Review Summary: Perpetuous, this curly-head kid is treacherous
Ironman often gets left out of the conversation when discussing the early run of classic Wu-Tang solo albums, but it’s an important piece of the group’s history, and attempts to direct listeners to the literature of the Wu’s main spiritual influence (the 5% Nation), perhaps more so than any of their other records at least up until this point. The lyrical complexity and religious overtones are unique to the Wu, and Ghostface Killah is one of, if not the best members of the group to headline an album like this due to his razor sharp pen game.
Ghost’s debut album is a family affair, somewhat of a continuation of Raekwon’s Only Built for Cuban Linx, where Ghost plays co-host to Rae. Occasionally, Cappaddonna joins them, and they form like Voltron (with RZA at the head) to create a super-group capable of creating classics like “Ice Cream.” Ironman’s self titled intro is another stunning example as all 3 emcees float over the upbeat Batman theme sampled beat, making sure to land plenty of punches on the opener. Ghost’s higher pitched, almost whiny style (despite overflowing with bravado) stands out immediately: “Tremendously ob-noxious, no blotches/My telephone watch will leave bartenders topless.” Ghost is an emotional dude, it’s not really a secret, and women REALLY bring that out in him (peep his appearance on VH1’s “Couple’s Therapy”). “Wildflower” is the perfect starting point when looking at Ghost vs. girls, as he lets in all out in response to being cheated on while on tour for the first Wu album, and does what he can to save face: “You gained crazy points, baby, just being with god/Taught you how to eat the right foods, fast, and don't eat lard/I gave you Earth lessons/I came to YOU as a blessing/You didn't do the knowledge, what the god was manifesting.” It’s a great spin on the whole “she doesn’t know what she’s missing” ego defense.
Rae then pops up for his own solo track, which is a short little stream of thought with incredible wordplay over a mysterious, jungle type beat, then adds some vocals to the wonderfully detailed crime caper gone wrong “260”. The boys get some bad intel and rob the wrong spot and the Usual Suspects sampled intro lead in to the next song shrewdly plays into the ending: “There’s no coke!!!!” Ghostface hits the bull’s-eye wit “Poisonous Darts”, as his voice continues to rise until he’s screaming his frustrations about Wu-Tang being snubbed at the Source Magazine Awards the year prior: “we got jerked at The Source Awards/Next year, two hundred n!99@s coming with swords!” The remainder of Ironman’s mid-section is all collaborations with other Wu-Tang members, and since Tony Starks doesn’t *** around on the mic, and they simply don’t either. Ghost isn’t even on “Assassination Day” and it doesn’t matter as RZA and Dec mesmerize with their wordplay; Rae & Meth (the “Metha-physical Man” this time around, the “Free Willy!” line is hilarious) just rip apart RZA’s creeper piano loops on “Box in Hand”, RZA’s superb beat on “Fish” is a magnificent dish and legend has it Cappaddona’s ending verse on “Winter Warz” is still going to this very day.
Ghostface & RZA are an excellent team, as the Abbott could delve deeper into his soul-sample catalog due to the range of emotion that Ghost was capable over covering. The 4 singles from Ironman do a great job of showcasing this ESP like teamwork. The gorgeous Black-love anthem “Camay” has a slick Teddy Pendergrass sample and Ghost can barely contain his excitement at the idea that he might have found a keeper: “Girl, you sexy mother***er! Damn, what’s the recipe?/You make a n!99@ wanna, godDAMN!/Can you cook darling? At the stove you’re evolvin’/Baked macaroni, turkey wings, a n!99@ starvin’” He doesn’t rap like he’s rapping, it’s like he’s speaking directly to you, like a goon from Staten Island stepped out of a bodega and just started ranting at you. “Daytona 500” was my favorite as a kid (I was 12 when this dropped), the commonly used “Nautilus” sample brings some funk to the album, and the dynamic Rae/Ghost/Donna trio dismantle the track, so bad that Raekwon hurts his writing hand and Cappa-chino busts a few tape reels in the process. Ghost is too much, his double-entendres and vocab are breathlessly out of control all over the track: “Breathe oxygen, both sides of my jaw carry oxes/The track hit like the bangers/in hundred watt boxes/jos-ti-ling these cats while Little J be deli-ing/Sip Irish Moss out of Wi-deli-ans.” “Motherless Child” tells a story about the risks of pulling out a gun and not using it. It comes back on the offender, and Ghost takes the POV of the men who retaliate against him. His friend gets shot the butt by a defensive granny, which would be referenced 10 years later in Ghost’s own “Shakey Dog” from his Fishscale album. Ghost has a sharp sense of humor, and that’s another element to his chamber; he can make controversial and explicit subject more human by having this in his repertoire.
So while there are a ton of guest appearances, they are all family, and Ghostface Killah still gives you a strong sense of who Dennis Cole is. The tear jerker “All That I Got Is You” is so raw, so authentic when he reminisces about how “there were days I had to go to Tech’s house with a note stating: Gloria, can I borrow some food? I’m dead broke/So embarrassin’, I couldn’t stand to knock on their door/My friends might be laughing, I spend stamps in stores/Mommy where’s the toilet paper?/Use the newspaper/Look Ms. Rose gave us a couch, she’s the neighbor. Religion is also a big part of Ironman, maybe not explicitly stated in the lyrics, but it creates a mystic like essence, a successful attempt at a spiritual atmosphere. It may not be the new Bible or Quran, but it’s a damn interesting to incorporate into a pop music album. “Soul Controller” is the best example, I urge you all to listen to the 2nd verse (Ghost’s best on this album). It’s all about ascension, moving on from the past, exploring new possibilities in life, and being responsible in creating new life, which is expanded upon on the aptly titled closer, “Marvel”. The viewpoints don’t have to be agreed with by all, but I think everyone should leave this record with even somewhat of a higher understanding of self. It’s not really that deep, but it also really is.
Ironman deserves just as much love as Enter the 36 Chambers, Tical, Liquid Swords & OB4CL in my mind, and I think Ghost would agree, as he states in “After the Smoke”: “This *** is piece/where’s the Nobel?”