Ghostface Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City

[Def Jam; 2009]

Styles: lifeless crossover attempts, HOT 97 HIP HOP & R&B, KID! (cue siren noises)
Others: The “Back Like That” remix with absolutely no star wattage

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the room: yes, there is a song called “Stapleton Sex” on Ghostface’s eighth official full-length, Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City -- and yes, it is filthy. Not filthy in a gross-out teen sex comedy way, but filthy in a “my girl shit the bed while fucking” kind of way. The song starts out with Ghost giggling about having a wet face and “hair on my tongue,” and realizes its rising action in graphic detail before climaxing (har, har) with him telling his lover to “shut the fuck up” as he -- well, you can listen to it yourself. Despite Ghostface’s oft-lovable persona, the song is violent, ugly, misogynistic, and downright despicable. The fact that it was allegedly written in homage to actress Natalie Portman is sort of funny – although I’m sure that she would find this sort of, uh, “dedication” pretty disturbing.

The rest of Wizard of Poetry – or, at least, what isn’t “Stapleton Sex” -- is a curious beast, if only because its highlights are showcases of what works in today’s radio R&B landscape. Much hype has been made of the A&R work being done at Def Jam HQ in getting Ghost’s R&B collaborators, and while one does get the sense that he got stuck with the label’s second-stringers – hey, if Ne-Yo is busy, Ne-Yo is busy – there are pleasurable melodic surprises to be found in some of these tunes. The increasingly reliable Raheem DeVaughn, who made an impressive showing on his 2008 sophomore effort Love Behind the Melody, turns in an impressive vocal performance on the horn-blaring “Do Over” and uses just the right amount of Auto-Tune on “Baby.” Elsewhere, newcomer Jack Knight admirably delivers smooth vocal competence on the stretched-out soul number “Lonely,” and teen-pop holdover Adrienne Bailon adds a lilting touch to “I’ll Be That” (cringeworthy cooing not withstanding).

The few name-recognition artists that appear on Wizard of Poetry don’t fare nearly as well: John Legend’s take on “Let’s Stop Playin” is MOR-uninspired, and the back-and-forth between Ghost and Estelle on “Paragraphs of Love” is almost as uncomfortable as Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s massive misstep “The Girl Is Mine.” However, the biggest name to blow it on Wizard of Poetry is Ghostface himself, who, despite recent interviews proclaiming his dedication to making this record, hangs out in the background more than he does steal the show. Sure, there’s “Forever,” a mix tape staple for close to a year now, and there’s the hilarious prerequisite stakeout cut “Guest House,” featuring a surprisingly toned-down Fabolous. But other than dropping bon mots like “Looking at these hoes/ Eyes low like Droopy” on the otherwise obnoxious, blaring “Not Your Average Girl,” Ghostface takes a serious back seat.

Basically, this record is like the hip-hop equivalent of Santana’s Supernatural: very few of the record-buying public gave an actual shit about Carlos Santana’s guitar playing -- they just wanted to hear cornballs like Rob Thomas and Everlast goon out on factory-constructed pop music. Similarly, it’s very hard to give an actual shit about Ghost’s verses on “Lonely” – indeed, his most notable achievement on said song is the sung-spoke bridge – and “Baby,” where his commanding presence becomes neither commanding nor present. Elsewhere, he plays guest role to his own guests – never a good look for anybody, but absolutely confounding when a hip-hop figurehead like Ghostface is concerned.

So it’s no Supreme Clientele, but who was expecting it to be? This project was D.O.A. from the moment Ghost announced it a year back, and hip-hop fans should consider themselves lucky that there’s at least a few salvageable moments in Wizard of Poetry. Also, we already got our great Ghostface album this year – it was called Only Built 4 Cuban Linx II, and it featured a boatload of Raekwon guest appearances, too! (I kid, I kid.) Seriously, if anything, consider Wizard of Poetry the Theodore Unit to OB4CLII’s Pretty Toney Album – as an album, it's complete shit, but at least there are a few tracks to listen to when you’re driving.

1. Not Your Average Girl [ft. Shareefa]
2. Do Over [ft. Raheem "Radio" DeVaughn]
3. Baby [ft. Raheem "Radio" DeVaughn]
4. Lonely [ft. Jack Knight]
5. Stapleton Sex
6. Stay
7. Paragraphs of Love [ft. Vaughn Anthony and Estelle]
8. Guest House [ft. Fabolous and Shareefa]
9. Let’s Stop Playin’ [ft. John Legend]
10. Forever
11. I’ll Be That [ft. Adrienne Bailon]
12. Goner [ft. Lloyd]
13. She’s A Killah [ft. Ron Browz]
14. Back Like That [ft. Ne-Yo and Kanye West]

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