Never tentative to shine as the protagonist in an audibly depicted saga, Wu-Tang’s lyrical authority, Ghostface Killah, once again embraces the spotlighted main stage in all of its glory on his 11th studio album, 36 Seasons.

Deriving from a concept brought to life by Bob Perry, who is co-founder (along with RZA) of the New York implanted Soul Temple Records, and was also behind Ghostdini’s highly favorable 2013 release, Twelve Reasons To Die, a design was fashioned, laid out, and presented to Ghostface in the form of a forty minute, cinema-esque chronicle, in which the peerless and esoteric alter ego of Ghost, Tony Starks, makes a triumphant return to Staten Island after a nine year, or 36 season, hiatus. A methodically outlined fiction, Starks sets out on a murky quest of personal avengement, ridding his once intimate community of urban corrosion, unethical thugs, rotten authorities, and double crossing companions.

While Ghost remains the lead role throughout the album’s entirety, the 14-track theatrical account of Starks’ singular revival is potent with equally esteemed co-stars and musical directors. Constructing the expressive soundtrack for the sequentially delivered tale is the Brooklyn based neo-soul/funk collective, The Revelations. In accordance with the instrumental narrative that The Revelations furnish, Ghost’s lyrical ingenuity is balanced by a profusion of hip-hop paragons in AZ (who is the clear co-star, appearing on five tracks), Kool G Rap, and Pharoahe Monch, among others, who all assume vital character portrayals to the album’s developing story line.

The intro track, “Battlefield,” sees Ghostface profess disdain for what he sees after his hiatus (“Ayo, I’m back after nine years, that’s 36 seasons/ Shit is changed up for all types of reasons/ Staten Island ain’t the same, shit is lame/ No familiar faces, son, I’m dodging the game.”) Initially just looking to return home and repose in the comfort of his old commonplace climate, Starks quickly grasps the drastic modifications to what he once considered pleasurable surroundings. The plot of 36 Seasons increasingly swells as the tracks unravel, with Tony heading to surprise his old love fling, Bamboo (played by Kandace Springs), but soon discovers that she has since moved on to be with another man and local drug chief (Kool G Rap). Along with the realization that his old comrade (AZ) is now into some dirty lines of work as well, the confusion culminates as Tony begins to untangle and allow the chaos take command of his demeanor.

As the fury builds within Starks, exemplified on the track “The Dog’s Of War”, an enraged Ghost spits – “They be like Ghost be crazy and shit, but they fucking with the wrong one/ Son of a gun, I make murdering fun/ You took my baby, my block, and corrupted my hood/ I’m a do it for my hometown, New York understood.”. Tony inevitably has the ultimate confrontation with Kool G Rap’s character, in which he murders Kool G in cold blood, but is also on the receiving end of a nearly fatal hollow point. Revived from near death on the subsequent track, “Emergency Procedure,” by Doctor X (Pharoahe Monch), Ghost now dawns a mask (seen on the album cover), and is back to the streets to claim more retribution.

Shortly after returning to the broken society, wearing nothing but a cloak of rage and some loaded steel, Tony gets set up by his old companion (AZ) who is now in cahoots with the crooked police ("Double Cross").  Spending some time in prison, Ghost uses the track “Pieces Of The Puzzle” to gather his thoughts while locked up, and finally assimilates the deep layers and deceitful individuals that led him to be in the current situation. Eventually out on bail via Bamboo’s assistance, and sporting a clear mind, Tony sets the table for the final scene of revenge on all who did him wrong. On the track “Blood In The Streets,” a sharp and perceptive Ghost conveys – “Gotta stay focused, put on the Killah face/ Figure out how to get em’ all in the same place.” Devising a 911 call to centrally locate all of the deceptive adversaries, Ghost flawlessly executes the blueprint, detonating a bomb to rid Staten Island of all the corruption, claiming his ultimate triumph, as he positively pronounces “Perfect timing, perfect plannin’/ I’m filling funeral homes and graves/ It’s no surprise, GFK the only one to survive!”

While the unified story that evolves on 36 Seasons is nothing unanticipated or extraordinary, as it’s classically taken out of the traditional super hero/gangster script, the success in the album lies in the fashion in which Ghostface and the contributing artists develop the characters and allow the listener to become invested in the forecast of their ascensions, collapses, and concluding extinctions.. or in Tony Stark’s case, their impending conquest.

With each passing project, Pretty Tony continues to solidify his substantial prominence within the hip-hop history books. Unlike any emcee to ever grace the microphone, 36 Seasons is a striking reminder that in regards to storytelling and evoking imagery through words, Ghostface Killah is an acclaimed luminary, residing in a tier with some of the best to ever do it.—Michael Blair