Ghostface Killah

Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry

(Def Jam; 2009)

By Clayton Purdom | 17 October 2009

Everything I think about Ghostface’s discography—the vertiginous early work, the encyclopedia-thumbing change-up of The Pretty Toney LP (2004), and most importantly the mawkish deicide committed on Fishscale (2006) and The Big Doe Rehab (2007)—I have already written. I wrote it here. I was on some empassioned shit, taking the creator of my first and tenth favorite records of the decade (by recent count, anyway) to task for the abasement of his art. Ghostface was once a radical and profound colossus within the pop landscape, an artistic entity of some wild, erratic pure energy; now, he is at best a sort of thinking man’s Snoop Dogg, playing up some goony pimp persona on record and then doing press like a born-rich thumbsucker waiting for his Lunchable. Dude comes across like he just fucking hates making music, to which I reply, pleadingly at times: Fine. Stop making it. Sell insurance.

In theory, Ghostface kicking a record of alternately tear-stained and long-dicking soul bangers is a great one. Were this, like, a ten-track collaboration with Lee Fields, an idea so great I can envision the album cover for it already, we’d be looking at a renewed validation to the emcee’s career. It is not that, of course; it is instead a crude and hateful grafting of Huggy Bear cartoon loverman bullshit onto Ghostface, and then the parading of that clownish, overeager Ghostface into a dozen like neo-R&B fantasias. He dodders about, trying hard, like pilled-out Brit at the VMAs that one time, difference being she came off sympathetic if ridiculous whereas Ghost just comes off ridiculous. The record is an ugly and unlikely curio, its storytelling mostly confined to cheating women, jealous men, and Ghost’s throbbing, album-length hard-on for himself. You can practically hear the wet slap of 12-year-old Ghost in the bathroom on “Stapleton Sex.”

Accordingly, then, the pleasures it produces are impure ones, like that fuck-terrible synth line exploding like a confetti cannon in “Paragraphs of Love,” or the early-runtime back to back Raheem DeVaughn hooks, or the deft swell of the sample on “Forever.” In these bright, neo-Roc productions Ghost has a playground fit for his lyrical athleticism, and in instances we see that talent at play. “Stay” has a sort of cool hurt to it that not many emcees could conjure, and there’s an inimitable wild-eyed sense to his flow on “Not Your Average Girl.” One hears a hint among all this of the realization of the smart straight thug rap envisioned on The Pretty Toney LP.

These moments fade fast. The garish cover of Ghostdini is apt: this is an elaborate and unfunny joke, not to mention—if it even bears mentioning at this point—profoundly hateful to women. I’d like to give you an exact number of the good tracks on this record, as like a buyer’s guide, but even at their best they feel somehow incorrect for recommendation. The verses on “Stay” refuse to explore their emotional potential, “Guest House” is a rehash of a story Ghost has told at least twenty times by now, “Do Over” fires on all cylinders one supposes if one must but what it sounds like isn’t a really good track but a really good version of a type of track for Ghostface to have done, at some point, on an album more worthy of his and our time. Wizard of Poetry is obviously an attempt at mainstream play from the emcee, and so it’s unfair to hold it up against the shocking and nightmarish brilliance he displayed just last month on the rap nerd love letter that is Only Built 4 Cuban Linx 2. So let’s not: this record may find its audience, separate as it is from that one’s. The difference is that the people who like this record are laughing at him, and Ghostface, knowing this, doesn’t give a shit.