The Pretty Toney Album
hostface. Just the word brings a smile to my face. Throughout the messy history of my favorite group, Ghostface is the only Wu-Tang member that remained consistently inventive, consistently engaging—indeed, probably the only Wu-Tang member who never stopped being relevant. What's that you're about to say? You're about to drop RZA's name aren't you? Yes, the man is a genius, yes, the Wu owes everything to him, yes, yes, yes, all you say is true. But we must face facts. RZA has fallen off. I do not say this lightly; it pains me when I think about it. It took me years to come to terms with the fact that RZA will never touch the lowest tier of his best work again, but I had to face the facts. Maybe it's the drugs. Maybe it's the money. I don't know. Facts are facts. Lucky for us that Ghostface doesn't need the RZA. Inspectah Deck? Raekwon? They need him. Even GZA's work suffers without Prince Rakeem's golden touch. Ghostface? In his own words: "All we need is a drum, fuck it, he can rhyme, I'll sing".
Ghost's pure, unadulterated love of music has become increasingly obvious over his career. He never does a beat wrong. Sometimes the beat will do him wrong—he wasn't always at his best on the smoother pop-oriented cuts from Bulletproof Wallets, and Pretty Toney's clean, moneyed up productions ("Tush", "Tooken Back") seem a bit at odds with Ghost's irrepressible street side. Luckily, Pretty Toney's stacked with the scratchy damaged soul that made Supreme Clientele his masterwork, and he slings hood parables like he's atoning for Wallets' excessive revelry. "Biscuits" is vintage Ghostface—he's a confident ghetto don, dealing death and drugs with a cool head and a steady fist. The swirling horn squeals of "Metal Lungies" could be leftovers from Ironman. Def Jam deal or no, Ghost kicks off the album like he has something to prove.
And maybe that's what keeps him on top. Ghostface never shies from proclaiming his almost mythical greatness—"Be careful saying my name, it's like matches, yo", he warns in "Beat The Clock." But this is tempered by a current of paranoia. Snakes and haters are everywhere, and must be called out, threatened, and verbally assassinated. "Brothers around here stick together like cheap rice", he calls out in "Kunta Fly Shit," choking out the words in his trademark high pitched near-sob, an intonation that evokes incredulity, pity, and pathos. Ghost has perhaps more enemies than ever—"Shit got real" once he revealed his face. So, like a martial arts master, he must continually keep in shape and rebuff attacks, knowing that although his skills are unmatched, he is still vulnerable.
Dealing with the haters only takes up the first third of the album, however. Necessary business taken care of, Ghost is free to settle into waxing philosophical over his favorite topic: love. "Save Me Dear" is a take on the time-honored tradition of praising the women that make hood life possible. "The way she never calls the cops on a nigga got me", he confesses before promising to "shelve my guns, and with the cash I'm going to bring you to Vegas". He's no cold-hearted thug: he has the maturity to deal with relationships with nuance. "It's Over" details an affair (consummated at a Best Western) interrupted by a scorned woman. "My heart dropped, everything stopped, scared to death", he confesses when he spots her in the lobby. "Last Night" is a throwback to the misogyny of Ironman, but "Tooken Back" offers an interesting dialogue between Ghost and Jackie O. Ghost proclaims he won't take Jackie back, but she wins him over through some kind of odd reverse psychology. "The sex wasn't wild, but I dealt with it", she coos before reminding Ghost how much of his criminal enterprise rested on her participation. By the end of the song he's literally begging to have her back, a sentiment more informed by Ghost's beloved '70s soul than modern rap.
Ghostface is back like an old friend: no matter what condition he's in, it's always a pleasure when he shows up. Pretty Toney offers up solid beats and some of Ghost's best rapping—he can still spit a mile a minute like he's breathing air—but it's haunted by an uneven construction. My feelings about Ghostface won't allow me to blame him, so I'll fault Def Jam for not coughing up for sample clearance on underground classics like "Gorilla Hood," "The Watch," and "Beatles" (in which Tony Starks uses "My Guitar Gently Weeps" to better effect than any indie DJ could), which turns what could have been a true classic into merely a solid effort. But with its fair share of masterpieces (including the slow burning "Holla" and the cop chase maelstrom of "Run"), Pretty Toney does nothing to hamper Ghostface's legacy. "Holla holla holla if you want to", he offers. I am unable to refuse. Holla.
Reviewed by: Gavin Mueller
Reviewed on: 2004-04-23