It feels a bit blasphemous to single out one member of Wu-Tang Clan as standing above the rest, but when considering Ghostface Killah he proves a case worthy of respect in his own right. From the very first verse of “Bring Da Ruckus” and on, it has been clear that Ghostface was an incredible talent. His penchant for high-energy rapping and precise enunciation makes his verses one of the most recognizable in hip-hop, and they have been for the past 18 years. You see, Ghostface doesn’t take time off. Unlike his colleagues like GZA/Genius and Inspectah Deck, who are known for long breaks in between albums, the one and only GFK has released nine solo albums while still finding time to collaborate on full Wu-Tang clan albums and smaller collaborations like 2010’s Wu-Massacre (Meth, Ghost and Rae).
Perhaps most fascinating about him is the amount of change Ghost has put into his act over the years. Originally a street-smart hustler and cocaine dealer, Ghostface changed up his appearance after a trip to Africa and the result was 2000’s Supreme Clientele, an album labeled by some as Ghost’s magnum opus. Few would have been able to make the adjustment that he did, but his elasticity as an artist and ultimately his charisma behind the mic have allowed Mr. Killah to stay around and stay relevant for so long. He returned to his drug-dealing ways later in his career, usually while under the alias Toney Starks, but still found ways to incorporate other elements into his verses.
One of the best storytellers, if not the best, in the history of hip-hop, Ghostface Killah draws on personal experience to craft his often free-associative verses. Between his having diabetes, having diabetes and being one of the most prolific and public members of the Wu he certainly has a lot to talk about. Perhaps that’s why he has never grown stale- his rhymes are always outside the box and aren’t necessarily about typical rap tropes. When Inspectah Deck claims on that ‘Wu-Tang keep it fresh like Tupperware,’ it’s Ghostface Killah who stands out as really living the words.
At the end of the day, though, Ghostface is a semi-tragic figure. Casual fans will only recognize songs from Supreme Clientele when his discography runs so much deeper. 2006’s The Big Doe Rehab is criminally overlooked and Apollo Kids was released with little fanfare at the end of December 2010. Even his foray into R&B Ghostdeini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City isn’t entirely awful. He’s something of a relic at Def Jam Records, something they can dust off when the execs are looking for a critically acclaimed rap album. Even though, at age 42, he’s approaching sideshow status to the masses, doesn’t mean he isn’t still as agile on the mic as he was when he was 24.