The Wu-Tang Clan, now splintered into a loosely tied group of
MCs, has given rap music some of its most dynamic and memorable
figures. Sadly, the group’s most able member, Ghostface
Killah, usually falls under the radar, dwarfed by the drug-addled
messiah persona of Ol’ Dirty Bastard (now Dirt McGirt) or the
camera-ready Method Man.

Music Reviews
Just how many do-rags am I wearing? (Courtesy of Def Jam)

With a shortened name, Ghostface has created the most complete,
organic rap album of his career. The Pretty Toney Album is
layered with classic soul samples and earthy percussion all aided
by Ghostface’s urgent, perpetually famished flow. With no
hip, glossy producers like Just Blaze or the Neptunes, Ghostface,
fellow Wu-vet RZA and a group of relative unknowns handle the
arrangements and do so admirably. The natural spirit of the samples
and the pulse of the horns isn’t flooded under a sea of
digital flourishes; the sound is closer to the true spirit of
rhythm and blues than anything else in modern rap music. The
desperate love of “Tooken Back” and the verbal
awakening of “Beat The Clock” have flawed, human
storytelling that shakes the listener.

Well-appointed guest appearances show a welcome sense of
restraint in the modern age of rap excess. On “Run,”
Jadakiss and Ghostface weld their athletic and desperate verses
together in a spectacular gangland chase scene. And though his
collaborators are skilled, some cameos from his Wu-Tang
co-conspirators would have been welcome, as they bring out the best
in Ghostface.

Ghostface’s humanity makes each word of every song
indispensable. His eventual pleas for redemption in the face of his
mistakes don’t sound like the deathbed repentances of his
contemporaries. Album closer “Love,” Ghostface shines a
light through the hazy fog of drugs and urban decay he spent an
entire album articulating in fine detail.

After stumbling together on album misfires, the members of the
Wu-Tang clan are finally getting back on track: RZA has received
heaps of praise for his work on the soundtrack for “Kill
Bill” and Dirt McGirt seems revitalized after a lengthy
prison term. Here’s to hoping Ghostface’s remarkable
achievement on this disc can spark a Shaolin renaissance.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

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