Throughout the rich, two-decade long history of the Wu-Tang Clan and its many peripheral solo careers and offshoots, there have been none more consistent than that of Ghostface Killah. Armed with a mindblowing, seemingly bottomless arsenal of rapid-fire rhymes, Ghostface has established himself as one of the all-time great MCs while compounding the definitive Wu-Tang sound. Making a true breakthrough as a guest star on fellow Clan member Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, Ghostface has since gone on to forge a stellar back catalogue of certified solo classics, beginning with 1996’s Ironman and continuing with a sequel to 2000’s Supreme Clientele early next year.
Ghostface’s impending visit to Australia comes in the form of a co-headline tour with DOOM (formerly known as MF Doom). Before speaking about the near-mythological status of the full-length GhostDOOM/DoomStarks collaboration tentatively titled Swift & Changeable, Ghostface looks back on when the two first met. “I was on tour with Linkin Park, Korn and Snoop, and someone gave me this CD with ‘Metal Fingers’ written on it, with no number on it. I played it, and it was right up my alley,” he recalls. “So when we got off tour I called up my manager and said ‘Yo find this dude right here called Metal Fingers’. He searched and searched and searched, then finally found him. I didn’t know it was DOOM – I’d heard of DOOM, but didn’t know it was him. Then one day he came to the studio, played me some beats. He just had a bunch of cool beats, just things that I like. It was crazy, he just gave me them for FishScale. One thing led to another, we wanted to records together and he wanted to make some songs together to make an album. I made a lot of songs for him, but he never released it.”
Rumoured for release back in 2007, the full-length joint effort has since entered a state of purgatory, with no release foreseeable in the near future. But as Ghostface explains, there is still hope. “I saw DOOM in London and we spoke about it, we switched numbers and said ‘We should really put that out, the fans want it, it’s gonna be real big.’ He was feelin’ me, really feelin’ me, but that was the last time we really spoke about it. He got the majority of the music, but he just wanna do a few more other joints just to make sure we got it right. And that was it,” Ghostface explains.
Switch & Changeable aside, there is still plenty of new Ghostface material to look forward to in the next year, most notably a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed rap albums in recent memory, Supreme Clientele. “That would be sometime near February,” he says of the sequel. “I want to get it out sometime this year, but I got this Wu-Block thing coming in maybe like three months, so I’m saving my thing until February, just at the top of the year and go into it like that,” Ghostface reveals.
With Raekwon following up his classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... with a worthy sequel 14 years after the original, Ghostface isn’t feeling encumbered by any overwhelming pressure. “The only thing hard about it is that you gotta find the right beats that fit it. Hopefully you’re in the right frame of mind while writing it. You could write a rhyme, and yeah you wrote it, but it’s not really, really hot when you hear it back. I don’t rush rhymes, I don’t rush my music,” he asserts. “If you got the right beats, if you got the right frame of mind and you know what fits over that beat, it’s good. I could do whatever – Ironman 2, FishScale Number 2, but there’s never the pressure. You just listen to how the first one felt and that’s it. The only thing that’s wrong is that these days the guys ain’t really making the beats that you heard when the first Supreme Clientele came out. The music really went somewhere else, so you gotta really dig and dig and dig to find somebody out there that’s holding something, but you just gotta find it, you feel me?”
Though a full-scale follow-up to Wu-Tang Clan’s 2008 release 8 Diagrams was hotly rumoured for release this year, Ghostface is quick to dispel such a notion. “There’s no Wu-Tang album coming out this year,” he states bluntly. “Me, Jadakiss, Sheek Louch, Styles P, Raekwon and Cappadonna, plus it’s Wu-Block so I gotta have the Clan on it. That’s about it, it’s not a Wu-Tang album that’s comin’.”
After nearly two decades in the game and a witnessing a rapidly evolving musical landscape, just how does Ghostface Killah uphold such consistency? “Just good music man, just listenin’ thinking ‘I can rhyme off that’. That’s what’s interests me. Other than that, the music changed. Everyone’s into the clubs and this and that, while I’m just into the raw music. I can’t be here just talkin’ ‘bout champagne all day, poppin’ bottles and this and that. I gotta tell my story, what comes to me. That’s what separates me from a lot of the new artists that’s out now, because they just in the club with it, where I’m on the street with it. I’m anywhere else a lot of the times, unless I have to make a record which says ‘you gotta be in the club with this one’ or a radio single, or stuff like that. Other than that, I gotta do me. I don’t get caught up in it, I just gotta find what beats I like and then I’m gonna take it and do what I do – just talk my shit over it,” he muses.
Despite conquering all terrains within the realm of rap, don’t expect Ghostface to be giving up on the game any time soon. “I love to do it. When you love to do something, you just do it. It’s like you telling me ‘why you wanna keep fuckin’ your woman?’, know what I mean? Or ‘why you keep getting pussy, nigger?’ It’s like if you love it, you continue to do it. You got these 70, 80 year old men that are still fuckin’,” he laughs. “It’s the same thing with music. You love what you do? Then keep doin’ it.”
When the Wu-Tang Clan first emerged from Staten Island in the early-‘90s, not only was there molten-hot competition within the local scene, the East-West dichotomy was at an all-time high. These days, as Ghostface explains, things are different. “I don’t have no competition man. The competition for me is like who’s on the most videos right now, or who’s doing this and that. But as far as me writin’, or me being a lyricist, there’s no competition for me. I know my power, I know that I’m my worst critic and I can hurt myself. But in terms of competition, it depends on how you wanna go. Like I said, the game’s changed – it’s more about being in the club and stuff like that. So all I gotta do is do what I do, but just get more presence out on the streets and on video and radio. And that’s it. I don’t got a problem with that. So that’s why when you hear Wu-Block coming, that’s just me planting the seed for what’s gonna happen for February. Then from February on, you gonna see a lot more of Ghostface then what you’ve probably seen in your life. That’s my plan,” he declares.
Whether it be with Wu-Tang or in solo mode, Ghostface has maintained a near-annual pilgrimage to Australia in the past few years. “When you was in school, you talked about Australia and all them places like that. So for people to recognise my music and even the Wu-Tang, it’ a blessing, yo. It’s a big, big blessing,” he states with humility. “Seeing people over their with Wu-Tang Ws and tattoos and stuff like that, you think ‘damn, we on the other side of the world, like 22 hours on a plane!’ It’s shocking sometimes. But you can be shocked but things are just real at the same time.”
BY LACHLAN KANONIUK
Rap City brings Ghostface Killah [USA], DOOM [USA], Chino XL [USA], Killah Priest [USA] plus Ciecmate [AUS] and Newsense [AUS] to The Forum on Saturday June 9.