It’s already an eventful December for Ghostface Killah. Last week, Wu-Tang Clan released their often-delayed reunion album A Better Tomorrow. On Tuesday (Dec. 9), Tony Starks is following up the Clan’s sixth studio LP with his new concept project, 36 Seasons, which follows a compelling superhero story revolving around police corruption, a disloyal girlfriend, and a revenge plot to save his Staten Island community. Backed by moving production from Brooklyn-based band The Relevations and animated characters (Kool G Rap, AZ, Pharoahe Monch) to assist in the narrative, it’s yet another worthy addition to Ghostface’s distinguished solo career.
On a rainy Friday night in New York City, HipHopDX was invited to Tommy Boy Records to speak with the Wu-Tang veteran about the process of making 36 Seasons. Last week also marked the grand jury’s decision to not indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo after the death of Eric Garner. That outcome was met with protestors flooding the streets of New York and across the entire country. While Ghost opened up about still putting out albums and rapping at 44, he was upset about persistent police brutality and abuse in America. Here, he wraps up our conversation with his thoughts on Eric Garner and Michael Brown’s cases and how justice should be served.
Ghostface Killah Shares His Motivation For 36 Seasons & Quitting Weed
DX: Every time we look up, you are ready to drop another project. Where are you finding your motivation from?
Ghostface Killah: It’s just work. That was it. Just a bunch of work. I do work for people, and they just figure out. “Yo, you know what? Let me just do this.” They decide to put the projects out whenever they put them out. I do them and I just give it to them like months before. I stay working though.
DX: How long did it take you to do 36 Seasons?
Ghostface Killah: It took me like 11 days on that. It was a direction. They said, “Yo, could you do this? This is what it’s about right here.” They gave me the script. So when I am following a script, it’s easier for me than just to go [do] some abstract shit. When I’m not rhyming about this room, I know what I gotta rhyme about. So boom. Instead of doing an abstract or regular verse, freestyle and have to think of like: “Ok, what can I get in here to sound fly? What can I do to just get ‘em?” My take on my strengths is when somebody gives me a story, when they present the story to me, its right up my alley. So it won’t really take me that long as it would doing the other regular joint. Plus, I am not doing it all by myself. You got AZ, you got G Rap. All I really gotta do is just do a verse and a half or whatever. And you can get those out like that. Especially, if your mind is open. If your mind ain’t open, your mind gotta think or whatever whatever the case may be.
DX: What’s the first thing you do when you get a script like this? Do you smoke a little something to get your creative juices flowing?
Ghostface Killah: Nah, I don’t even smoke yo. I stopped smoking. I just listen to the beat. I listen and try my best to be in an acquired space and that’s it. Just give me the beats, the music. Let me have my rhyme book; my pens and shit. If you got a CD player in the room and I’m playing the CD ‘cause I’m an old [head]. I like CDs. If [I] don’t got CDs, I’ll just put the platforms in the phone and just go off of that and shit. And that’s it. I just need peace. I need quietness. I don’t want to be in the studio doing it. I don’t like writing in the studio. I feel like I am being rushed. It makes me feel like I gotta lay something down that day. Let me be where I am at to go write it, and then let me just go ahead and lay it down.
DX: What’s your favorite place to write?
Ghostface Killah: It’s the home, the plane, the beach or just in the car. Or the train. Anything moving. I don’t mind just writing and stuff like that. Where I got at least some time, two or three hours, any vehicle in motion or whatever.
DX: How did you relate to the story of 36 Seasons?
Ghostface Killah: AZ was my friend at first. I do some time. I come home. I got a girl. I see AZ and he turned police. So he’s telling me the scoop of what’s going on. But, he was like, “Yo, this dude over here. He’s been moving a lot of drugs. Causing trouble or whatever-whatever. We should finish him off and we could have all this shit.” So he got me to finish the dude off. And then AZ flips and gets me locked up. Now, it’s like, “Oh, shit. I thought we was boys.” So he wanted all that shit for himself cause you know I am a threat when I come through. We start going to war or whatever the case may be. I murder him. Shit fucks around and a building explodes at that time. I get hurt. I had to get somebody—the doctor had made me a mask and shit.
Basically, I just followed the script. Anything that got really me bugged out was the mask. But other than that, I followed it because it was a good script. Not just because I knew some people that just come home and get back into trouble. Not somebody that’s a turned cop and they try to whatchamacallit. I look at these rhymes, a lot of these rhymes and movies are science fiction and just not real. And shit like that. Whoever can tell the best story, like you might like King Kong. But the story is good, like, “Oh, shit. What chu doing there?” Ape running around just killing people or whatever the case may be. It’s like, “Yo!” But it was a good movie. And that’s all it is. I just took the script because it was a little bit different from Twelve Reasons. Twelve Reasons was on some Italiano shit, this was more street shit. I feel like an actor now, how you choose your scripts. Nah mean? How Denzel would probably do this one but not that one.
Ghostface Killah Wants His Fans to Grow With Him As He Gets Older
DX: Rap fans know of your legacy and your catalog. What do you have left to prove to put out an album this year or next? Why still put out albums?
Ghostface Killah: Because I love music. I just do it because I love it. I guess when I stop loving it and I don’t want to do it no more than that’s it. I really like to write music. I don’t really like to record it, but I like to write it. I record it because it has to be recorded. You know what I mean? But I like to write it. Sometimes, when I write, I like to go in when I feel like I want the world to hear this and just go in and just do that. I just want to show the world different techniques. Let them know like, OK, through amidst of everything they are going through, that music is going through, that I still got it. I can still do this. I can still flow. I ain’t lose a step. He can still get busy.
I just want to show the world like 20 years later, we still never lost it. If anything, we getting stronger because I understand the music more from hooks and everything. I understand what I want. I understand how I want to sound when I lay my shit down. I understand my plug-ins from the engineer. “No, I don’t want that plug-in. Let me hear what other plug-ins you got.” Going through plug-ins, and they just know your voice should sound like. Even from that. Even to I know every time you write a rhyme it ain’t gonna be 100 percent. A lot of times, I would try my best to write three eight bars. And just pick from the three eight that I got. If that don’t work, I just have to catch it. ‘Cause everything ain’t gonna be [good]. Especially with me not smoking. When you smoke, your doors open up. It’s like, “Wow.” Oh shit, you get to see everything. The music sounds better. I’m just going off a natural high and trying to decide which should be written on that paper so I can give it to the people.
DX: At 44 years old, what else do you have left to say to your fans? You’ve probably told a lot to them throughout your years.
Ghostface Killah: Just grow with me. Like, “C’mon, let’s go.” ‘Cause my true fans is getting older too. We have to grow. We all can’t stay the same like before. I rhyme about the streets, but that’s just for the time being. After a certain while and you getting up there, you ain’t have to be rhyming about knicks and bricks and all that shit. ‘Cause how you gonna be [doing that] at 50 and 55? I plan on doing this shit—not because I have to, because I love it. When we on stage at 60 and 70, but shooting old man rhymes ‘cause I’m a have to talk that old man shit. But the ones that are damn near my age can relate because the cancer caught this one over here. Some people need a hip replacement. Some motherfuckers can’t even bend they backs no more. But you gotta put all these in your rhymes. You could still get fly though. On some Mr. Big shit and talk that, “Yo, my cane is iced out” type shit or whatever the case may be. You could have an orthopedic Wally on. You know I mean? ‘Cause you getting older now so just do that shit like that. You gotta take ‘em with you. False teeth, and all that shit. You gotta take ‘em right with you where they understand. You know what? That’s my nigga right there. You gotta do for the bitches too. Some of ‘em might catch menopause and all that shit.
Just real situations and what’s going on in your current events out there like that. Whatever it’s the government or whatever and keep it there like that. Music is always going to be there and the club is always going to be there, but you gotta learn how to deal with both sides of the spectrum. You can’t just get caught in one and not the other. That’s why on some of my albums, you gotta give them people a jewel or take them there somewhere. I don’t give a fuck if it’s the streets like, “You know what? That shit was real right there.” You gotta have a balance.
Ghostface Killah Doesn’t Want To Compete With The Younger Generation Of MCs
DX: I feel like a lot of older MCs try to adjust with the current sound of hip-hop. Is there a reason why you chose not to?
Ghostface Killah: I’m not trying to adjust to them, but I understand what’s going on. That’s when you understand music. If I want to, I could go ahead and go into their world. But if I go into their world like that 100 percent, some people might be like, “Man, I can’t picture Ghost going in like that.” But I go in there like that. All you gotta do is dumb it down. You dumb it down ‘cause it’s all there is out there. Nobody is shooting that “C.R.E.A.M.” or that bomb atomically or that Nas shit. Or that Biggie shit. It’s just strictly easy raps now. The club, your car, the bitches you fucking. It’s like four different things. Maybe a couple murders over here or a gun. You know what I mean? That’s it. All you gotta do is dumb it down. Dumb it down. It’s like, “OK, you in now.” You just gotta know to ride it like they ride it. I don’t have a problem with that because I know how to do that shit like that. Like, you send me a track like that, and I can’t rhyme the way I want to rhyme, then I’m a have to have fun with it and just dumb it down. Fans might be like, “Oh my God Ghost is …” but I’m at the age like you know what? Music is music. I don’t really care.
I’m not here to dust off these little kids, you know mean? You already know how this gun right here bust off. What do I gain from it? You might as well just play with them and have fun. It’s almost like rhyming with the kids. You ain’t gotta bust your brain and try to beat your own. Nah man. Shit like Young Thug and all these little guys, they cool. I like them. I never met them. They just do what they do at 18, 19, 20. Like we was when I was 20 and shit. 18 in ’88, nah mean? Damn, we had Rakim and KRS-One, you know what I mean? It’s the same thing with these kids.
But at first, it was hard for me to understand and shit because I was only stuck on one thing. That was New York rap music. Not even just New York, just music that I felt “OK, this is it here.” Once all the other shit started coming in because before this other shit that’s in right now, a lot of bouncy shit started coming in. I couldn’t understand at first when Master P came in. That’s when I know it was changing. Like, “Oh, shit. When the fuck we started doing all this shit?” We started bouncing and doing the other shit, and then things started going on. Then you got the crunk music, Lil Jon and them. Then it started going from P to Lil Jon, it just started going. You got Cash Money and them niggas. That clique. Drake and them almost came like the last ones down the line. You just gotta adapt, or you just gonna be a grouchy old man.
Ghostface Killah Is Angry At Police Brutality, Advocates Self-Defense
DX: Is anything else you want to talk about?
Ghostface Killah: There is something I want to address right now. I do want to address the shit that’s going on right now with these police and shit. It’s bad. I’m not a racist. I’ve got some of my best friends that are white and shit. You know, it’s just sad the way the government and you know what I mean? The police departments, whatever you want to call them that be handling the situation between racism and all that shit. I think the cops, these crooked ass cops, should get what they deserve man. I mean especially nobody had a gun and pulled out on you, I don’t think you should be able to just go ahead and kill, just to take a life. What if that person was really bugging out, if maybe. And he just needed another hour to let the drugs settle down in him? Niggas can smoke some dust, even if that wasn’t the case. I’m just trying to be lean and try to give ‘em leeway. If you got a taser on you and a baton on you, why do you have to shoot somebody six times and things like that? If this guy was selling cigarettes, why did you have to choke him out like that? Over cigarettes? I’m just looking at all that and I’m just like it gets me mad. And it’s happened three or five times in a row, plus stuff we haven’t even seen on TV.
DX: Instead of people protesting, you suggested that people go out strapped up and go against these cops. Why take that violence route during such a sensitive time?
Ghostface Killah: I’m not saying we should take the whatchamacallit. But I do believe an eye for an eye. Why are there people that you just keep, not just white people. I don’t like using that shit. The police— keep doing that to you? What are you gonna do just being nice? If I smack you in your face every fucking day, what do you think you are gonna do? One day you gonna fuck around you gonna be like, “You know what? This nigga Ghost keep doing that shit, I’ma kill him the next time he puts his hands on me.” You are gonna do that. You ain’t gonna keep just walking home just because I smacked you. And then you become a 35-40 year old man and you still smacking you? No. Me, personally, marching that was back in the ‘60s.
I ain’t marching no more. I can’t do it no more because it is not amounting to nothing. It just makes you seem—not saying you are a soft guy—but it’s like what is it doing? What is it really, really doing? At the same time, we ain’t standing together as the people in trying to fuck these cops up neither. So I guess it’s just gonna happen just because it’s gonna go down. What you gonna do? Everybody isn’t gonna stand for you like that. You know what I mean? Until that time comes, we are gonna keep getting shot. We are gonna keep getting smacked around. And God forbid your children catch that. Then, people might think about it more. If you don’t stand for something, you are gonna fall for anything. And I’m not telling brothers to go out and wild out right now. I’m just saying, man, what ifs? I don’t want to march no more because it’s not doing nothing. I see them on the news: “No justice!” “No peace!” It’s like, fuck, I always say that shit. Nothing ever happens, B.