The Sure Shot: The Rise Of Ghostface Killah

Clash meets the Wu-Tang rapper...
Ghostface Killah - by Hayley Louisa Brown

A founder and pivotal member of Staten Island’s indomitable Wu-Tang Clan, pioneers in this rap game since the dawn of the ‘90s, Ghostface Killah needs little introduction to hip-hop aficionados.

The man born Dennis Coles in the spring of 1970 is also a powerful solo force, having delivered no fewer than 10 of his own albums since 1996’s debut set, ‘Ironman’. His latest, the Adrian Younge-produced ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’, has been well received. An alternative version of it produced by Apollo Brown, ‘The Brown Tape’, earns a proper commercial release on July 22nd via the Soul Temple label.

A concept album based on the comic of the same name, and imagined as the soundtrack to an entirely fictional horror flick, with Ennio Morricone influences, ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ reinstates Ghostface as one of rap’s preeminent creative forces, after the patchy ‘Wu Block’ collection of 2012.

Clash met Ghostface for its current issue, available online and in newsagents now. Below is an excerpt, to give you a flavour of the full piece.

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Set in Italy in the 1960s, ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ tells the story of Ghostface’s alter ego, Tony Starks, an employee of the DeLuca family. But after falling in love with the kingpin’s daughter and abandoning his former employers, he’s murdered.

Then: “The DeLucas pressed Tony’s remains into 12 vinyl records, one for each member of the family. But little did they know, he would return.” So states Ghostface’s Wu-Tang colleague RZA in the album’s intro, setting the album on its course of terror and revenge.

Based on a comic book of the same name, ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ is a concept album that continues the tale of Tony Starks as he’s caught up in the mafia’s underworld. He’s double-crossed by a femme fatale, but luckily his Shaolin comrades are on hand as U-God, Inspectah Deck, Cappadonna and Masta Killa add their dramatic tales to the story. 

Given his skill with storytelling, it’s easy to assume Ghostface Killah was responsible for the concept, but he attributes it to his creative partner.

“It wasn't me, it was Adrian Younge that put this whole shit together,” he says. “All I did was just go to work on it, nahmean? Did my vocals; everything else about the concept was his idea. He wanted it done a certain way like, ‘Yo, on this track we need this and this’. We put it together and he did the rest, got everyone else on it and it just happened to fall into place.”

In Ghostface’s words, ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ is “dealing with the mafia so Tony is always the name. Basically I got with the mob, we start getting money, I start f*cking with one of their girls, they ain’t like it and she set me up, because those were her uncles and they killed me and shit. So every time they play that record, somebody’s supposed to die off, nahmean?”

The live aspect to the production was a change for Ghostface. “It’s something that I really never did, making an album over live instruments. But you wouldn’t even know they were live instruments if nobody were to tell you, the way [Adrian] does his shit. That’s my first time on that shit – I toured with a live band before but this one is more theatrical in how it’s put together.”

There’s a cinematic sound to the album, from the epic production, to the grand vocals, to the narrative itself. “Right, when you got all that shit mixed together, something is bound to happen, and it just worked.”

Clash takes the opportunity to follow up on a statement that ‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ would be his last hip-hop release before moving into R&B. Pointing out that he’s slated to release albums with (MF) DOOM and Wu-Tang, plus the sequel to his classic, ‘Supreme Clientele’, we ask if he still intends to give up on rap.

“Yeah, we got the DOOM album, but I did wanna just chill for a minute,” the rapper admits. “There’s too much shit that’s coming, so I’ll do ‘Supreme’, then DOOM. I keeping coming up with other names for albums and shit – for some reason if I come up with a banging name I wanna make that work. But that’s how I felt before definitely, I do gotta do another R&B album. Probably like another seven more albums, which shouldn’t take no time; that should be within the next 37 months.” 

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‘Twelve Reasons To Die’ is out now. ‘The Brown Tape’ is released on July 22nd.

Find Ghostface Killah online here

Find Clash’s full interview with the rapper in issue 86 – details here

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Interview: Lily Mercer

Photography: Hayley Louisa Brown

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