Written Angelo Gingerelli
Over the last two decades Ghostface Killah has become not only the most enduring member of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, but one of the most consistent artists in the history of hip-hop. When GFK is focused he produces undisputed classics (Ironman, Supreme Clientele, Fishscale), even his more abstract albums (Wizard of Poetry, The Pretty Toney Album, Bulletproof Wallets) have their share of fans due to his vivid story telling and off-the-wall personality. Over the last few years, The Wally Champ hasn’t followed the blueprint of most MC’s of his generation (Jay-Z, Nas, etc.) that release one big album every few years and has instead followed in the footsteps of underground artists like Kool Keith and MF Doom by releasing several concept albums each year (this is his third release since December 2014).
12 Reasons to Die II is interesting from a production standpoint for two reasons. First the album is executive produced and narrated by Wu-Tang’s The RZA, which immediately adds to the albums grimy, cinematic and 90’s-influenced vibe. Secondly, the album is produced by current wunderkind Adrian Younge with one of the most innovative production methods seen in hip-hop (maybe all of music) in years. Younge is a multi-instrumentalist that makes a collection of original music based on a time period (usually the late ’60s or early ’70s), he then turns the collection of original music over to a Hip-Hop producer that samples/cuts/scratches the recordings to produce traditional rap songs. For other examples of this process working to great effect check out 12 Reasons To Die (2013) or his collaboration with Royce The 5’ 9” and DJ Premier (PRYME) from last year.
Like most concept albums 12 Reasons to Die II is best when heard in one sitting because while the beats and rhymes are all solid on their own, the overall effect from getting the story from beginning to end is worth the time and effort. The story focuses on the rivalry between a criminal named Lester Kane and the DeLucca crime family and how the character of Ghostface Killah/Toney Stark fits into the conflict. Ghostface is typically proficient at portraying his character and keeping the story moving forward. He is joined by frequent collaborator Raekwon who’s flow/personae fit perfectly into the crime saga. Rae & Ghost are joined buy underground stalwarts Scarab & Chino XL (who both expertly fit into the narrative) and current West Coast star Vince Staples, who adds a nice touch of fiery youth to the mix of veterans.
The album is short (11 actual songs), but the short length actually works for a project like this where all of the songs add to the overall story/concept with no filler or radio singles tacked on for good measure. Hip-Hop has a history of ambitious concept albums featuring dozens of MC’s and various producers (Prince Paul’s “A Prince Amongst Thieves” and Sticky Fingas “Black Trash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones” are great examples where this approach works well). If those albums are like a great TV series (The Wire, Breaking Bad), then GFK’s last few projects (12 Reason to Die II included” are like stand-alone episodes of Law & Order shorter, more potent and perfect when you want to be swept up in a compelling story for about an hour.
Best Songs: Picking any individual songs ruins the effect of the project
Perfect For: A one hour ride on public transportation where you want to zone out
12 Reasons to Die II Score: 8/10