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Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge - 12 Reasons To Die

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Artist: Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge

Album: 12 Reasons To Die

Label: Soul Temple

Review date: May. 23, 2013

Will Smith almost played the titular black avenger in Django Unchained. Before Jamie Foxx slipped into (then out of) the shackles and made the role his, director Quentin Tarantino offered the role to the former Fresh Prince. But Smith turned it down.

“I thought it was brilliant,” Smith told Entertainment Weekly of the role. “Just not for me.”

As odd as it would have been to see Smith as Django, it’d be odd to envision any other emcee than Dennis Coles, a.k.a. Ghostface Killah, a.k.a. Tony Starks as the star of giallo-flick-as-rap-album 12 Reasons To Die, scored by blaxploitation composer Adrian Younge.

Coles, rap’s most gifted crime-narrative poet, huffs and puffs through the gruff play-by-play as mafia lieutenant Tony Starks is betrayed then murdered then transformed to invincible dybbuk Ghostface Killah, and Younge matches him with a soundtrack that’s equally endowed of Younge’s Technicolor Black Dynamite soundtrack and classic Wu-Tang grime. Younge leaves plenty of space for Coles to spin his dark, twisted fantasies, expertly highlighting mood and emotion with exquisite attention to detail: The lithe funk of “The Rise of the Black Suits” implies the cocky strut of Tony Starks’s rise to criminal mogul; on “Enemies All Around You,” Younge plays up Starks’ paranoia with ghostly tremolo and a spectral vocal hook from The Delfonics’ William Hurt.

But too often, the narrative fails to meet the score. 12 Reasons’ plot is slapdash and threadbare, and certainly not aided by The RZA’s stilted, sledgehammer-subtle narration. While Coles is the unquestioned star, his supporting cast fails him, with Wu-Tang associates Masta Killa and Cappadonna turning in particularly sour guest verses.

Worse still, Coles might be the real problem. 12 Reasons doesn’t find Coles in poor form, but he’s nowhere near his Fishscale peak, in terms of lyrical depth or the intensity of his delivery. Clunky couplets are too littered throughout the narrative — including the woeful opening lines “Beware, son, I got the stare / Medusa / With the rope tied around your neck / It won’t get looser” — as are tired Wu-Tang Clan clichés. He sounds truly like himself on the few tracks he really sinks his teeth into (“The Rise of the Black Suits,” “Ghostface Killah,” “Sure Shot”), but he mostly coasts, bereft of his cocksure swagger and seemingly worn out by his fiendish grind.

Or could it be that Coles’s heart just isn’t into it any more? At 42, Coles isn’t a gangster any more. He’s found Islam, and given up drugs and drinking; he told FACT magazine that he wants to do “a God album, a positive album so the kids and everybody will understand what’s going on.” Is it possible that Coles, like Michael Corleone on the verge of forgoing sin, got pulled back in, just when he thought he was out?

It sure seems that way. Despite the fact that he’s reprising his own mythology, Coles just can’t seem to truly commit to the part, to truly make it his. Coles, sure, was right for the role. But maybe the role’s no longer right for him.

By Patrick Wall

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