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.”
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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.”