At this point, you come to a new release from rapper Ghostface Killah — many albums into a deservedly acclaimed and at times commercially successful career — for two reasons. First his voice, a national treasure, nasal but leathery and incredulous. Second, his ear for beats, which is to be admired for its consistency and commitment to strains of music — primarily orchestral soul and orchestral soul-sampling hip-hop — that seem more ancient with each passing year.
On an impressive run of solo albums from 1996 to around 2006, Ghostface Killah had other qualities, too: Gulping-for-air urgency, tongue-twisting stories that hurried so fast they splintered and cracked. Those have faded with age. Now his tone is more measured; the rhyme schemes more pro forma.
During this decade, the Wu-Tang Clan rapper has embraced album-length collaborations with producers: Two full-lengths with the composer Adrian Younge, one with jazz-for-non-jazz-listeners-combo BadBadNotGood, one with a New York soul group called the Revelations. This time, Ghostface Killah is working with a producer named Big Ghost; some suspect that the producer and the rapper are one and the same.
No matter — the extent to which any producer can jar Ghostface Killah from his well-honed routine is questionable. The string sample underpinning “Majestic Accolades” is compulsively listenable Nineties New York hip-hop. Same goes for the horn loop and snatches of soul-man-anguish beneath “Piranhas.” Ghostface Killah brags — “close your eyes, let this track just play on repeat/ All I hear is a genius on this beat” — and menaces: “Party and bullshit, the gun got a full clip/ Stop running your trap, you’ll get yapped for that loose lip.”
It’s all too easy, though there’s comfort in that. And in place of the old breathlessness, there’s some goofy charm. Try “Done It Again,” where Ghostface Killah saunters up to a woman to pay his respects. He opens with self-deprecation — “I know this gonna sound like a line.” But you know he’s going to say it anyway: “I won’t forgive myself, or cook me dinner/ But I’ll do it all for you, if you give me a chance, boo.”