Ghostface Killah - Apollo Kids Review
Posted by John Downey on 12.21.2010
The Wu-Tang Clan member has released his 9th(!) album. Is it an instant classic or has the icon lost a step?
1.) "Purified Thoughts" featuring GZA and Killah Priest
2.) "Superstar" featuring Busta Rhymes
3.) "Black Tequila" featuring Cappadonna and Trife
4.) "Drama" featuring Joell Ortiz and Game
5.) "2getha Baby"
7.) "In Tha Park" featuring Black Thought
8.) "How You Like Me Baby"
9.) "Handcuffin Them Hoes" featuring Jim Jones
10.) "Street Bullies" featuring Sheek Louch, Shawn Wiggs, and Sun God
11.) "Ghetto" featuring Raekwon, Cappadonna, and U-God
12.) "Troublemakers" featuring Raekwon, Method Man, and Redman
With twenty years of experience, Ghostface Killah has been performing for longer than most of his target audience has been alive. Being around for such a long time, especially in a genre where a new "greatest performer ever" is crowned at least once a year, interest in his music (and the Wu-Tang Clan as well) has grown and faded in strange but predictable patterns. The pattern goes as follows: a member of the group releases a fantastic album, rap fans rejoice, and the market quickly gets flooded with too much Wu of varying quality, and then rap fans unconsciously turn their attention to somebody else.
The lit powder keg this time was Raekwon's excellent "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx Part 2", which exceeded expectations by being only Raekwon's second album that was worth a damn. Raekwon was able to make an album on par with "Cuban Linx" by returning to the mindset that he was in when he made that hip-hop landmark, and Ghostface looks to follow suit with "Apollo Kids", which is named and patterned after a song from his best album, "Supreme Clientele". Next year will see Ghostface release two more albums, "Blue & Cream" (named after a line from a skit on the first "Cuban Linx") and "Supreme Clientele 2", and will also see GZA release "Liquid Swords 2". It's almost clockwork.
Ghostface can't be blamed for using a nostalgia crutch for now--his last couple of albums haven't been up to par, to say the least. "Big Doe Rehab" was praised when it was first released, but when was the last time you listened to it? The less said about "Wizard Of Poetry", the better. Hell, I practically forgot that "More Fish" existed--and I have the most popular review of that album on the iTunes Store. It's not like channeling nostalgia is a stretch for Ghostface anyway--it's half of his gimmick. The rest of his gimmick is split between using a torrent of soul samples and insane rambling.
If it sounds like I'm not talking about this album enough, it's because there's not as much Ghostface on this album as I would like. When the man is on the mic, everything clicks perfectly, splitting his rhymes between riding the beat and hilarious old man ranting. The problem is that there are too many guests on this album. Granted, all "solo" Wu-Tang albums require those quotation marks due to the number and frequency of guest rappers, but "Apollo Kids" isn't structured to accomodate the guests. For one thing, of the album's 12 songs, only 3 don't have guests on them, which is a lopsided ratio. For another thing, this album is only 40 minutes long, which is a pretty slim album by rap standards. There are also no skits on the album, which would be a good thing for any other artist, but some of Ghostface's funniest tracks are skits ("Bad Mouth Kid" from "Fishscale", which sees him telling a child "I'ma get my son to fuck you up", springs to mind).
Fortunately, the guests, which range in skill from GZA and Raekwon to Game and Jim Jones, only serve to lessen the album's worth from "great" to "good". The actual songs resemble short highlights from his better albums doubled in length. "Superstar" feels like it could have ended at the 2 minute mark, before Busta Rhymes's verse comes in. "Handcuffin Them Hoes" (what a title) could have been a minute long interlude between two songs on "Supreme Clientele". "Purified Thoughts" feels over before Killah Priest's verse begins. It's a mixed blessing--half of the songs would have been better at half their length, but they are still good songs.
The songs that don't sound like they should have been interludes are standouts. "Drama" has a great narrative that could be considered another chapter in a recurring story that began with his song "Shakey Dog" (and is probably the first song to make references to both Sonic the Hedgehog and Rachel Ray). "In Tha Park" sees Ghostface walk the line between creating a true rap version of "Juke Box Hero" and giving a lesson on rap's history. "Ghetto" milks its sample for all its worth, including structuring individual verses around each line in the sampled singer's verse.
The production is worth a mention. Outside of Jake One and Pete Rock, the names behind the boards don't ring any bells, but they still manage to mix together some great stuff that sounds at times like a mix between J Dilla and RZA (lots of soul, in other words). There are some duds on here (especially "2getha Baby"), but they are the exception rather than the rule.
The 411: That my biggest complaint about this album is that there's not enough of it is a good sign. If his next album is on schedule, then this and "Blue & Cream" could be the rap version of "Mesmerize" and "Hypnotize". Ghostface has made much better albums than "Apollo Kids", but he hasn't made one this good in quite some time. Go out of your way for this one.