The Pretty Toney Album

(Def Jam; 2004)

By Chet Betz | 3 November 2007

A soul sample sets the stage. “Hey, Tony Starks! Hey, Tony Starks!” The intro unwinds slowly with people asking Ghostface questions about the current state of his career and miscellaneous items. A reporter asks Tony how long it took to make Pretty Toney, and he says, “It’s none of your fucking business, man.” “Hey Ghostface, why don’t you roll with big bodyguards, you know, like the other guys do?” And Tony Starks replies, “Because I don’t need the motherfuckers. God is my bodyguard, nigga.” Oh, Ghostface, we love you.

As the horns and the piano and the bass and the beat kick in on “Biscuits,” it’s one of those hazy golden summer moments, the My Girl cliché, that sticky sweet perfect time where everything is just too right to be real. Above all, the passion of Ghostface becomes immediately apparent, as unabated and thirsty as ever, never mind his glossy Def Jam surroundings. Even Trife’s inspired to drop a solid verse. “Kunta Fly Shit” features a typically dark but atypically half-assed RZA beat that chugs slowly on as Ghostface spits some scary shit. “Brothers around here stick together like cheap rice.” In a minute, it’s gone, and pig sirens scream in on “Beat the Clock” over funky bass and percussion. There’s this sample that’s so 70s it curls hair, and Ghostface is well on his way to taking shit back to glazed days and smack-hot nights. The Pretty Toney Album blares out of thirty-something hatchbacks and corvettes leaving bumpy tar marks on Bronx streets. “Metal Lungies,” featuring Sheek Louch and Styles P., offers up searing confirmation of that.

“Bathtub (Skit)” sets the mood for Pretty Toney’s Act II: Love and Hedonism. Like most skits, it’s pretty worthless for repeat listens, but it serves its purpose and involves a few more elements beyond the rapper talking. Ghostface produces a great beat for “Save Me Dear” that somehow wonderfully samples “(You) Got What I Need.” Feelings of Kanye West’s sexier bootlegs with better rapping are aroused, and as nice as that sounds, it gets better with “It’s Over.” K Def delivers the night drive beat that moves but chills, and Ghostface reminisces about 1995 and the ends of things. “What goes around comes around in many different ways.” In “Keisha’s House (Skit),” Ghostface rhymes pretty explicitly about sex. In “Tush,” Ghostface and Missy Elliott rhyme pretty explicitly about sex. Missy stays true to herself and remains the disgusting nymphomaniac with the make-believe vocabulary, but it’s almost forgivable under the auspices of Ghost’s passion and the thumping beat. For better or worse, the hook will get people copulating in the clubs, if they aren’t already. In “Last Night (Skit),” Ghostface rhymes pretty explicitly about sex again, and it’s about time to go to confession.

“Holla” features another great unadulterated soul beat from Ghostface and some of his best lyrics as Ghostface lips his way through three verses, each one shorter than the one that came before. “This is legit rap/ I.R.S. can suck my books/ I’m a family man, Clan mixed with Theodore/ My boots hang over the telephone wires on Broad’/ Word to MetLife/ Tony got insurance on his mics/ Smoke mad shit and still got endurance when he fight.” The next song features one of the few lackluster beats on the album and the lyrics are the typical rap brag; in short, it’s as generic as its title: “Ghostface.” “Be This Way” is one hell of a way to get on the right track again, though. Smoking rings of drums and skipping strings, the Nottz beat backdrops a dope cityscape behind Ghostface’s potent lyrical attack on the social stagnancy of hoods: “We keep the hood crying for massive havoc/ No tricks we take from silly rabbits/ Yo, feed them lead carrots.”

Another skit passes and The Pretty Toney Album enters its final stretch, a sandwich of radio-ready sentimental love tracks around one hard knock single. “Tooken Back” inevitably recalls such recent hip-pop hits like “What’s Love” as Ghostface and Jackie-O trade verses over a catchy beat with a catchy hook and just a lot of catchiness sticking in lobes like melted sugar. The contrast between the soft and the hard couldn’t be more jarring as “Run” roars out the speakers and knocks the confection off the ears. RZA redeems himself after the straggling “Kunta Fly Shit” and tightens up the screws with drums like guns, scratches that cut quick, and a repeating whine that’s the sound of mad adrenaline surges. Ghostface and Jadakiss rap like the battery acid moved up from their pounding legs and into their tongues.

The finale track, “Love” featuring Musiq and K. Fox, could be the sister to Black Eyed Peas’ “Where’s the Love,” except that this is the sister that’s real and likable, not a cloying little twit. Ghostface’s last verse rings like church bells: “Love life, the ground we walk on/ My sickness, it made me strong/ My loved ones in heaven/ The ones we lost, to heroin/ Malcolm, Martin, and what they stood for/ The men had it poppin’/ Love the sun when rain drops in/ Cozy nice with my pumpkin/ Love my hell and my struggle/ You gotta go to hell to come out right/ Love conquers pain and the puzzle/ Funny how love could end so subtle/ Was it just sex and not really love for the couple?/ Love people, love the fact when there’s a baby bein’ born/ Like “push girl, come on”/ I’m not just sayin’ that ‘cause BET’s on/ We is one, one love, each one, teach one.” Had “Love” been placed right next to “Tooken Back,” Wu-Tang fans would have gagged on all the sweet warmth, but the cold divider of “Run” makes the sequence palatable.

This album’s more than palatable, though. It tastes good – Tony Tiger great, even. Ghostface dropped the “Killah,” but he’s still the hard soul music dealer for the new streets. His latest sell suffers from the Achilles’ heel of most hip-hop, messy excess, but The Pretty Toney Album stands strong on its feet, nonetheless. At least the skits feature some musical elements and rhymes. Only a few songs threaten the album’s consistency. And Ghostface’s heart of fire shows no signs of cooling.