After making what was essentially an R&B album in 2009’s Ghostdini, Ghostface Killah returns to form with his latest, Apollo Kids. Wu-Tang Clan is well represented here – Capadonna, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon, and U-God all make appearances. Production by RZA is noticeably absent, but the production work still gives that Wu-Tang flavor, even if it’s more focused on the 70s soul part than the Eastern vibe part.
The album starts strongly with “Purified Thoughts.” It sets the vibe that carries throughout the record. The track starts with a sampled vocal – “Am I a good man? Am I a fool?” – from “Am I A Good Man” by Them Two, which repeats throughout the track. Ghostface Killah opens things up with this rhyme:
“Take my hands out my pockets, you can see my thumbs / Both of them turned green from counting the ones.”
It’s as if he’s saying “good man or a fool, get paid. And I’m getting paid. So does it matter?”
“Superstar” is next. I’ve seen some complaints about the hook in this one. It didn’t sit right with me the first time, either, but has since grown on me. Again, the production is minimalist 70s soul a la Curtis Mayfield. Understated electric piano, simple bass lick. Busta Rhymes contributes a formidable verse to this one. He creates an opportunity to insert the word “penis” into his rhyme, and he takes it. He gives it some emphasis, too.
“Black Tequila” bathes in the Wu-Tang light. It’s Ghostface’s urban Ennio Morricone ode. Hot, minimalist beat at the beginning – just a drum loop and a Morricone style guitar.
The album ends strongly with “Ghetto” and “Troublemakers.” The middle is a bit weaker than the beginning and ending tracks, and the whole album lacks the cohesion that Ghostdini did. I’m not a fan of “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes.” It lacks the humor that some of the more sexualized tracks on Ghostdini have. It could easily have been dropped from the final product.
“Ghetto” sounds like a Wu-Tang song, with a striking vocal sample from “Woman of the Ghetto” by Marlene Shaw that has got me wondering why I’ve never heard of her before. It’s got verses from Ghostface, Raekwon, Cappadonna, and U-God. A fat beat that effectively evokes the song’s name. In his verse, U-God delivers the most powerful rhyme on the album. It gets at the essence of where Wu-Tang Clan came from, and why it still works:
We like brothers / We came from the same mothers / In the projects, under the same covers / Wore the same drawers, fucked the same whores / Rolled dice, kicked rhymes, did crimes in the same halls / Sprayed our names on the same walls / Yo, your kids be my kids, your wares be my wares / Now you called up and music is your biz? / If that’s what it is, then that’s what it is.
A powerful rhyme. It made me think about just what a brilliant creation the Wu-Tang clan is. RZA’s five year plan worked, and Wu-Tang continues to thrive. At the end of 2010 – 17 years after we first encountered the Wu-Tang Clan – this album demonstrates that its heart still beats strong.
As kids born the same year Enter the Wu-Tang Clan was released move through their final years of high school, a whole bunch of Wu-Tang Clan members have thriving solo careers. Ghostface Killah is one of them, and this album shows him continuing to do some great work. Despite a couple of tracks that are, at worst, forgettable, they’re sandwiched between some great tracks, demonstrating that Wu-Tang Clan remains “nuthing ta fuck wit.” If you’re a Ghostface fan, this is a “must add” to your collection. If not, you might want to start with Ironman or Ghostdini first.