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Album review: ‘Twelve Reasons to Die’ proves Ghostface Killah has originality, ambition

More than 20 years after getting his start in the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah, whose real name is Dennis Coles, is back with the most original and ambitious record of his career. In fact, this album could be the most vivid, ambitious and downright risky decision I’ve ever seen made in hip-hop.

“Twelve Reasons to Die,” keeps alive the spirit of classic Wu-Tang with its intense imagery and cinematic spirit. It’s a rap concept album, which has been done before, but never has a rap album dove headlong into its own story like this one does.

It’s a fictional story, set in 1960s Italy, which revolves around a main character, who is betrayed, murdered and whose body is subsequently pressed into 12 vinyl records that can bring back his vengeful spirit when played.

The plot is told in Coles’ relaxed-but-agile verbal flow, as well as through the voices of fellow Clan members RZA, Inspectah Deck, MastaKilla, U-God and Cappadonna and several other guests (I especially enjoyed the posthumous appearance of the peerless Ol’ Dirty Bastard), but what really transports you into the fantasy is the amazing music over which this story is told, entirely composed for this record by Adrian Younge and performed by a live band. 

Younge’s Tarantino-esque score gives “Twelve Reasons” a strong sense of setting, and makes the tracks unfold with the atmosphere and momentum of a great cult movie.

It’s a difficult thing, to throw yourself into a project like this with such commitment. The cheese factor becomes a very real issue. As soon as audiences get the slightest whiff of it, it’s over.

But thankfully, Ghostface and Younge approached the task with incredible mastership and vision. I honestly thought I’d never hear rap like this again. The visceral, street-level style seemed to die around the last half of the ’90s, when rap became commercially lucrative and the new school came in and took over. 

And so, true to its story, “Twelve Reasons to Die” feels like the vengeful soul of hip-hop past come alive to wreak havoc on those who murdered it.

 

Grade: A+

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