Monday, August 26, 2013

Album Review: "Ironman" - Ghostface Killah (1996)

INTRODUCTION

Although Ghostface Killah is arguably the most successful Wu member, he was the last to put out a solo album before the group's second collective effort, Wu-Tang Forever.

After Method Man, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Raekwon and GZA all released their first LPs, Ghostface Killah came with his debut record, Ironman.

Possibly the least heralded of all of the "Big Five" Wu-Tang solo albums (probably because of its lack of a hit song like the other four records), Ghostface enlisted both Raekwon and Cappadonna to be "featured" on the cover, much like The Chef put Ghost on the cover of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... I'm not sure I understand Cappadonna's inclusion, as he was never even an official Wu member, but whatever.

Anyway, Ironman is 17 tracks long, 16 of those tracks being produced by RZA. True Master laced the only one that RZA's fingerprints were not on.

Ironman is a peculiar "solo" effort to say the least, as there are two songs that Ghostface Killah isn't even on. Crazy, huh?

Perhaps that's why Ironman isn't looked at in the same vein as Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.... Some feel it was more of a Wu-Tang album than a Ghostface album, and I guess that conclusion has some validity to it.

Regardless, this was still a project that was released during the prime of RZA's career, and therefore, Ironman is considered a classic by many.

Time to tell you which side of the fence I am on.

TRACK-BY-TRACK

1. Iron Maiden
After an intro that lasts nearly a minute, RZA's fast-paced beat kicks in. Who does the first verse go to? Raekwon. It probably isn't a good idea to have someone else rap the first verse on your album, Ghostface, but in the end, "Iron Maiden" ends up sounding pretty solid. Cappadonna makes his first of numerous appearances on Ironman here, and he seems incredibly energized.

2. Wildflower
Dr. Dre's "Bitches Ain't Shit" set the bar for misogyny in hip-hop, and Ghostface's "Wildflower" raised it. Seriously. This is one of the few Ghostface solos on this album, and the lyrics are so morally reprehensible that I found myself not even being able to concentrate on RZA's extremely dope instrumental. As much as I love Prince Rakeem's production, saying I like this song and feeling like a jackass are mutually inclusive. Therefore, I digress.

3. The Faster Blade
One of the aforementioned two cuts that Tony Starks isn't on. This is a Raekwon solo, and it's really freaking good. RZA's production is awesome, and The Chef spits like it was Only Built 4 Cuban Linx....Ghost sure picked a pretty bad time to take a bathroom break.

4. 260
This is pretty nice. RZA's beat consists of an Al Green sample and subtle drums, and Ghostface Killah and Raekwon ride it effortlessly. I've gotta give this round to The Chef.

5. Assassination Day
There are four rappers on here, and not one of them goes by the name of Ghostface Killah. So, on his own damn album, Tony Starks misses two out of the last three tracks, and both are two of the better songs on Ironman. Knowing all of this, it's hard to believe that Ghost was able to carve out such a successful career for himself, but hey; stranger things have happened. Anyway, "Assassination Day" is awesome, containing an appropriately brooding RZA instrumental that Inspectah Deck, RZA himself, Raekwon and Masta Killa all rip. After a while, you'll find yourself not caring that Tony Starks decided to run out to Walmart while this was cut being recorded.

6. Poisonous Darts
The second of three Ghostface Killah solos on Ironman. "Poisonous Darts" is very short, spanning two minutes and 15 seconds, but it's pretty damn good. Even if RZA's beat is repetitive, it's still nice, and the song doesn't last long enough for it to have a chance to get on your nerves.

7. Winter Warz
"Winter Warz" is to Cappadonna what "Triumph" is to Inspectah Deck. Cappadonna absolutely tears this track to shreds, putting together what is now considered one of the most legendary verses in the Wu-Tang catalog (or possibly in all of hip-hop period). I do find it funny, though, that despite the fact that 'Donna is on the album cover, he doesn't appear until the seventh song. Maybe that was a good thing, because, judging from his verse, it appears to have pissed him off.

8. Box In The Hand
"Box In The Hand" marks the only Method Man appearance on Ironman, but even though he lays down a really awesome verse, he doesn't stop this song from being incredibly average. RZA should have stuck with the instrumental that played at the beginning of the track, because the one that takes over when Raekwon's verse starts just isn't very good.

9. Fish
The True Master production. He was clearly doing his best to outshine Prince Rakeem, because this bangs. Utilizing a recognizable Otis Redding sample, True Master laces a beat that is both soulful and assertive at the same time. Ghostface, Raekwon and Cappadonna all do the honors.

10. Camay
Like the previous track, Ghost, The Chef, and 'Donna all rhyme together. Unlike the previous track, this is just boring.

11. Daytona 500
Sampling Bob James' "Nautilus" is like a rite of passage for hip-hop producers, and RZA completes that step on "Daytona 500." Even though many of you are probably tired of hearing that sample, the instrumental here is pretty engaging, and for the third consecutive song, Tony Starks, Raekwon and Cappadonna drop verses. All of them were impressive, but I enjoyed The Chef's performance the most.

12. Motherless Child
You've probably noticed by now that the "dustiness" that RZA's productions became so well-known for on the first several Wu albums is not nearly as prevalent on Ironman, and "Motherless Child" is a pretty good example of that. Prince Rakeem's drums are very clean here. That doesn't mean this beat was all that good, though. It just seemed kind of slipshod.

13. Black Jesus
The vocal sample on this is just irritating. That's all I've got.

14. After The Smoke Is Clear
The Delfonics provide some haunting background vocals over a rather bland RZA beat, and Ghostface Killah, Raekwon and RZA himself all lay down verses. The mixing of this cut definitely could have been better, and I found it kind of annoying that the rapping stops abruptly with around 40 seconds left.

15. All That I Got Is You
The Jackson 5 sample that RZA used for this record is pretty good, but the beat would have been nicer if it actually had drums. This was a truly heartfelt song from Ghostface, something he has surprisingly mastered over the course of his career. Other than the fact that Prince Rakeem kind of half-assed the instrumental, I don't have any complaints about this one. Mary J. Blige is on here too, by the way, and she croons the hook and even puts in a "verse" of her own.

16. The Soul Controller
RZA's production on this bangs, and Ghost goes in over it on his own for the third and final time on Ironman. The Force M.D.s provide some background vocals in the way of interpolating Sam Cooke's "A Change Gonna Come," and they add a fairly nice touch. After a bit of a lull on the album, "The Soul Controller" was much-needed. The only thing that bothers me is that there was no need for this track to be nearly seven minutes long, as Tony Starks stops rapping well before the conclusion.

17. Marvel
This was kind of boring. The RZA instrumental is pretty dull, and the energy level takes a fairly big dip after the preceding song. I also don't understand why the beat continues to run for three minutes after Ghostface and RZA are done spitting. Definitely a strange (and poor) way to close out Ironman.  

FINAL THOUGHTS

Ironman is a tale of two halves. The first half of the album is very, very good, consisting of dope beats from RZA that Ghostface Killah and company sound enthralled to rap over. Once you get past True Master's "Fish," however, the project starts treading water.

Of the final eight songs, most of them lack the type of energy that was present earlier on Ironman, and you may find that many of the tracks toward the end sound very similar (and not in a good way). For that reason, I actually grew tired of the album as the second half continued to progress, and if it weren't for "Daytona 500" and "The Soul Controller," I don't even know if I would have been able to make it through.

That being said, just about all of the first nine songs on Ironman are so good that I can understand why some label this LP a classic. As I noted earlier, Prince Rakeem's production style is much cleaner on this album, and that helped make the early half a success.

One other question needs to be posed, though. Where the hell is GZA? Ironman is absolutely loaded with guest appearances, mostly by Raekwon and Cappadonna, but not one GZA feature? I'm sure Ghostface could have found a way to squeeze him in somewhere, and who knows? He may have been able to rescue one of the blander cuts. The fact that there was only one Method Man appearance did not help matters much, either.

I also find it bothersome that Ghost wasn't even on two of the album's stronger records ("The Faster Blade" and "Assassination Day"). I seriously wonder what was going through Tony Starks' mind when he decided to let his Wu-Tang brethren handle those songs on their own.

I understand that all of my quibbles make it sound like I don't like Ironman, but that is not true. This is a good album. It's just not even close to what the Wu was capable of during their peak. Look no further than the brilliance of Liquid Swords or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... to see that.

TOP TRACKS

1. Assassination Day
2. Fish
3. Winter Warz
4. The Faster Blade
5. Daytona 500   

1 comment:

  1. As a review, this strikes me as more of an epic whine by someone who obviously doesn't get it. Like really...if you're that annoyed by everything about the album, why not just go piss on it in the comfort of your own home rather than doing yourself the disservice of making your "opinions" known to the world. It's literally a waste of everyone's time. Yours, ours...everyone's.

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