When No Trivia’s Brandon Soderberg dropped his monster post, “Reconsidering The Rap Canon”, earlier this year, he stressed the importance of keeping the so-called “canon” of hip hop - the limited and accepted number of classic albums and great rappers that all others are judged by - nebulous and open to change and debate. Although I am far from being a legitimate cultural gatekeeper due to my race, age and class in relation with the overwhelming majority of hip hop’s creators, artists and fans, I’ve always found myself firmly on the “Biggie, Jay-Z & Nas” side of New York centric rap fandom so I haven’t always been the most open to letting the Cam’ron’s, Lil’ Wayne’s, and the T.I.’s into the discussion of what makes a truly “great” rapper.
The Cover's Nuts, Too.
Since Lil’ Wayne’s unbelievably miraculous transformation from one of the youngest and most untalented Cash Money weed carriers in the late ‘90s/Baby’s first underage jump-off to contender (for various misguided souls and people who don’t know better) for the “Best Rapper Alive”, it has re-opened the classic “Who is The Greatest Of All-Time?” debate that had been somewhat closed since the deaths of Tupac and Biggie. As Brandon (and Uncle Ruckus himself, Byron Crawford) pointed out in his post, the (completely unwarranted and revisionist) souring of Tupac’s musical legacy in various music blogs, a rapper’s legacy is subject to change and rappers that were once considered canonical can become Spliff Star in a moment’s notice. I’ve always considered only three legitimate candidates for contender as G.O.A.T., Rakim - for being the most innovative and influential emcee of all-time, Nas - for his mastery of craft, the fact that he created Rap’s Holy Bible, and sheer lyrical genius, and Jay-Z* - for sustained commercial dominance, mastery of technique, and sheer influence. (*Biggie should replace Jay-Z on there but unfortunately, his death prevented an accurate measure of his sustained work). However, I think we have a new contender for G.O.A.T. and after listening to his new album, The Big Doe Rehab, his name is Ghostface Killah.
For some reason, Ghost is not in serious discussion about who the greatest of all-time is. Perhaps, it's his oddball eccentricities or the fact that he never had true solo commercial success or the fact that he's not known by the vast majority of the public but it should be fucking obvious. Absolutely NO rapper has enjoyed Ghostface’s level of sustained critical excellence neigh superiority in the history of rap music. Not Jay-Z, not Nas, not Rakim, not Ice Cube, not Scarface, not Tupac, not KRS-One, not anyone else in Wu-Tang. Every last one of his solo records are completely vivid and fantastic records that each have its unique vibe and musical direction that defy and push the current conventions of rap music including the underrated Bulletproof Wallets. Ghost has more stone cold classics on his resume than any other rapper, period; If you add his work on Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), Ironman, Wu-Tang Forever, Supreme Clientele, The Pretty Toney Album, Fishscale and if you include his major contributions to Raekwon’s seminal Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, you have seven classic albums! SEVEN! Every other rapper I mentioned has only three except Scarface who has five classic albums but has dropped his share of musical turds as well.
But being the G.O.A.T. is more than having an immaculate discography. You have to be a dynamic and unique rapper and Ghost is perhaps the most truly unique rapper of all. Ghost is one of the rare rappers that has gotten better and better with age. He started out as in the bottom half of Wu-Tang Clan on their debut, good but nothing particularly spectacular when you compare him to Meth’s innovative flow, GZA’s mastery of metaphorical lyricism, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s off the wall delivery and charisma, Rae’s slang, and Deck’s raw lyricism. I wouldn’t even put him above RZA on their debut but somewhere between Cuban Linx and Wu-Tang Forever, he developed an oddball non-sequitur influenced slang and unparalleled emotional dramatics that earned him a spot with the greats. By the time, he dropped Supreme Clientele in 2000, he became the Best Rapper in the Clan which is saying a lot. However, it didn’t stop there. As rap became stagnant and “died”, Ghost continued to perfect his craft and became a master storyteller, a man obsessed with vivid and mundane details that transform your average song about crime and drugs into a meditation on violence. Ghost doesn’t just talk about violence but he describes and pratically emotes it from all angles: Emotionally, physically, metaphorically, hysterically, Ghost brings it all. But whatever...Ghost is great. He’s got a new album and it’s the Album Of The Year.
Big Doe Rehab is primarily about two things: sex and violence; their consequences, their relationship between each other, and the actual act of participating in each of these acts. No song best describes this than the absolutely stunning “Yolanda’s House” featuring Method Man and Raekwon. Rae, Ghost, and Meth narrate a story that starts with Ghost frantically running through the projects (again...) after narrowly escaping a drug bust and shootout with the police and searching for a safe house, Ghost runs into one of his girl’s house, Yolanda, only to discover Meth boxers around his hips fucking another girl on the couch while Ghost cracks up at the irony of it as he scares Meth and his girl half to death. Meth picks up the verse next and proceeds to chew Ghost out for his both his lack of manners and to lecture him on the mutual consequences that his dealing has on the community for everybody. The song is funny, ironic, exciting, and vivid and highlights all three rappers ample storytelling abilities. It’s subtle in the way, it both describes the consequences of drug dealing without being preachy and it shows the way sex and violence can occasionally collide. A moaning, orgasmic female wail underscores the soul strings and funky bass line and helps make the connection. Violence and sex are also addressed in songs like “Walk Around” where Ghost vividly describes the circumstances about and emotional consequences of the first time Ghost kills somebody, as well as “Superman Loover” referencing “Supa GFK”, “Shakey Dog Featuring Lolita” which is as detail rich as the original and “Killa Lipstick”, Ghost’s homage to EPMD’s classic, “Please Listen To My Demo.”
Ghost once again proves that he has the best ears in the biz for beats as the production on the album is ridiculous. The beats are as soul sample heavy as ever but despite the fact this is his fifth straight album rocking that style, it does not sound dated or tired. It still works. Ghost is as sharp as ever, lyrically. If the album has one weakness, its a bit derivate of Fishscale and the three songs that feature Ghost’s weed carrier cronies, Theodore Unit, drag whenever Ghost isn’t spitting a verse. (Seriously, can somebody drag Shawn Wigz out to the shed and shoot him so he doesn’t keep ruining Ghost’s songs. “White Linen Affair” is classic until Wigz shows up. I didn’t think I’d see a day where somebody would compete with Joe Scudda for Worst White Weed Carrier Award. These two clowns should start a group.)
Overall, this record just goes to highlight the giant flaws in 8 Diagrams. Wu-Tang still sounds great over the same dusty soul productions as ever and can still make great music together when they are in their comfort zone and feel equally inspired. Masta Killa on “Killa Lipstick” and Method Man on “Yolanda’s House” on their guest appearances absolutely maraude their verses. It proves that they still have classic in them somewhere and perhaps RZA is unintentionally sabatoging them by attempting to expand and experiment with the Wu-Tang sound instead of just hooking up some soul samples and letting these guys rock. When I initially heard that Ghost was gonna drop this album, the same day as 8 Diagrams, I was ten times more excited for the new Wu album despite the fact that Ghost dropped two top ten records last year and Fishscale was by far my favorite album last year. But once again, Ghost just makes this look easy. It took to his seventh great solo album to realize it. He’s the G.O.A.T. It’s that simple. Dennis Coles, Best Rapper Alive.