Ghostface Killah / BADBADNOTGOOD Sour Soul

[Lex; 2015]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: jazzy rap with occasional gangsterisms, film noir
Others: MF DOOM, Wu-Tang Clan

Who would of thought that a collaboration between Shaolin mastermind Ghostface Killah and Toronto jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD would not be bad or good, but exceptional. That’s how I feel about Sour Soul, Ghostface’s first release of 2015. The meticulous jazz of the trio complements Ghostface’s trigonometric slang. And what’s most amazing is the breadth of subject matter: from ruminations on life back in NYC as a “Stapleton nigga” to food advice: “eat fish, that brain food will get you smart.” A line like that could fit in a Michael Pollan book. The fact that Ghostface delivers it shows wisdom from a unique rapper.

Ghost’s voice also shows some age, but the trio’s youth enlightens him. Honestly, I had never heard of BADBADNOTGOOD before this. These three kiddos have a shtick: covering hip-hop songs in syncopated jazz, and I guess it’s caught on with the public, as they’ve released some albums and have collaborated with Tyler, The Creator and Frank Ocean. Call it experimental muzak, call it cultured post-bop fueled by the internet. Either way, it’s interesting to hear Ghostface sink so smoothly into their rhythms.

The cameos: Detroit’s Danny Brown and Elzhi, and Chicago’s Tree. The best collaboration features DOOM, who is featured on the album’s single, “Ray Gun.” DOOM and Ghostface have collaborated before, and when they get together, they geek out, rapping like superheroes with superpowers of verbal dexterity. That they fight crime with slang gives “Ray Gun” a playfulness amidst the harsher portraits of reality that Ghostface verbalizes. That’s the duality Ghostface embodies: he can easily have an entire verse dedicated to how his clan “bundle[s] cash like Pablo [Escobar],” but bring it back to a PG rating, smiling (I imagine) like a little kid as he admits that he’s “got a brand new ray gun.”

Rocking along all of this is BADBADNOTGOOD. While Ghostface instructs like a teacher pointing a wand to the solution of a problem on a blackboard, BADBADNOTGOOD create a city of Hollywood streets in hues of flangered film noir. The beats are pretty steady — nothing too fast, nothing too complicated — and there’s a strange, scorched sound to the production, as if the notes are falling into the shape of a question mark, and Ghostface is prowling through the hood as a private detective, complete with trench coat, hidden gun, and all. There’s an incandescent core of concerns on this record: Ghostface is trying to solve the mystery of these post-internet days. If anything, this 180 from the drama and soul of 2014’s 36 Seasons exemplifies how he never goes in one direction a little too far. That he can rap about anything and still be himself at the same time makes him one of the best.

Links: Ghostface Killah / BADBADNOTGOOD - Lex

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