On two albums released this September, Wu-Tang MVP Ghostface Killah shows two very different sides of himself. In his many appearances on Raekwon’s excellent Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… Pt. II, Ghost cuts a fearsome, snarling figure, telling crime-life stories with a Raymond Chandler-esque vividness that can get downright terrifying when talk turns to dead kids or interrupted blowjobs. But on his own Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City, Ghost ditches hectic mid-1990s boom-bap for slick, luxuriant R&B, spitting come-ons and relationship confessionals while R&B singers like John Legend and Raheem DeVaughn purr the hooks.
It’s a testament to Ghost’s versatility that these two practically opposed personae only occupy a couple of facets of Ghost’s catalog. He’s also been a bare-knuckle bruiser, a wounded old-soul wailer, a splenetic absurdist, and everything in between. On the eve of Cuban Linx II’s release, Pitchfork spoke with Ghost about his recent projects and what the future holds for him.
Pitchfork: Rae’s Cuban Linx II is coming out right around the same time as your album, and you are a huge part of that record. The two projects are very different. What does it feel like to be split between two directions like that?
Ghostface Killah: Well, that’s not a problem. One direction is the other way, and I’m doing a much more mature album, so it don’t really clash with me. I’m glad that we, at the end of the day, are just Wu-affiliated and we got material coming out all together.
Pitchfork: Cuban Linx II has been a really long time coming. Do you look at that as being partly your own project? Your face is on the cover and everything.
GK: Yes, I do. Raekwon is spearheading it, but, you know, I’ve been dealing with him, like on the first one. This one is the sequel, and it’s all good.
Pitchfork: You really black out on every one of those tracks that you’re on. Did you have to get into a certain headspace to get to the level of intensity you’ve got on that?
GK: Well, no. You know, you just rhyme. You just do what you do. Certain shit brings up certain things about you. And that’s it, though. I don’t think I really blacked out on it. I just think I did all right. I think I did okay. I don’t think I did superb. You know what I mean? Because I’ve been moving around in different cities, recording shit, not really having enough time to sit down and write the way I really want to write.
Pitchfork: You don’t think that it’s up there with your best stuff?
GK: I think, in my mind, if I was relaxed and I had myself time, I could have wrote better. You know, we all say that. It’s like [Michael] Jordan could have scored 60, and he could’ve been like, “Yo, if my ankle wasn’t killing me or whatever, I could have did 80.” You know what I mean? It’s like that.
Pitchfork: Did you have more of a chance to sit down with the stuff on Wizard of Poetry?
Pitchfork: Can you talk about the direction you took on this one?
GK: The direction is more based around storytelling. It’s poetry. You know, different situations and topics. It ain’t all lovey dovey, you know what I’m saying? You do got your songs complimenting women, and songs where I fucked up, where I might have got a girl pregnant. Songs where I’m feeling lonely and shit, where my girl left me and there’s another man that moved into my house with kids. And you got situations where you bump into a pregnant girl, but she’s so pretty, and you wish you could have her, but she’s pregnant and she’s married. Just problems when I might have messed around, let the cable man come to my house, fix my cable, but two weeks later he’s somewhere on my property in my guest house, screwing my wife. So it’s just different topics on the album and shit. It’s more mature; that’s what I’ll say.
Pitchfork: So it’s really an album of grown-up relationship talk?
GK: Yeah. Growing up, relationships, and me just spitting game at women, complimenting them, things of that nature.
Pitchfork: Is it all written directly from personal experience?
GK: No, not everything. Just where the beat takes you. I’m like a movie director, so wherever I feel that I need to go over this type of beat, that’s what I’m going to do, that’s where I’m going to go.
Pitchfork: You’ve been really outspoken in the past about how much you love 1970s soul music. You are working with a lot of younger singers who are using Auto-Tune. Is any of the album going to be more of that classic soul sound?
GK: A few songs. Not every song. You still got that stuff in there, but it’s broke up. You just gotta hear it.
Pitchfork: Who are some of the other singers you’ve got on there?
GK: John Legend, John Legend’s brother, Vaughn Anthony. I got Estelle on it. I got Shareefa, Fabolous. I got Raheem DeVaughn on two tracks. I got Lloyd. I got Adrienne [Bailon] from the Cheetah Girls– that’s the girl that goes with Kim Kardashian’s brother. She was fucking with him. Little nice cute girl.
Pitchfork: That’s the girl from 3LW, right?
GK: Yeah, 3LW. Yeah. And that’s really basically it. [Jack Knight and Ron Browz also appear on the album; Ne-Yo and Kanye West feature in remixes. --Ed.]
Pitchfork: Is Fabolous the only other rapper on the album?
GK: He’s the only one, yeah.
Pitchfork: Is this your last album for Def Jam?
GK: Supposedly, yes.
Pitchfork: Have you thought at all about what you’re doing afterwards?
GK: No, I haven’t been thinking about it.
Pitchfork: What does the title of the album mean?
GK: It means what it sounds like: Wizard of Poetry. I’m a wizard at poetry. The Emerald City was because I was trying at it, like The Wizard of Oz, like I was going to the Emerald City to go look for love. You understand what I’m saying? I couldn’t really get too much into that because they would try to sue me for likeness. I was going to base my skits around The Wizard of Oz and stuff like that, but I couldn’t do it. The Wizard of Poetry, I had that title since I did The Pretty Toney album. That’s when the name first came to me.
Pitchfork: The album cover relates to that too. Is the idea that the Emerald City is the place where you find love?
GK: Yeah, the Emerald City was the place where– not where I found love, but where I was going to ask God if he could give me love, or ask the whoever was the highest in The Wizard of Oz, the highest power or whatever. I was searching for love. You know, the Scarecrow needed a brain, the Tin Man needed a heart, and the other dude needed courage. I need love, you feel me? So that’s what that was.
Pitchfork: I believe It’s the first album cover you haven’t appeared on.
GK: Of course.
Pitchfork: Why the change?
GK: Well, if you look closely at the album cover, you will see that I have appeared.
Pitchfork: When you’re in that really intense story-teller mode like on “Gihad” or “Shakey Dog”, how does it feel to write something like that?
GK: I dunno. I just do what I do, man. I love it.
Pitchfork: You’ve been recording at a faster clip than anyone else in Wu-Tang. Do you think you’ll be able to maintain that?
GK: I think so.
Pitchfork: There’s been some talk about a joint album between you and Method Man and Raekwon. Is that going to happen?
GK: Yeah, that’s going to happen.
Pitchfork: Do you have the whole label situation figured out?
GK: Yeah, it’s going to be on Def Jam.
Pitchfork: Are you recording for that now?
GK: Not right now. It’s probably going to be another week and a half.
Pitchfork: The three of you have really good chemistry on all of your songs together. Do you all push each other?
GK: No. I mean, we probably won’t be around each other for the most part. I’ll go where I go to record it, and everybody else go where they go to record it. We just fly our verses in.
Pitchfork: So it’s not like you’re all are in a room together?
GK: Not all the time, no.
Pitchfork: Did it used to be like that all the time?
GK: Yes, yes. Hell yeah.
Pitchfork: It’s a real testament that you are able to keep that same kind of intensity without being in the same room like that.
GK: Yeah. You know, when you hungry for this, man, when you love what you do, more than likely everything is gonna just come out decent.
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