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After being enticed with three emphatic singles featuring the likes of Danny Brown, Elzhi, and the one and only MF Doom, Toronto genre-splicers BADBADNOTGOOD and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah have finally bestowed onto us their joint album Sour Soul. The emcee of this album, Ghostface Killah, is a Wu-Tang alum, he was the first verse we heard on 36 Chambers, and he’s the member of Wu-Tang who I think has had the most longevity but that could be argued for any number of the rappers from the clan. The reason why I point to Stark is his impressive volume of qualityalbums after Enter The Wu-Tang. Many of those albums had the capacity to be considered essential, whether it be Iron Man, Fishscales, I’ve heard strong arguments for The Big Doe Rehab, and then even to more recent years with 2013’s 12 Reasons to Die.
That last album in particular was interesting because it thrusted GFK in front of the eyes of the modern Hip hop crowd. Its critical explosion really got Stark back into the Rap zeitgeist of 2013. Obviously this is at least partly due to Ghost’s skill on the mic but where its success is attributed most is in the very smart move of having 12 Reasons wholly produced by Adrian Younge, the composer of most notably the Black Dynamite soundtrack and a couple songs off of Magna Carta Holy Grail. This made the already heavily conceptual album even more so, with the two’s synchronicity pushing the album into very deep narrative territory. So, after hearing about this album collaboration with BADBADNOTGOOD, a Jazz group who I’ve been down with for a minute, I was pretty much sold. Sour Soul is here, and it may not quite live up to my admittedly high expectations (particularly after that Danny Brown single), but it certainly stands on its own as a crazy solid record.
My first wave of impressions was that this isn’t a slap-to-the-face kind of album. After “Six Degrees” and “Ray Gun”, my jaw wasn’t dropping. Not a deal breaker by any means, but since those wow-factor type projects are heavily sprinkled throughout contemporary Rap music to much success, it’s important to mention. However, Sour Soul marches right past that expectation with a really enduring air about the flows that Ghostface lays down and the beats BBNG construct. The style of the production makes Sour Soul a project that has a lot of lasting power in Hip hop libraries. I mean, an album being this much of a carefully constructed work makes it age a lot slower than other sorts of albums. It’s like cell shading in video games, it adds style to help it look good for much longer. The album It doesn’t feel the need to be of its time. That’s the exact reason why most of the Drill artists out of Chicago won’t be considered classic in a broad, objective sense. That’s the type of music that, almost by definition, leans on practices and methods in Hip hop that are in fashion musically. The Trap style of production, violent lyricism, beats that go so hard you feel threatened by them, little kid rappers who are gang affiliated, et cetera. I think a level of timelessness and be struck when diving headlong into a sound while knocking it out of the park, like the Migos mixtape Y.R.N. for Trap, Flockaveli for southern hype, Hell Hath No Fury and T.I. vs. T.I.P for mid-2000’s hardcore Rap. These are almost musical relics caught in time. But I’m getting off topic. This isn’t any sort of line GFK and BADBADNOTGOOD needed to even worry about walking.
My main and pretty much only concern I had going into this project was that the three lead-in singles were so great that the rest of the album wouldn’t be able to live up to them. Plus, those tracks all had features, so when I saw the track listing and that only one other track had another rapper on it, the stacks were raised. It was all up to the collaborative abilities of Ghostface and BBNG. For whatever reason I’m always doubting GF, but, of course, he defies my skeptical nature. Stark sounds great here. He has continued to prove himself as the dynamic, well-aged rapper that he was with 12 Reasons. Much like that album, on Sour Soul he is present with rhymes that are always hitting their mark. His raps are heavy; lots of weight which is great for turning bars into hay-makers. One other small issue I can’t let the album get away with is its conclusion. I think the production does it in its own right with the closing track “Experience”, but this album doesn’t end with much oomph from the Rap perspective. The closing was less of a crescendo and more of a polite exit. In anything it’s always smart to end with a strong note, and this album unfortunately doesn’t have that.
Okay, despite what my qualms may be conveying, I really like Sour Soul. I think it is an awesome record. I personally moved past its nagging issues because there is a lot of heart encased in it. However, critically, those problems may hold it back from being anything past a really solid album. So, my skepticism be damned, Ghostface Killah and BADBADNOTGOOD hit a great stride together on Sour Soul. Much like many of Wu-Tang’s alum’s respective projects, this album flows beautiful through a river of unabashed character thanks to the synergy of rapping and production. They should definitely be commended for that, it’s definitely not as easy as they make it sound. I’m happy because Sour Soul is another project to really enjoy and get into, let naturally fall out of my listening rotation, and then excitedly rediscover in my iTunes some time later to then repeat the previous cycle. Just like that, all the way to my cheap, shitty, poorly dug grave.
Yo, don’t be taking my word for it, go listen to the album for yourself. BBNG have it in it’s entirety on their Soundcloud, which I will embed below. Also, for the realest supporters, here’s a link to it on iTunes and one for it’s vinyl release.
“Six Degrees” / “Mind Playing Tricks” / “Ray Gun”