Ghostface Killah's '36 Seasons' quickly follows up Wu-Tang Clan's 'A Better Tomorrow,' an album he was relatively quiet on.
Ghostface Killah’s new LP 36 Seasons comes to us just one week after the release of Wu-Tang Clan’s A Better Tomorrow. While the latter LP received lukewarm reviews due to questionably experimental tracks, 36 Seasons is the exact opposite. It is concise and precise, using that classic Wu sound to march along an incredible story line while The Revelations provide the production.
The Revelations, a Brooklyn- based soul band, is a perfect choice for a collaboration. The trio provides smooth, 70s-inspired licks that mimic RZA’s best finest moments in production. You may remember them from the compilation album Chamber Music, where The Revelations and Fizzy Womack, better known as Lil Fame of M.O.P, produced the entire album.
It was a winning combo, and the same recipe was chosen to cook up the beats for 36 Seasons. Only a few other names were brought in on select tracks. The result is a cohesive aesthetic that appeals to fans of hip-hop, classic Wu, soul, and vintage funk -- a little something everyone in the family can enjoy.
If the RZA was ‘replaced’ by The Revelations,AZ ‘replaced’ Raekwon, adding his swagger to five of the albums fourteen tracks. He plays Ghost’s friend, a drug-dealer turned cop in a corrupt Staten Island where police are boss to the peddlers. “It’s that Denzel in ‘Training Day’ shit,” as he puts it. Ghost will later oppose AZ.
The concept was developed and curated by Bob Perry, a gentlemen who started Soul Temple Records along with the RZA. Perry and his team came to Ghost with the script and concept, making the project a breeze for everybody. The album was recorded in just 11 days.
The first track sets the stage for an epic story via classic Wu hip-hop. This is the vintage goods the fans wanted on A Better Tomorrow.
“Ayo, I’m back after nine years, that’s 36 seasons/ Shit is changed up for all types of reasons/ Staten Island ain’t the same, shit is lame/ No familiar faces son, I’m dodging the game/ I want a clean slate, but these cops stay screwin’/ Snatching me up off the block, what am I doin’?"
The plot thickens on the second track, when Ghost goes to his lady, Bamboo’s, crib to get some of that good lovin’. He’s super stoked to meet up with her, but finds out she has a new man! Sonically, it’s one of the catchier songs on the albums, and Kandace Springs soulful croon takes us back to the Ghostdini days.
“Oh word, so you over it? That's absurd/ I never did a damn thing to deserved it/ This is a man's world, I go away come home lookin' for you/ Now you fuckin' up the plans, girl/ You another man's girl, that ain't kosher/ Once you see the kid's face you're supposed to/ Drop what you're doin', show your loyalty and love/ Step out on the porch with a kiss and a hug”
The album is all about assembling the perfect cast, much like a movie. AZ is in the co-star, a role he played for years with Nas. He’s always played the supporting cast member extremely well, like hip-hop’s Scottie Pippen. Kool G Rap, Pharoahe Monch and Shawn Wigs play smaller roles, delivering a fly verse when called on. Of course, The Revelations score the whole thing flawlessly as directed by Bob Perry and presumably the RZA.
As the plot goes on, Rog (pronounced RAHJ, like short for Roger; played by AZ) tries to recruit Ghostface to do some dirty work for him, but Ghost is over it. He even finds out AZ is the new man in Bamboo’s life. Rog gets sick of Ghost, tries to have his assassins take him out.
But Tone Starks can’t be stopped. He prevails, saves the neighborhood and gets the girl back. It’s a classic story delivered in an attractive new way.
But Tone Starks, while playing the main role and having the album released as a Ghostface Killah album, isn’t even on a quarter of the tracks. The tasteful omissions of Ghostface Killah helped to paint the bigger picture of the story.
The third track is left to Kool G Rap and Nems to rap the roles of henchman assassins (they are two of AZ’s assassins, the ones who tried to kill Ghost):
“A little place in Coney Island called the clam kitchen/ I walk right up on the table where I can't miss em/ And his bodyguard coming out of the can dissin'”
Kandace Springs has the spotlight all to herself during “Bamboo’s Lament,” where Starks’ woman realizes she made a terrible mistake and leaving him during his bid.
It goes deeper when The Revelations cover The Persuaders on “Thin Line Between Love And Hate,” marking the most deliberate ode to 70s soul from any member of the Wu. The refined selection acts as the most exquisite ‘interlude’ or ‘skit’ a music-lover could ask for. We get an instrumental cut from The Revelations as the final track. It is a joyous victory lap that results from the album's epic finish.
The Wu-Tang has always been a progressive bunch. Releases like Think Differently Music have always pushed the boundaries of their fan base and others, but this project is really the most soulful I’ve heard the Wu get. This concept brings an entirely new dynamic to that rugged and raw Wu-Tang aesthetic. Never ones to pigeon-hole themselves or make the same thing twice, this album sounds like Ghostface & co. are narrating a comic book.
And 36 Seasons IS a comic book. Written by Matthew Rosenberg and Part Kindlon, the illustrators of Twelve Reasons to Die, which you may remember better as the last Ghostface Killah album. Everything is coming full circle here. The LP has a comic booklet inside of it and everything. This is truly a well thought-out multimedia project.
The album picks up a lot of steam, the story gets crazy, and it’s one of the most thrilling rides you’ll take all year, definitely. In a year Pitchfork is reporting that the full-length rap album is dead, this is a half-court, three-point shot at the buzzer of 2014 delivered to us by a team of incredibly talented individuals. Each piece of the puzzle is eminent to its potency: from Ghost’s Oscar-worthy lead role to Matthew Rosenberg’s writing skills to that fat bassline heard on “Double Cross.”
It’s clear where Ghost’s heart lies, and it isn’t with the RZA’s version of A Better Tomorrow. This album was clearly where Starks put his heart, alongside upcoming projects with BADBADNOTGOOD and DOOM. While we have to swallow the pill of never getting another 36 Chambers, 36 Seasons displays a Staten Island MC who can still put out hit 21 years after he yelled “Ghostface catch the blast of a hype verse!” on “Bring Da Ruckus.”
It isn’t easy to stay relevant for 20 years, and certainly not easy to release critically acclaimed records for that long. Ghost is a GOAT, no doubt.