Review Summary: Nothing new but nothing lost for Ghostface, it's business as usual and gives a Kanye a run for his money in the process
As we enter the dying days of the year and pause for reflection on all that has come to pass over the last 12 months, one thing sticks out more than all the indie acclaim and highly regarded metal releases: how varied, eclectic and, almost astounding, the year of 2010 has been for hip hop. Shad returned from his Polaris nominated sophomore album and dropped the critically adored TSOL
(and got shortlisted for the award again); both The Roots and Dark Time Sunshine continued their glory runs leaving adoration and praise in their collective wake, and Kanye dropped probably one of the more definitive albums of the year, which within about 5 minutes became more of an event than an actual album release. At the opposite end of the spectrum though, Wu-Tang affiliates Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon's collective release Wu-Massacre
left a little to be desired, rather an ep of half realized ideas than the ambitious quasi mixtape that we were all hoping for. But while our hopes were swept aside just a little too quickly, Ghostface's announcement of a brand new lp on the horizon restored a little of the lost faith that Wu Tang had never really been known for stealing in the past. Just as Raekwon's latest solo effort had seen the return to the glory days of the Wu members surviving admirably on their own again, so too has Ghostface's latest opus, Apollo Kids
It's a gutsy maneuver releasing an album so late into the year, though it's also a rather smart decision given everything that's come before it. The Kanye hype train has (somewhat) slowed down, and rather than being bogged down in the early January releases that will undoubtedly be forgotten come the middle of the year, he's chosen to drop it right in the middle of the silly season for music reviewers. As we run around like headless chickens throwing together our “albums of the year” compendiums and tuck our thumbs into our belt loops with something resembling smug satisfaction at our “supposed” superior music tastes, along comes Apollo Kids
just to throw a spanner in the works. And you almost want to overlook it, curse it for making you re-think your previously set in stone top ten's and what-have-you's, unfortunately you're just not going to be able to do that. If we're going on the gospel that the speakerbox of our generation has potentially released the hip hop album of the year (and there's strong evidence to support this) then it's my job to report that Ghostface is about to give Kanye a definite run for his money, and he does it with a much more refined and trimmed release, cutting back the bloat and the pomp in the process.
Given that '2gethababy' has already done the rounds as the first single it still needs, well rather deserves actually, to be talked about. Returning to the soul samples that Ghostface is known for indulging in, the track runs along beautifully with its Motown clinging and movie score pilfering as Coles runs through the usual hip hop romance conventions. It's the perfect counterpoint to the album's starting point, 'Purified Thoughts'. A slightly somber opening, it backs itself up with soulful wails, depressive bass tones and tales of drug-fulled tragedies care of the GZA and Killah Priest. It's followed up by a full on descent into 60's psychedelia reminiscing with 'Superstar', with Busta joining in on the daydreaming, sounding more rejuvenated and effective than at any moment on his tragically unfulfilling last opus. The beat transfers between a frantic pace and infrequent pauses for backing female crooning (imagine Ghost deciding to make his own Shaft theme song and you're on the right track), and both Ghostface and Busta match the urgency perfectly, losing nothing in the mile a minute delivery. The Game stops in for a round on 'Drama' and pulls out possibly one of the best verses of his career, his name dropping and antagonistic delivery, previously coming across as forced and toothless, now filled to the brim with fire and weight, proving that he does have more to offer to the hip hop world than collaborations with Travis “slap happy” Barker.
On 'Starkology' (the Iron Man references still in full effect) Ghostface even apes Kanye by throwing a Tears For Fears sample into the pot. It pops up seemingly out of nowhere and fails to reappear at all, but the mark is still left and it kind of makes you wonder what it was really doing there in the first place, but it makes for a nice inclusion to the minimal backbeats that recall the golden age of the late 80's and early 90's, back to a time where Flava Flav still used the watch on his hand to tell the time. Black Thought steals the show on the nostalgia trip of 'In The Park', another homage to the early days but this time more insistent and forceful with its memory lane traversing. Both 'How You Like Me Baby' and the terrible 'Handcuffin' Them Hoes' tread too close to his Ghostdini persona, Ghost again going for the more laid back approach in his soul sister searching, Jim Jones however goes on the alpha agenda offsetting the unoffensive and simple beats. Luckily these represent the only truly weak moments on the album as Raekwon closes out the album with showcases on the last two tracks, with Method Man jumping in as well for the finale 'Troublemakers', both sounding rugged and raw, playing off the high energy of Killah's performance and rebelling against it, substituting the energy for tension.
Admittedly, Apollo Kids
is nothing new and innovative from Ghostface Killah, it's nothing we haven't heard before and the writing's on the wall that we'll hear it all again before too long, but when it's this inspired (even after all these years), this tantalizing, this soulful, how do we not eat it up? Everything's tight and shaped to perfection, the beats are fresh and full of life, there's no filler or unnecessary skits to wear out the skip button. All this is is hip hop in its simplest form, street level and dirty, looking up at the skycrapers, not standing on the edge of them looking down on you and I. Its wearing scuffed shoes and hand me down clothes, and it's exactly where it wants to be – amongst the people.