Ghostface Killah may have selected his alias and face gear for reasons of bravado, showmanship, devotion to B-movies or avoiding the law, but his rap persona's spirit-world connections have become increasingly appropriate as he enters what should have been the twilight of his hip-hop career. Instead of fading into irrelevance, Ghostface keeps returning with sick albums, slyly spinning fresher rhymes each time.
He seems to be propelled by his own momentum: After working steadily in the first half of the decade, he released Fishscale in 2006, the success of which prompted the More Fish sequel. Soon after came a rarities record, and later this year, a collaboration with MF Doom called Swift & Changeable will be released. Or maybe unleashed is more appropriate: the collective skill and lyrical lunacy of that rap pack will be something spectacular to witness—perhaps rivaled only by the anticipation surrounding Ghostface and his treehouse pals in the Wu-Tang Clan. The killa bees will put out their first effort in a bajillion years this summer, and the group's brightest rappers—Raekwon, Method Man, and Ghostface—have all kept up tight games.
Ghostface's sound has evolved significantly over his career. While he's not necessarily an avant-garde rapper, his work is rooted in the New York hip-hop continuum, which consists of no-holds-barred freefalls of ballsy lyricism and flow. Ghostface often ignores traditional narrative for stream-of-consciousness dreamscapes and long-winded objective correlatives that don't read clearly till you're deep inside a fifth listen. His albums indulge no commercial or critical prospects, just him and whoever else is game. Bolstering the rhymes are an old-timer's erection of 1970s soul samples and the kind of beats that probably only happen after you've hung out with RZA for a decade.
An aging rapper is just about as incongruous as a graying punk, though in hip-hop there's the additional socioeconomic heaviness and short life expectancy of black men in America and the fact that most guys peak young. The vitality and social mutiny that make hip-hop necessary and involving can be confused and dissipated when it's coming from an old rich guy whose art got bad when his life got good. (Have you seen Rev. Run boss his kids around a bookstore in Run's House? Jesus.) For the moment, Ghostface Killah is an arcane but poetic lyricist, a storyteller of the highest order and a purveyor of ear-pricking beats. Though he told MTV that "I want to be that dude on the TV like, 'For five cents a day you could feed this kid right here,'" and it's unlikely he'll top himself after producing 2000's Supreme Clientele (his best album, unless you count his bro-down with Raekwon on Rae's near-perfect Only Built 4 Cuban Linx), he's still got a lot of good in his life and in his art.
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Ghostface Killah performs at the Outdoor Theatre. Sat., 7:30 p.m.