian sent him the architecture, the themes for each song.  GFK colored in the lines, so to speak.  Whatever the cause, the effect is an album with moments of brilliance, not a brilliant album, and the blame falls on Ghost.  Adrian's production is top notch.  The music throughout provides a sturdy canvas for GFK to paint with his words.  Surprisingly, he didn't go for broke and make it mad colorful.  Lacking are two of his strongest attributes as an MC, his sense of humor and innovative slang.  As a result, the violent mafia revenge storyline seems shallow and boring.  This new video is pretty sick though: 

Normally I would be charged up to see Ghost.  However, after spinning the new record on repeat and not having a breakthrough, "I love this record!" moment, I went in fearing disappointment.  Nothing worse than seeing a hero fall flat, and "Ironman, Tony Starks" is just that.

After an extended delay that actually drew some boos from the packed house, Adrian Younge and Venice Dawn took the stage looking sharp in suits and ties.  For about a half hour they rocked the place with a set of psychedelic soul that caught me by surprise.  I wasn't the only one.  The crowd looked real puzzled when the long haired guitarist let his axe fall to blow some jazz flute.  Then, the drummer started spinning his sticks and pounded out a full on rock drum solo as Adrian hammered away on the keys.  Looking around there were lots of comically lost looks.  "Where's the hip hop?"  My buddy and I were feeling it though.  They did a great job building up to the main event. 

Finally, it was time to bring out the star of the show.  Adrian and the band pulled masks over their faces and the place got electric.  Mr. Younge, looking like the Phantom of the Opera, cracked open a big book and recited the album's storyline to the crowd.  Before you could see him, you could hear him, making grunts and 'uh's over the music from somewhere off stage.  If there's any question of the love fans have for Ghost, understand that even these elicited loud cheers of approval and excited anticipation.  Then, the legend hit the stage looking like a power hitter, dipped in Cincinnati Reds gear.  The place went berserk.

Ghostface steered the show all over his catalog and put on a hell of a show.  There were new tracks, classic Wu cuts, appearances by Sheek Louch, Masta Killa, and RZA, and even a duet with William Hart of the Delfonics, who appears on "Twelve Reasons to Die". 

Ghost & William Hart

Ghost & Masta Killa

A great moment of the show was a lucky fan's dream come true.  Ghostface brought a skinny kid from the crowd up on stage and let him spit Ol' Dirty Bastard's verse from 'Protect Ya Neck'.  He did a solid job and brought the ruckus with an energetic delivery the Gramercy rewarded with raucous applause.  Cool moment for everyone.  Amazing for him. 

Fan Killing It - R.I.P. ODB

All in all, this was a really good show.  It seemed clear that Ghost knows the new stuff isn't his best work.  While Adrian and the band tried to keep up the idea of telling the album's story, Ghost just did his thing.  They made for a sick backing band and that's basically how he used them.  Like the album, if it had been executed with more attention to the product, this show could have been better.  Why didn't he rock the mask when he came out?  Why didn't he bust out the robes and play up his character?  Shit, a sick fur would have been bad ass.  Still, an average Ghostface performance is better than most other chumps at their best.  The legendary Ghost Deini might be dead? Never. Impossible.  

Check out the new stuff below.  Understand, I've been a fan for 20 years, so I hold the bar high.  Not his best, but definitely deserves a listen.  And like I said, Adrian Younge's production is solid as a glock.  Lastly, look for the comic book coming out and getcha geek on. 

Upcoming Tour Dates

05-16 Carrboro, NC - Cats Cradle
05-17 Asheville, NC - Asheville Music Hall
05-18 Atlanta, GA - Terminal West
05-19 Tampa Bay, FL - The Orpheum
05-20 New Orleans, LA - House of Blues
05-22 Austin, TX - Emos