Fulfilling the wildest dreams of nerds everywhere, Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah has released his 11th solo album, a comic book-rap concept project called 36 Seasons based on the storyline by Matthew Rosenberg. Ghost has always been considered a master of storytelling, and on 36 Seasons, he paints the usual sordid pictures in his songs, except this time he's cast an all-star team —Kool G Rap, AZ, Pharoahe Monch and others — as characters in an audio comic that's as action-packed as a kung-fu film.
Throughout the entire project Ghost is also lent a musical hand by the vintage southern soul sounds of Brooklyn band the Revelations, who even cover '70s soul hit "Thin Line Between Love and Hate" and close the album with the entirely instrumental "I Love You For All Seasons." The Revelations not only sound great alongside Ghost and his cast, but also aid in the fluidity and cohesiveness of the work.
36 Seasons closely follows last week's Wu Tang album, A Better Tomorrow and last year's similar but not as good concept album collaboration with Adrian Younge, Twelve Reasons to Die. The new record even comes with a 24-page comic book of the same title. The story goes like this: Ghostface comes home after being away for a long, hard nine-year bid — 36 seasons to be exact — only to find his neighbourhood has gone to shit and his girl has moved on. Staten Island is now filled with double-crossers, backstabbers, fiends and corruption, and Ghost takes it upon himself to combat the wackness. Bamboo (played by Kandace Springs), Ghost's love interest, has gotten together with a new man, who gives Ghost a run for his honey and is played by rap legend Kool G Rap.
Ghost gets critically injured and even betrayed by his sidekick, played by the extraordinarily talented AZ, who shines on five songs on this album. He turns to the exquisite Dr. X, played by Pharoahe Monch, who saves his life. However, Ghost now needs a rather terrifying mask to breathe, as depicted on the album cover. Things are finally starting to look up for the 'hood superhero, who proclaims himself "The almighty GFK/ The Masked Avenger/ New York's top contender/ City's defender" on "Call My Name." Bamboo begins second guessing herself and wonders if she's made the right decision on "Bamboo's Lament," which acts as an interlude and is a solo effort by Springs. Meanwhile, Ghost is "Filling funeral homes and graves, no surprise/ GFK the only one to survive" ("Blood In The Streets").
Though listeners may be easily distracted by all the action in the gangster's tale, 36 Seasons is ultimately a love story, and predictably, (spoiler alert) Ghost gets the girl. It's hard to pick highlights, as the album is sequential and should be listened to all at once for the full experience.
More of a team effort than a solo project, everybody plays their parts excellently — in fact, some of the best verses go out to featured contributors G Rap and AZ. Without ever being outshone nor outright stealing the show, Ghostface does some of his best rapping in recent years and proves he's still got it, from the bloodthirsty "The Battlefield" to the triumphant "Call My Name." With the help of some friends, GFK gives us the best concept album since Prince Paul's '90s classic A Prince Among Thieves. (Tommy Boy)