The catalog of Ghostface Killah is an impressive one. With the release of his new album, 36 Seasons, Tony Starks has now dropped eleven albums in 18 years. And consistency has always been key. On Ironman, he introduced Wu-Tang fans to his own brand of storytelling and relied on it for most of his subsequent work. 36 Seasons is a continuation of that trend, with another unique storyline unfolding beneath the surface.
A concept album, 36 Seasons is based on character Tony Starks’ return to Staten Island after a nine year (36 season) incarceration. His return is nothing if not disappointing; buildings are dilapidated, transient crackheads shuffle the streets like zombies, and a new generation can’t recall or comprehend the legend of Ghostface. In a nutshell, Ghostface’s new surroundings give way to the setbacks he encounters, whether it’s being shot and critically wounded, or apprehended at the hands of crooked police officers. He escapes death, thanks to emergency surgery performed by the shifty, incredibly talented Dr. X (Pharoahe Monch). In reference with the cover art, Dr. X turns Ghostface into a Bane or Jason Voorhees type of monster. By the album’s end, listeners are introduced to his new alias, GFK, who upon release from prison is the “city defender.”
Expectedly, the album is ridiculously lyrical. Hip Hop fans of all walks will be pleased by the presence of veterans like AZ (who raps circles around most of his Rap peers) on five tracks, Kool G Rap (the OG and lyrical dynamo) on three, and Pharoahe Monch. Each of the aforementioned artists, Ghostface included, vocally sound like themselves 20 years ago. Alongside AZ and Kool G Rap on “The Battlefield,” Ghostface spits: “And my name’s faded out like some old damn socks / I want respect, these streets was my playground once / I was the Mack across 110th on these stunts / Not once would a nigga test me or get zesty / I would walk down the street and sneeze, they all blessed me.” These words are specific to the story being told, but also work in the context of the Rap game today.
Production is chiefly handled by The Revelations, who play all the music during the grim tale. They also serve as silent narrators throughout the oft-heard comic book tale. A certain theme is established early in the album, and there are also three R&B numbers scattered about. These songs, whether they hit or miss, add another dimension to the LP. Kandace Springs is a nice change of pace on “Bamboo’s Lament,” and The Revelations supply a hokey, but groovy cover of The Pretenders’ “A Thin Line Between Love And Hate.” Yet for the album’s lyrical consistency, the production lags behind with a fraught dependence on clean, carefully arranged narrative sequences. For an emcee that lives in between what often sound like chaotic car chases and non-sequitur raps blasting off like shooting stars, the production ends up hemming in some of his frenetic energy. On the album’s first half, the beats seem to establish a tendency for laid-back piano melodies, while the second half is a bit more haphazard. The beats start becoming prone to monotony, sometimes exposing Ghostface’s less inspired zingers, when applicable. Next to an album like Fishscale, for instance, a gang of producers helped establish a certain freshness from song-to-song. 36 Seasons lacks the diversity captured on Ghostface’s previous works.
36 Seasons may not be Ghostface’s greatest project, but it is another notable addition to his extensive body of work. Rapping alongside Kool G Rap and AZ for the bulk of the album is certainly a treat, and the two have their own moments of glory. Production, on the other hand, simply does not hold on to the lyrical dynamism present between Ghost, Pharoahe Monch, AZ and G. The Revelations do an admirable job, but the neat vignettes steal away some of the raw kinetics that drive a superlative Ghost project.