Ghostface Killah has always been praised as a great storyteller, evident by his crime narratives in albums like Only Built for Cuban Linx Part 1. In 2006, eleven years after Cuban Linx, Ghostface’s narrative abilities made a case as to why he should be amongst the greatest rappers of all time.
2006’s Fishscale’s storytelling wasn’t just vivid, exemplified by tracks like ‘Shakey Dog’, but it also had depth, and was all encompassing. Whether it discussed child discipline, young women not realizing their potential, or finding spiritual relief from their lives, Fishscale took the inner city drug dealer away from trap-rap, and gave it a three-dimensional view, bringing even relatability to the character on a most basic level – the struggle to find happiness.
Six years later, and Twelve Reasons to Die has Ghostface overtly promoting his storytelling abilities. A complimenting comic book to the album will be released later in the month, detailing Ghostface’s revenge against the DeLucas crime family. It’s this emphasis on a trademark of the Stapleton MC that leaves Twelve Reasons to Die with a disappointing feel to it.
At 39 minutes long, it zips through the plot at lightning speed. He rises up through the mafia ranks, he declares war on the DeLucas after he’s slighted by the crime family due to his race, he’s betrayed by a loved one, and then he’s killed. This all takes place within seven songs. The rest of the album is dedicated to Ghostface’s resurrection and revenge, via grisly murder.
He still has some great lines, like “Rock a black panther hoodie… with panther skin, / I’m black on the inside, and black within.” But the plot is so shallow that there are no added layers to go through and ponder, or any “holy crap” moments. He’s a big crime boss, he dies, he gets his revenge.
However, Twelve Reasons to Die is still music, and it’s still good music. There are plenty of witty lines; Ghostface still sounds good, if not in his prime caliber (but who is at 40? Half of Watch the Throne notwithstanding.) The big problem is that the whole plot is pretty cliché. When you hang your hat on your storytelling ability by having a comic book accompanying your music, the plot is given that much more importance. Again, it’s basically he rises, he falls, he gets his revenge. It goes through those beats, and nothing else. Ghostface, thankfully, still isn’t 2 Chainz, though.
His revenge tracks are very vivid in their brutal means, like decapitating a member of the DeLucas by guillotine. He still has some manic energy left, and he always puts his full effort into his tracks. The guest spots are all solid. Inspectah Deck, who absolutely needs to be better known, is solid as always. Killa Sin delivers two very nice guest verses, flowing well over the tracks, and coming up with some Wu-Tang worthy lines (“Got convicted of the gun charge and laughed at my sentence”). Even Cappadona has a great half-verse on ‘The Center of Attracton’, before he goes all Cappadona on the second half of his verse.
The production, while different from Ghostface’s usual in-your-face- beats, is pretty satisfying, musically. Adrian Yonge, who co-wrote and collaborated with Ghost on the entire album, á la El-P and Killer Mike, does a great job of picking his spots to either engulf you with the atmosphere of the plot, usually via very good back-up singers, or to give Ghostface breathing room to fulfill his narrative.
This, to me, is the unfortunate thing about Twelve Reasons to Die. It’s a good album, a good piece of music (with the exception of ‘Enemies All Around Me’, whose chorus ruins the entire song) and a decent Ghostface Killah album, which is pretty damn good with albums like Fishscale and Ironman in your discography.
But a lot about the album places so much emphasis on the plot that it detracts from the overall work. If one of your biggest assets is storytelling, and you promote it on that album, and it disappoints on that level, it’s hard not to compare it negatively to albums like Fishscale.