3.5 / 5
Don’t call it a comeback, but GFK is in something of a career renaissance over the past two years. After scoring a critically acclaimed juggernaut with 2006’s Fishscale he kind of fell off, releasing some diminishing returns (The Big Doe Rehab), a cringey rock-bottom R&B album (Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry), and finally the warning sign for every artist, the “attempt to recapture the old sound” of Apollo Kids. Then, nothing for three years. 2013 came around and all of a sudden there was Twelve Reasons To Die, a grimy concept album about a murdered mobster named Tony Starks whose essence was distilled onto twelve vinyl records so that he might be summoned back as the Ghostface Killah. It’s familiar territory for GFK, but the production hearkened back to classic Wu tracks and Ghost’s flow was on point, so it succeeded without question. Since then he’s released another solid concept record (last year’s 36 Seasons) and a collaboration with Toronto’s BADBADNOTGOOD that ranks among my favourite albums of the year.
To round out a successful couple of years (unless DOOMStarks comes out, ha ha sob) we now get Twelve Reasons To Die II, a sequel to the original that sets out to improve on the original. In the midst of a bloody raid on a rival gang’s social club, some mobsters discover the twelve records that contain the essence of the Ghostface Killah in a safe. What follows is murder, mayhem, and the introduction of Tony Starks’ secret son, hidden from him by the mistress that betrayed him originally.
As far as sequels go it’s about on par with an equivalent film: everything is designed to be bigger and moodier, and more action-oriented. If the original was Bad Boys, this is Bad Boys 2: bigger, bolder, and more bad-ass. It’s also, unfortunately, more of the same; the presence of RZA on some tracks (as producer, rather than executive producer like he was the first time around) just goes to highlight how indebted Adrian Younge is to the Wu Abbot’s production bible. It’s all menacing samples and chopped-up breaks, perfect for GFK and perpetual collaborator Raekwon to spit mafioso tales over, but hardly groundbreaking. The reboot of the story seems like more of the same as well. Again, while this is perfectly fine from the standpoint of the album itself, it does feel like GFK might be stuck in a rut here.
Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter, because it’s Ghost being Ghost and he’s in as fine a form as he’s ever been here. Conceptual retreads and twenty-two years of Shaolin production aside, he delivers exactly what his fans want: grime, wit, and that hilarious eye for details that only Ghostface seems able to provide. Like Bad Boys 2, you can’t imagine that a third entry would be at all useful (although apparently Bad Boys 3 is a thing that’s going to be inflicted on us) but at the same time, with all the action and explosions going on, you can’t really bring yourself to care.