The Best Damn Ghostface Article You Ever Read
For this first of many Wu-Tang Wednesday installments to come, I unearthed this feature that I penned about Ghostface two years ago for Boston’s Weekly Dig. In addition to being one of my favorite articles that I ever wrote, it’s also useful resource for Wu-Tang geeks. In the interview, I asked Ghostface about his notoriously verbose contribution on Pete Rock’s “Soul Survivor.” You won’t – or maybe you will – believe his response. It crushed me at the time, but now I think it’s hilarious.
It would be difficult to charge Ghostface Killah with sexual harassment. For one, he’s sanctioned by intergalactic bylaws to floss by any means necessary; and for two, everyone wants to be harassed by Ghostface – even your granny wants his chain bouncing off her chin.
Some of Ghost’s Wu-Tang companions failed to penetrate mainstream consciousness after the Clan’s bubble popped. For the most part – the crew’s shine decline can be blamed on Wu-Tang “fans,” many of whom only consumed anti-establishment fringe-hop when it was pushed through commercial outlets. Wu-Tang heads are like baby daddies; they were affectionate when Wu-Wear was en vogue, but they haven’t shown much love since.
But while contemporary Wu classics such as Inspectah Deck’s The Movement and Cappadonna’s The Yin and the Yang dodged the radar, Ghost has towered over hip-hop and emerged as an enigmatic presence on par with no other MC – ever. Homeboy could cut a track defending Paul Wolfowitz with Raffi on production and he’d still get props from Nubian broads, The Wiggles, whiteboys and Kurdish amputees.
“I know how to just go into different worlds without having to play myself,” he says. “If I have to go and make a song for radio – I know what type of music to get; when it’s time to get grimy – I get grimy; and when it’s time to get sentimental – I know how to go in and paint pictures. This is what I do – I’m a universal MC. I love music, I love hip-hop.”
While he skips across subgenres with ease, Ghost’s most devout apostles embrace his more obtuse rhymes. Some endorse his abstract facials to the point that they claim to understand lyrics that even he doesn’t get. One dynamic verb spread that’s oft discussed amongst diehards is his contribution on “Tha Game” from Pete Rock’s Soul Survivor. – a verse that famously opens with Ghost proclaiming himself, “MC ultra, high-brolic bankroll alcohol vulture…tally ho pitty-pat backgammon pro,” then reflecting on “Words with the president, brunch with Yeltsin / Gorbachev under Meth’s nuts, he out in Belgium,” and encoring with a tale of “Six and a half monkeys, twelve Nazis / Four disappear, three ate two, one flash in thin air.”
That notorious verse – like so many of Ghost’s past and present underground ventures – slides on no matter what the meaning, which, it seems, has also flashed into thin air. Sidewalk anthropologists have attempted to translate the spiel (hell – even I had a hypothesis involving Planet of the Apes and Swahili prostitutes), but as it turns out, interpreting Ghost can be like searching for the Alamo basement.
“I forgot what I was talking about on that one, but I knew what I was talkin’ about back then,” he says, laughing at how easy it is to crush a rap geek’s universe. “That’s when I was wilin’ out. Now when I tell stories I get a bigger impact than with abstract rhymes. MC lovers love the abstract shit, but a lot of males and females can relate to radio joints like the Ne-Yo track – I’m good at that there.”
The Ne-Yo track he refers to is “Back Like That,” one of many tangible offerings on Ghost’s latest Def Jam release, Fishscale. Not that anyone from outside the Shaolin sphere can catch every narcotic reference and slang shot that he fires on commercial tracks, but there’s no doubt that his newer material earns him more dollars and makes more sense to his fans than Ghost’s jigsaw raps ever did.
While releases such as Fishscale and 2004’s The Pretty Toney Album enable Ghost to freeze his medallions, side projects like last year’s Put It On the Line allow him to flaunt his ice without repercussions in the hood or on planet hip-hop. Ghostface is still applauded underground; not just for his remarkable writing, but because he picks producers on the merit of their work – not their names.
“Fishscale is the same thing I usually do – it’s the norm,” he says. “But every album is a different era – and with this one right here I just tried to get a new vibe, so I used beats from a lot of underground guys – like J Dilla, MF Doom and Pete Rock. I always find a vibe with the first couple of beats I have and then work around it.”
So far, Fishscale has won approval from both haters and the oversized Hanes demographic that we justifiably hate on. It’s that bridge appeal that allows Ghost to keep his cred despite having his own sneaker line and action figure (both due out this year), and that will keep him getting laid and paid when Nelly’s bunking with Coolio on Ja Rule’s couch.
“When I first kicked it off I was young – I didn’t know enough about the business,” he says. “I’m a lot wiser now; now I know how things work.”
MC ultra indeed.