On this day, October 29, in hip-hop history...

Ghostface Killah Ironman

1996: By the fall of 1996, the Wu-Tang Clan had ski masked and bodied their way to the center of hip-hop. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)  dropped in November of 1993 and was eventually certified double-platinum. More importantly, the inscrutable, dusted-out slang and the beats that wafted from RZA's flooded basement were the pace car for a New York that mostly left Native Tongues optimism with the first Bush administration. The early run of solo debuts by Wu members solidified their creative and commercial dominance: TicalLiquid Swords, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version.

But the one that had the biggest impact was Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., from August of '95. Complete with RZA's densest soundscapes and the balance of cartoon violence and Shakespearean betrayal that Tarantino is still trying to replicate, the purple tape was the high point of mafioso rap, chains snatched more than rocked. Rae's chemistry with Ghostface Killah was staggering, the kind of lightning that could never strike twice—or so we thought.

A year later, the two teamed back up under Ghost's byline for Ironman. Cappadonna got his first co-starring role. Rae raps on 13 of the album's 17 songs, including "The Faster Blade," where he appears alone. (Ghostface was allowed free reign on Cuban Linx's "Wisdom Body.") The debut doesn't have the syntaxless absurdity of 2000's Supreme Clientele; it doesn't have Cuban Linx's cinematic weight or Fishscale's clean narratives. Instead, it showcases Ghost at his potent, the E&J-toting savant from Staten crafting perfect crime raps in tight confines. It's delightfully dirty in the way Wu always was in their first half-decade--who forgot U-God's pop filter on "Winter Warz"? And of course, there's "All I Got Is You," a "Dear Mama" for Shaolin.

Ghostface is one of the most original stylists in rap's long history of eccentrics and visionaries. (The DOOM collaboration might be past its sell-by date, but can you imagine the slang they might have come up with?) Ironman was overshadowed in its day by It Was Written, by Jay Z's Reasonable Doubt, by 2Pac's death just a month prior. But it's still there in all its vein-deep bass lines, all its invented language, all its bizarre narrative turns.

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