Review: Ghostface Killah, “The Big Doe Rehab”

Ghostface Killah
The Big Doe Rehab
Def Jam

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Being Ghostface Killah must be a tough schtick for Dennis Coles, who sticks himself in the misery and muck of 80s crack-era street life again and again, only to rise out of the crap with hopeful eyes towards the future. It’s led to diminishing commercial returns, because Ghost hasn’t had a gold album in seven years, ever since the dawn of the Internet piracy era. But it’s also made for some undeniably powerful and emotional music.

The Big Doe Rehab may be his most predictable work to date. Unlike Fishscale, which sounded heavy and rich in its panoply of coke raps, familial homage and environmental fantasias, The Big Doe Rehab is narrowly focused. It seems like every song finds Ghost cooling with his friends or fucking some girl, then running out of the crib to punish his enemies. Nevertheless, the album is a success. thanks to his impeccable musical taste, exploration of familiar crime and redemption themes — he’s truly one of the great hip-hop structuralists of this decade — and spare but effective lyrical performance. Despite its formulaic structure, The Big Doe Rehab dazzles with elements — the guest appearances from various Wu-Tang personnel such as Raekwon and Method Man (minus the RZA, of course), the sharp and dependable musical backdrops — that click in time like a Cartier watch or a currency counter.

Unheralded producers such as Sean C. (a former member of P. Diddy’s Hitmen team), hard techno-turned-rap producer Anthony “Acid” Caputo and even Ghost himself compose The Big Doe Rehab‘s music. “We Celebrate” opens with a Rare Earth sample and a loud Kid Capri scream-a-thon that’s loud enough to make you fast-forward if you actually aren’t at a party, then drops into a nice funk buzz that allows Ghost to deliver his “in da club” manifesto. “Rec-Room Therapy” is built of scraps and bits of live jam sessions, but feels like a classic flute lick from the 70s. The same goes for “Yolanda’s House,” where Houston producer Anthony “Ant-Live” Singleton weaves a dramatic, string-laden beat around Joi Starr’s declarations of “no more.”

The storyline, which centers on Ghostface running wild in the streets, yet hungry for salvation, is a common motif in all his work. On “Shakey Dog Starring Lolita,” where the Rhythm Roots All-Stars compose a mock salsa track, he seemingly dies amidst a hail of bullets from police after winning a gun battle against a murderous lesbian gangster. “I fucked your pussy while you died slow,” he raps. But the album tacks on two extra “bonus” tracks, which allows him to cool out and pay homage to his woman on “Killer Lipstick,” and mull over domesticity on “Slow Down.” As Chrisette Michelle revisits her lovely Billie Holiday impression from Nas’ “Can’t Forget About You,” Ghostface talks big about his lavish life: “First breath of today can be me last, so I flash/Give my niggas some cash, I just pull out the stash/Buy a million-dollar piece like I buy a pack of seeds/You buy .oz’s of haze, I buy a forest of trees.”

Then, as Syience’s balletic, melancholy track winds down, Ghost turns surprisingly reflective, and seemingly answers Michelle’s entreaties to slow down. “I think about it, you know what I mean? Responsibilities, I gotta focus more,” he says. “Start being with the family more, I might live longer, you feel me? .. I’m a take your advice, though.”

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