Ghostface Killah is ridiculously consistent. Each one of his individual albums plays out like a stunner, some even garnering essential status (Supreme Clientele). The Big Doe Rehab follows adequately in this vein, even if it’s not quite the revolutionary sound that a Ghostface release has tended to be. The album finds plenty of support from Theodore Unit and Wu-Tang members but, as is almost always the case, it’s Ghost’s stream-of-consciousness flow and impeccable delivery that dictates the record.

Julie Rowe
Omg Jason! (PHOTO COURTESY OF DEF JAM)

Think of the first minute of The Big Doe Rehab as Ghostface Killah’s don-like portrait. He strolls into the cabana with his entourage surrounding some poor fools who thought they could skip out on their promissory note, but instead of blasting them he shows a little mercy by taking their girlfriends as a down payment. It’s like Denzel’s intro in American Gangster – he’s both violent and compassionate. But it’s not really compassion. You know Ghost is just going to keep the girls and add interest to their debts before ultimately smoking them.

As soon as the motorcycle rev of second track “Tony Sigel” sinks in, you can tell Ghostface is more than ready. And once he gets started, it seems like he can’t be stopped. There’s something absolutely captivating about his flow as it weaves from topical reference to anecdote in an abstract, almost poetic way. Even when his verses seem consumed by tension or violence, Ghost is capable of delivering an unexpected gem to lighten the mood. On “We Celebrate,” Ghost raps, “Now I’m in the middle / Watch is all chiseled / I can holla at the bird like Doctor Doolittle / ‘What’s that in ya pocket, Ghost?’ / A dill pickle / ‘Not that!’ / Oh that’s just the 45 stainless nickel.”

On “White Linen Affair,” Ghost blurs the distinctions between skit, song and concept. Playing host to an awards show for hip hop’s biggest names, Ghostface is the MC, the coordinator and the facilitator. He introduces celebrities, announces special performers, and even seats his guests. The song shifts between Ghost’s gratuitous namedropping and a quasi chorus that works as a lead-in from commercial breaks. The song or skit, whatever you want to call it, is feather-light humor with one-liners like, “And for my ladieeees, we got Ne-Yo and Usher.” There’s something hilarious about Ghostface excitedly introducing Ne-Yo. I know they put out a single together, but I can’t really picture the two of them ever hanging out.

“Supa GFK” recalls The Pretty Toney Album on which Ghost classically raps over the Delfonics track “La La Means I Love You.” Here he adds slight production to Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s often sampled funk swell beat, and then delivers the best rap-over it’s ever produced. It’s yet another example of how flawlessly self-assured he is as a wordsmith – all you have to do is put on a funk-soul record and he’ll become its proprietor.

To balance out the violent, playful first half of the record, Ghostface hastily attempts to add some biblical, soul-searching depth toward its end. After an R&B a cappella interlude that runs a minute too long, Ghost tackles self-sacrifice and personal ascendancy on the hard ballad, “I’ll Die for You.” The song is introspection extended outward. Ghost questions his role in his family, his community and even in biblical history. But despite his solid lyricism, the track is just plain boring. Its passion seems perfunctory – Ghost references his love for his mother, his kids, Brother Malcolm and so on over delicate piano keys. In this rare instance, Ghost could take a tip from Lil Wayne whose track “Trouble” off the Drought Is Over mixtape utilizes the same musical and thematic ingredients while generating a more authentic and resonant tenderness.

Thankfully, the sub-par second half of the album is salvaged by a pair of surprisingly solid bonus tracks. “Killa Lipstick” is bolstered by some sexual reminiscing from Method Man and Mastah Killah and the album closer “Slow Down” drifts and flutters with the help of Def Jam songstress Chrisette Michele’s sultry refrain that Ghost keeps attempting to speed up.

This album sees Ghostface Killah at his most lyrically playful. He’s not afraid to set aside his mob-boss image to make irreverent jokes, even occasionally poking fun at himself. But this is what has made Ghostface stand out from the rest of the Wu-Tang unit and the majority of hip hop for years. He’s a confident, brazen storyteller capable of stringing together intricate plotlines that occupy the streets and the ethereal. But all the while he remains achingly human. Few rappers are in the same vicinity as Ghostface. You don’t have to turn to this album to find out – just look at his production over the past seven years. Of course, listening to this won’t hurt.

3 out of five stars

Ghostface Killah

The Big Doe Rehab

Def Jam

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