Aside from the ever-changing musical identity of RZA (or Bobby Digital, Prince Rakeem, etc.), Ghostface Killah has arguably been the Wu-Tang Clan’s most multifarious member as well as one of the most active. After dabbling in the R&B scene and handling collaborative efforts with east coast brethren Sheek Louch, Method Man and Raekwon, Ghost now teams up with composer Adrian Younge for a project that could have been green-lit by Quentin Tarantino.
Built around the cinematic events of a comic book by the same name, Twelve Reasons To Die follows Tony Starks, a gangster upstart who lands himself in a deadly clash with the DeLucas. Under this guise, Younge appropriately accompanies Ghost’s narrative with embellished backdrops. “I Declare War” is a moving piece aided by swaying strings and an eerie bass line, while the calculated melody and operatic vocals of “Beware Of The Stare” captivate throughout. In that respect, the album sustains a live band design, which should bode well for touring purposes. However, there’s an element of rhythmic fortitude that’s missing. Case in point, “Enemies All Around Me.” The record oozes tension, but the overall sound feels hollowed out. Similarly, “Murder Spree” and its one-chord harmony becomes dull by songs’ end.
While the orchestral vibe may startle some listeners, there’s no aversion once Ghost’s pipes hit the track. Sure, he’s working within the parameters of the storyline, but his lyrical disposition is as focused as it ever was. Out for blood on “The Rise Of The Ghostface Killah,” he growls, “Medusa stare, my guns bust in silence / I’m a black vigilante killer, pro violence / It’s the rebirth, born again / Rise through the vinyl spin / They took out Starks but the light shines within.” This continues on “The Sure Shot (Parts One & Two)” as his scope enlarges for a standoff his foes will regret. “I glide through the air like a swarm of bees / Shake niggas off quick like a dog with fleas / Raw meat, leave bodies slumped in the street / Revenge is the spice of life, it’s so sweet.”
Familiar faces join Ghostface on his murderous expedition, but their inclusion becomes more of an isolated addition than solid co-star credits. “Blood On The Cobblestones” and “Murder Spree” find a respectable balance between Wu-Tang proverb and DeLucas vengeance. Then there’s a record like “The Center Of Attraction,” which suffers from a weak call and response about a sly woman’s motive.
In the archives of Ghostface Killah’s catalog, Twelve Reasons To Die should place somewhere above his most recent releases. Unless an artist is approaching Illmatic territory, it’s difficult to glorify a project that clocks in under 40 minutes, with a third of the lyrical efforts dispensed to guests. Still, the album is a satisfying glimpse into the minds of Younge and Ghostface. Experimental is a tag few artists at his age would attempt, and yet Ghost does it with immeasurable confidence.