Wu-Tang’s own Ghostface Killah needs no introduction for hip hop heads at this point. New York’s own Michael Rapaport (who narrates parts of the album) makes that notion clear right from the beginning (“Shit, the motherfucker needs no introduction, I don’t even know why I’m doing this shit”). The legendary MC released his tenth solo studio album this past week titled, The Lost Tapes, and did so during an unusual busy time for rap music, specifically with the releases of Tha Carter V, as well as Logic’s own version of 90s boombap on his fourth selection of the Young Sinatra series (where Ghostface was also featured on).
On The Lost Tapes, Ghostface clearly doesn’t care about staying relevant. Once that “dirty soul” hits on the first official track, “Buckingham Palace,” the message becomes more and more clear. Ghost Deini wants nothing more than to make the the type of music that he wants, even if that means staying within the confines he’s always known; purely raw, organic rap. No autotune, no cringe-worthy puns, and no signs of a trap drum. Instead, the one know as Ironman provides us with a surprisingly short and concise mixtape of sorts, full of features from the golden era of hip hop. The only time he was by himself on a track was during the interludes. At times, the many different styles made for a busy listen, especially when it became hard to differentiate who’s rapping.
Luckily, Ghostface’s intentions for this album is clear. On “Reflections of C.R.E.A.M. (Interlude 2),” he speaks on his storied career, and even admits that he’s probably only got two or three more projects left in him. Knowing that information leads many to believe that The Lost Tapes is a victory lap, and one who’s purpose is to not only create nostalgia, but also to remind millennials where the genre’s roots originated from. Something tells me that the addition of artists like Raekwon and Big Daddy Kane was not by accident.
The production notably sounds refined and up-to-date. It’s raw and representative of 90s boombap, but something about it resonates as diverse and introspective. For example, “I Think I Saw a Ghost” possesses an ode to pure rock n’ roll with the help from Reignwolf, who brings a killer chorus (“I think I saw a ghost/Walking up and down the road/Going coast to coast/It won’t stop until the lights turn off”). The horn-infused “Saigon Velour” also features an ironically relevant performance from Deini, as the MC raps about free speech and how his word choice in his raps affects law enforcement’s perception of him as a black man (“If I walk the walk, talk the talk, sling therapy/If I spit what I knew then the courts would burn me/Fed’ll lock me up and throw away the key”). The French instrumentals correlate perfectly with the subject at hand, and bring a real Nas-like vibe to the situation.
And sure, while the hip hop street perspective has been done to a tee before, Ghostface utilizes his pristine wordplay and creativity in other ways. The samples on here are tastefully used and well-incorporated, especially on “Majestic Accolades” and “Watch Em’ Holla.” The former track is the highlight of the record, as the Wu-Tang member raps one of the more memorable hooks, talking about his experiences with girls, hustling, and life in general. The latter song is a soulful high point, as Deini delivers his best verse over one of his own samples with Raekwon. The scratchy production reminiscent of early 80s DJ-ing will make any old Wu-Tang fan crack a smile.
The album is deliberately void of a concept, but the title suggests there wasn’t meant to be one. Killah’s priority is formulating a group of songs that represent who he was was a person back then, and where he’s at now as one of the most exemplary musicians of all time. He speaks on this on “Constant Struggle,” where his problems are now pertaining to someone who’s been accustomed to fame rather than someone who’s trying to attain that status. It’s an interesting take considering most rappers from his era fail to express something so obviously relevant.
Newer fans of rap will probably roll their eyes at The Lost Tapes, and think that it’s some type of lame attempt to exploit the flaws with the Soundcloud culture. Instead, Ghostface Killah’s tenth album is a quiet and subtle depiction of a rapper who loves what he does, and has no problem telling people that. The Lost Tapes will probably slip through the cracks due to his already large discography over the past twenty-five years but Deini gives fans a solid updated version of what made the Wu-Tang Clan so iconic.