With 20 years of experience and a resumé of critically acclaimed albums, Ghostface Killah has established himself as one of hip-hop’s most consistent and reliable acts. With 12 Reasons to Die, the Wu-Tang veteran joins forces with composer Adrian Younge. The result is a gritty partnership of live instrumentation and lyrical slaughter.
On 12 Reasons to Die, Ghostface is in full Tony Starks mode, looking to exact revenge on the DeLuca crime family that betrayed him. The album strictly adheres to this narrative, which results in some hits and misses. While the Mafioso-giallo story that propels the album is an intriguing conceit, it proves to be too restrictive for an album that clocks in at 40 minutes. It’s more episodic than cinematic and each of the album’s 12 tracks feels too purposely segmented and separated, which can take away from the album’s emotional pull. There’s a little too much time spent on the exposition of Starks’ demise and not enough on the story’s climax, which feels rushed and a bit of a letdown.
Overarching storylines aside, 12 Reasons to Die is a lean and mean exercise in lyrical mayhem. Ghost is in fighting shape, weaving through a sinister tale of bloodshed and revenge. His abilities as a storyteller have long been second to none and he shines on “Rise of the Black Suits” and “The Sure Shot (Parts 1 & 2),” waxing eloquent about his gangster stature with an assurance and authenticity few in hip-hop can actually claim. At the same time, he manages to infuse the album with some tender moments. “The Center of Attraction” spins the tired “Ride-or-Die Chick” trope with a tangible level of sincerity and it makes his betrayal on “An Unexpected Call (The Set-Up)” that much more powerful. Later on, when Tony Starks begins his murderous rampage, Ghost shows he hasn’t lost an ounce of the energy he first showcased on “Bring Da Ruckus”, by tearing through “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” with incredible ferocity.
The greatest victory on 12 Reasons to Die is Ghost’s chemistry with producer/composer Adrian Younge. Having cut his teeth scoring the film Black Dynamite and working with Venice Dawn on 2011’s criminally overlooked Something About April, Younge’s production sounds tailor made for Ghostdeini the Great. It’s a gritty, no-frills fusion of the Wu’s early sounds and the sonic textures of soul acts like the Delfonics. The album’s got a tangible sonic atmosphere and every kick and snare takes on a life of its own. Younge’s sound is one deeply rooted in ‘60s and ‘70s cinema, and songs like “Beware of the Stare” and “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” employ sweeping operatic vocals with flanged spaghetti Western guitars. The album’s crowning achievement is “Enemies All Around Me,” which finds Ghost reconnecting with Delfonics front man William Hart (the two previously collaborated on the 1996 song “After the Smoke Clears”). It’s a harrowingly eerie song that pairs Hart’s haunting falsetto with fuzzy guitars and subtle snare pops.
Ultimately, 12 Reasons to Die is a pitch-perfect pairing of Adrian Younge’s soulful production and Ghostface’s invigorated rhymes. Despite some misguided narratorial instincts, the album is a testament to Ghost and Younge’s passion for stripped down instrumentation and raw talents.—Sean Ryon (@WallySean)