Ghostface Killah was a founding member of the Wu-Tang Clan. The Wu-Tang Clan was founded in 1993. Thus, Ghostface Killah has been musically active since 1993. That’s a 25-year career. That’s a long time.
Reinvigorating East Coast rap with his hard-nosed squad, Ghostface and the Wu-Tang Clan were extremely important 25 years ago. Dr. Dre’s The Chronic had just stripped away New York’s hip-hop credentials, and the rap world was fully embracing the West Coast’s lighter-hearted G-funk, save a few hits from The Notorious B.I.G. In response, the Wu-Tang Clan delivered music that sonically combatted the groove-rap flourishing in Los Angeles; their sound was dark, brash, cold and still authentically New York.
Throughout his career as a solo artist, Ghostface Killah has stuck to this mold religiously. Even modern spins, like his collaborative album with eerie jazz group BadBadNotGood, played into his ’90s wheelhouse. His most recent release, The Lost Tapes, is no exception. Introduced by tired comedian, Michael Rapaport, the project is described as “dusty soul,” a full embrace of its stark contrast with modern hip hop. Even the album’s title has a vintage connotation. Track after track, Ghostface raps in static aggression over grandiose soul-sampling beats at 90 beats per minute.
“Buckingham Palace” starts with a sample that sounds like it’s played through a phonograph, and, shortly after, Ghostface begins to half-shout in a monotone timbre over the same beat for the remainder of the track. “Saigon Velour” also starts with a sample that sounds like its played through a phonograph, and shortly after, Ghostface begins to half-shout in a monotone timbre over the same beat for the remainder of the track (except this one has Snoop Dogg in it). “Watch Em Holla” also starts with a sample that sounds like it’s played through a phonograph — you get the gist.
To clarify, there is nothing wrong with this mold. It made for some of the most iconic music in hip-hop history, and its compressed, “dusty” nature makes for a very cozy listen. It’s just very obviously a 25-year-old mold, void of all of the distinct qualities of modern rap: no vocal inflections, no repetitive cadences, no dynamic beats driven by the potential of digital production.
The lack of these contemporary characteristics is obviously understandable; the era in which Ghostface thrived is vastly different from today. He acknowledges hip hop’s evolution and his consequential irrelevance on “Reflections of C.R.E.A.M. (Interlude 2)”: “It’s a new wave of children that’s up. Music is different… If we would’ve came out with C.R.E.A.M. right now, we wouldn’t have gotten played.” If anything, the rapper should be lauded for acknowledging his age and sticking to his proven sound, as opposed to dangerously denying his diminished importance by forcefully implementing modern sounds that end up sounding unauthentic (see: Snoop Dogg’s atrocious Make America Crip Again).
Ghostface’s The Lost Tapes should be the how-to-guide for any dated rapper. Instead of trying and failing to reinvent yourself, embrace the fact that your new music is no more than a nostalgic window to hip hop’s past and the relevance you used to hold. Let the kids handle the new stuff and save your reputation.