Ghostface Killah: 36 Seasons

To just put 36 Seasons on and listen to it is to be entertained, but to dig into the details, or lack of details, is to perhaps see a frustrated artist, one working through various projects to recapture something.

Ghostface Killah

36 Seasons

US Release: 2014-12-09
UK Release: 2014-12-08
Label: Tommy Boy

36 Seasons was released the week after Wu-Tang Clan's new album, A Better Tomorrow, and the way Ghostface has just moved on with his solo career in the face of a new Wu-Tang album – which should be an event, at least a celebration of the group's 20-plus years – is curious. Granted, it might not be a bad move to just head on to the next project, to get out from under the expectations A Better Tomorrow shoulders and ultimately can't live up to. Ghostface Killah has plenty in the works: another Wu Block album, a collaborative record with BADBADNOTGOOD, all following 36 Seasons. The album is billed as a solo record, but with multiple performances from AZ and Kool G Rap, as well as music provided by Brooklyn soul outfit the Revelations, Ghostface seems to have just surrounded himself with a different clan for this outing.

But if the people are different, the approach feels pretty familiar. We've got another concept album around Ghostface alter-ego Tony Starks, and the story of betrayal and revenge sounds pretty similar to Twelve Reasons to Die. The soul music provided by the Revelations just hones in directly on music that's been at the heart of the best Ghostface records. Couple this focus on soul, not just soul-inspired hip-hop, along with great turns by veterans AZ and Kool G Rap, as well as Pharoahe Monch, and you've got an album that feels like a declaration from rap elder statesmen.

If that sounds a bit dry, in practice 36 Seasons sounds great. The Revelations can deliver stripped down grooves like the rainy-night vibe of "Here I Go Again", or get lean and funky on "The Dogs of War", or deliver their own bittersweet soul with their take on "A Thin Line Between Love and Hate". Especially in contrast to the difficult, uneven beats on A Better Tomorrow, Ghostface and his fellow rappers feel at home in this music. They're given deep grooves but also room to roam. Pharoahe Monch does just that on "Emergency Procedure". The music recalls another inspiration for this album – blaxploitation soundtracks – and Monch whips himself up into a linguistic frenzy. AZ, here playing Starks friend-turned-cop, struts across each song, especially on "Double Cross" and "Pieces to the Puzzle".

The joy in hearing this album comes in the moments these rappers deliver bars that sound effortless, locked in with the music behind them. Ghostface pulls off the same trick, but for him it's less of a feat on 36 Seasons. He and Raekwon have distanced themselves from their Wu brethren with their impressionistic tales of drugs and violence, ones rooted in details both surgical and absurd. Ghostface can tell you a story of a shootout and make the fries someone eats in the car on the way to the crime fascinating. That detail is deeply lacking on 36 Seasons. Here, Ghostface has become a sort of hip-hop Hemingway, telling everything in terse lines, constructing basic sentences that (he hopes) convey deeper layers of meaning. What we get instead, is a blow by blow of Tony Starks' story – the packaging includes a comic version as well – but with very few of the details to flesh it out. It's not surprising to see that Bamboo, Starks' left-behind lover, doesn't miss him on "Love Don't Live Here No More" because the Starks of 36 Seasons is hard to fully see. "I'm back after nine years, that's 36 seasons / shit has changed up for all types of reasons," he raps to open the record. But as the album goes on, it's hard to see what exactly has changed.

The only difference on the Staten Island neighborhood that this story takes place in, it seems, is the absence of Tony Starks. But, as the album goes on, it's clear this is only a problem for Tony. Starks doesn't like that his friend became a cop. He doesn't like that his girlfriend moved on. He doesn't like that young drug dealers aren't dealing the way he would. In a way, it's hard not to think of this as Ghostface speaking metaphorically about rap. Wu-Tang Clan is not what it once was. Ghostface made the solid Twelve Reasons to Die, but we're not talking about his albums like we were when Fishscale came out (almost nine years ago). To just put 36 Seasons on and listen to it is to be entertained, but to dig into the details, or lack of details, is to perhaps see a frustrated artist, one working through various projects to recapture something. His flow is solid on this album, and there's no reason to suggest Ghostface is done, but if he is trying to recapture something, all we get here is sound and fury.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.