By the time they enter their second decade in music, most rappers are in dire need of career resuscitation. But despite that last word in the title of his latest solo outing — The Big Doe Rehab — Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah isn’t one of them. Now 37, he’s released six acclaimed solo albums (from 1996’s Ironman to last year’s More Fish) full of gritty narratives, plus a few comical cuts. Only titans like Jay-Z and Nas lay claim to equally sterling track records. And with Rehab, Ghostface proves his tried-and-true technique has plenty of juice left in it.
Given his urgent delivery and detailed verses, Ghostface is still in his prime when weaving yarns about inner-city crime. Songs like ”Yolanda’s House”and ”Yapp City” drop listeners in the midst of chaotic police chases and bullet-riddled robberies. On his most powerful tale, ”Walk Around,” he narrates the story of how a mundane stroll down a grocer’s aisle turns into a random slaughter: ”It was him, the corner store and the buttered rolls/The s— dropped when I gave him two stomach holes…/Flashbacks of me blowing his brains out/All I remember: My shirt, I couldn’t get them goddamned stains out.” Of course, he’s hardly the first rapper to dish out blood and guts. 50 Cent has practically made a career out of glorifying aggression — and managed to shill for Vitamin Water in the process. Still, Ghostface is one of the few contemporary artists who depict urban violence as what it is: an ugly reality.
Yet for all his dedication to authenticity, he’ll always make a little room for levity. In the past, that meant including gloriously bizarre tunes like 2006’s ”Underwater,” about taking a dip with mermaids…and SpongeBob! On The Big Doe Rehab, two less inventive attempts at comedy fall flat. ”White Linen (Toney Awards)” envisions a pandemonium of schmoozing celebs by literally listing their names, while ”Supa GFK” offers another list — of nonsensical boasts (”Walk through the Amazon, spilling Dom, Moët/To find my way back I gotta leave a trail of baguettes”). Listen to either track more than once and you’ll actually hanker for more about the perils of buying buttered rolls.
Ghostface’s playful side is best served here when, instead of forcing himself to be too eccentric, he attempts something new: a straight-up party anthem. That raucous first single, ”We Celebrate” — which samples Rare Earth’s ”I Just Want to Celebrate” — is as much a hook for radio as it is, yes, a celebration of his longevity. By the end of the Rehab stint, you’ll find that this Ghost is very much alive. B+
DOWNLOAD THIS: Hear ”We Celebrate” at the Def Jam website