Sunday, 19 January 2003

Album Review: Ironman

Ghostface Killah was the fifth member of the Wu to release a solo LP, Ironman arriving after Genius, Raekwon, Method Man and ODB had all cut their teeth on solo projects. The previous four albums had all been declared classics upon release by fans. Ironman had a lot to live up to. It did not disappoint one bit.

Like every other early Wu solo album, it is at times a group effort. In fact, Raekwon and Cappadonna are giving second billing on the album. This trio works to best effect on the club favourite Daytona 500. On it, Rza drags the listener into his chamber of innovation. The track grabs a heavy sample of Bob James' seminal funk track Nautilus and couples it with some outrageous scratching. Method Man delivers a typically nonchalant verse on Box In Hand. Meanwhile, Raekwon and Cappadonna reappear on Camay to play sweet-talking suitors along with Ghostface.

Certainly the LP is best known for containing Ghostface's most commercial track so far, All That I Got Is You. It's almost the perfect blueprint for a commercially successful hip hop track. Combining a guest spot from Mary J Blige with a heavy sample of Maybe Tomorrow by the Jackson 5, the track tells the story of Ghostface's deprived childhood. "Fifteen of us in a 3 bedroom apartment / Roaches everywhere, cousins, Aunts was there / Four in the bed, two at the foot, two at the head / I didn't like to sleep with John John he peed the bed." It's a heartbreaking track. Rappers seldom manage to get tearjerkers right, but Ghostface manages it without breaking a sweat.

Credit must go to Rza for some innovative production. Rza, in his trademark style, takes sparse percussion and bass thuds and marries them to lush orchestration, baroque riffs and 1960s soul samples. The result, which is somewhat par for the course when dealing with early Wu releases, is remarkable. On Assassination Day he chops the Pledge of Allegiance over some thumping beats. Fish is the one track not produced by Rza; Tru Master takes control of the desk for this one. He doesn't let the side down; the mounting piano is met with a fizzy melody making it one of the album's highlights.

The album contains a lot of movie samples, even for a Wu Tang album. The album's opener, Iron Maiden begins with dialogue from the movie, Fresh, Wildflower kicks off with a snippet of cult classic JD's Revenge; Assassination Day grabs a sample from The Usual Suspects and The Soul Controller begins its outro with a snippet from Carlito's Way and ends it with yet more from The Usual Suspects. One might think that so many samples would detract from the music and verse, they don't. In fact, because they are used so well, they manage to take good tracks and make them great.

Ironman points to Ghostface's awesome talent. It comes as no real surprise that he is the only member of the Wu to release three good solo albums while his peers have struggled to release two decent efforts. For me, Supreme Clientele marginally edges out Ironman as the essential Ghostface album, but there's no reason why you shouldn't check out both.

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