Ghostface Killah and Wu-Tang Clan

    Though Ghostface threw quite the diva’s tantrum when his fellow
    Clansmen pushed their fifth official group release to Dec. 4, the same day Big
    Doe Rehab was set to drop, the New York rap titan must have known there wasn’t
    much to worry about. After all, he’s following up Fishscale (and underdog
    sequel More Fish) — arguably the most widely adored hip-hop album of 2006 — and
    currently holding up all the popular dignity his ’90s-royal family still has,
    while the rest remain rutted in the same apathetic slump they’ve felt since
    2004 (when Masta Killa’s No Said Date at least made a shadow of a blip on the
    scene’s radar).

    RZA, ever the peacekeeper, pushed the Wu’s 8 Diagrams
    another week (not that it made a difference — both albums leaked early anyway);
    ironically, it’s Ghost that could have used the extra time. His newest foray
    into the brutally honest day-to-day of a recovering druggie/criminal/playboy is
    15 minutes and eight tracks shy of Fishscale, but that crunch makes all the
    difference — especially considering he has once again overenrolled the guest
    class (though this time, not behind the production boards, to a fault). “You
    gonna have to cut me off the track like cancer,” Beanie Sigel threatens on
    “Tony Sigel,” at which point he is actually faded mid-verse from an uneventful
    beat by Diddy producers the Hitmen.

    “Supa GFK” (“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Ghost”)
    doesn’t even find enough time to separate the Killah’s vivid violence from an
    untouched Johnny Guitar Watson funk line beneath, distracting proof that even
    the Clan king isn’t above the superhero trend. During every phoned-in chunk
    from members of both Theodore Unit and Wu-Tang, we can’t help but imagine how
    the stretch would instead sound in Ghost’s own buggy whimper, his left-field
    proper nouns and Crayola details scribbled into the dull cracks. (Not that the
    gigantic posse should be dismissed altogether; its presence gives him a
    necessary godfatherly, Mother Ginger countenance.)

    Lyrically, Ghost only lets his weird-storm slack in
    miniscule increments, and even then it’s for lack of room; the Doom-less
    backdrop, however, is a much clunkier giveaway. 8 Diagrams ends up in quite the
    opposite predicament. RZA has had so much material rotting in the pipeline for
    so long that he’s obliged to come equipped with an updated set of thrashers to
    preserve his with-the-times reputation. The George Clinton-featuring “Wolves”
    creeps with spaghetti-western whistles and handclaps, and “Unpredictable”
    strains to keep Timbaland pace with skittish, metal-scraping turmoil. But when
    overlaid with obviously disconnected rhymes from the eight Wu staples and
    fringe-member Streetlife, the dinner party turns awkward and eerily irrelevant.

    In a perfect world, Rehab would be extended and tossed the
    kind of wildfire beats we got on Fishscale, and 8 Diagrams would be compacted
    into a bonus EP. Or, better yet, Ghost and RZA would make nice already (the
    former only shows up on 3 Diagrams cuts) and admit that they’re meant for each
    other. The slow tin slide and Roots-y chorus of “Killa Lipstick,” Rehab’s
    signature elevator-eyes number, can’t handle the heat of snaky quips like
    “Double cokeheads who love cartoons/ Tight chicks who eat pussy, listen to
    Prince and play with they womb.” Conversely, Wu’s chorusy, Busta-esque
    “Starter” ticks with dark, schizo potential, but mundane lines like “All my
    independent Women/ Time to let your hair down” (from U-God) beg for the
    squirrely, nosy fetishes of Ghost, his flow permanently caught in an upward
    slant that never seems to hit the ceiling. But until these Clan heads find it
    in them to zen their midlife-crisis cranks, theirs is one hell of a racket to
    observe.

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