Where To Start With... Ghostface Killah
Since his emergence as part of the Wu-Tang Clan in the early 1990s, Dennis Coles – better known to most as Ghostface Killah – has proved to be one of the most prolific artists the New York hip-hop collective has produced. He's released a total of ten studio albums under his own name, plus three in collaboration with other artists (namely Trife Diesel, Sheek Louch and BADBADNOTGOOD), as well as 2010's Wu-Massacre with fellow Clan members Raekwon and Method Man.
On top of that, he's featured as a guest artist on countless tracks by everyone from Mark Ronson and The 411 to MSTRKRFT and Pharoahe Monch, and that's before we even get to his cameo appearances in films like Iron Man and Walk On: The Dewey Cox Story.
His 2013 album, 12 Reasons To Die, represented something of a return to his best form, featuring many of his old Wu-Tang stablemates and spawning a remix album produced by Apollo Brown. Next week (Monday December 8th) sees the release of studio album no.11, 36 Seasons, featuring 14 brand new tracks that continue the ground work laid down by its predecessor.
Continuing in the concept album vein, the new LP centres around familiar Ghostface alter-ego Tony Starks and covers the character's return to Staten Island to become a vigilante. Production duties are mostly being handled by New York production duo The Revelations (Christopher Ybarra and Joseph Valdez), plus some other contributions from The 45 King, Malik Abdul-Rahmaan and M.O.P.'s Lil' Fame, under his Fizzy Womack alias.
Featuring guest appearances from the likes of Monch, AZ, Kool G Rap and Kandace Springs, 36 Seasons is one of Ghostface's strongest albums yet, with tracks like 'Double Cross' and 'Blood on the Streets' sure to get heads knocking.
For new initiates, trawling through Ghostface Killah's extensive back catalogue can be a daunting experience, but fear not: we've done the hard work so you don't have to and picked out five of his best tracks outside of his work with the Wu-Tang Clan...
Taken from his solo debut, 1996's Ironman, 'Iron Maiden' is the album's opening salvo, kicking off with a sample from Michael Campus' 1974 film The Education of Sonny Carlson. Featuring Raekwon and another Wu protege Cappadonna, the track's Al Green-sampling beat isn't a million miles from the production sound on Wu-Tang's first two albums, so anybody who is a fan of their early work will find plenty to like about this cut from Ghostface's debut.
One of his most critically acclaimed albums, Fishscales features some of our favourite tracks and it was tricky to pick just one, especially when we had to leave out a classic like 'The Champ', but in the end we went for this cut featuring a guest appearance from Raekwon. Sometimes a great sample is half the challenge of creating a great hip-hop beat and this one, borrowed from composers Jimmy Van and Richard Hieronymus, fits the bill nicely. It's like the Wu-Tang visited Sesame Street and started educating Big Bird on the dangers of dealing drugs, and even on an album that includes so many great tunes, 'Kilo' is still a standout highlight.
Underpinned by one of the many instrumental tracks from the late, great J Dilla's final work, Donuts, 'Murda Goons' wasn't originally featured on any of Ghostface Killah's studio albums, appearing first on a compilation from RZA protege Mathematics named Avenging Eagles, although an extended version did later surface on Ghostface b-sides collection Hidden Darts. Ghostface waxes lyrical on the rough Staten Island neighbourhood where he grew up, over a Dilla beat that weaves in samples from E.S.G. and The Jimi Entley Sound (a side project of Portishead's Adrian Utley and Geoff Barrow). Why it never made it onto a Ghostface LP we'll never know.
Regarded by many as his best solo album, 2000's Supreme Clientele features some bangers, but surely one of the best-known and most popular cuts from the album is 'Mighty Healthy'. Produced by Mathematics, the beat contains a myriad of samples by everyone from Biz Markie to James Brown, and even though the LP is packed with collaborators, including many of the other Clan members, on 'Mighty Healthy' Ghostface goes it alone and shows that he really doesn't need any help to lay down a great vocal track.
Hideyaface (El-P Remix)
Another track that didn't appear on one of Ghostface's own albums, the original version of this track featured the rapper as a guest vocalist on a cut from Prefuse 73's 2005 album Surrounded by Silence, but it's the remix by Definitive Jux head honcho and Run The Jewels co-founder El-P that we've chosen here. The producer brings some of his trademark filth to the proceedings, courtesy of a hefty guitar riff and a genius sample taken from Bill Cosby's Fat Albert cartoon show, and the track is all the better for it.