Pitchfork Gives Ghostface Killah “Apollo Kids” A 7.3/10 Rating!

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Anyone surprised by the all-R&B, mostly-WTF? direction of Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City should
be studying Ghostface’s art: ever since signing to Def Jam and
temporarily dropping the “Killah,” it’s been like watching the aftermath
of Weezer’s Pinkerton flop over and over again. Though we got
some undeniably great music in the process, it felt somewhat ancillary
to “Tush”, “Back Like That”, the “Back Like That” remix, bummed out interviews, and hiring Diddy’s production team for Big Doe Rehab–
all pretty clear actions of someone who takes his poor commercial
fortunes very personally and isn’t trying to be anyone’s idea of a cult
act. Of course, none of it worked in the slightest, so even if it was a
giant fuck-you to his hardcore contingent, Ghostdini was at least
understandable as the culmination of years worth of frustration from
someone who felt like he ran out of crossover options. Or, as Ghostface
said in Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, “I’m hanging this shit up if this shit don’t work.”

On its face, Apollo Kids is a weirdly deflated concession from
both parties: Twelve spartanly named tracks, barely over 40 minutes of
music, a ton of guests hailing from Ghost’s inner circle, a rehashed
album title, and a near total lack of promotion: If Ghostface didn’t
have a Twitter account, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be aware of
this thing’s existence. But isn’t that what we were all clamoring for
after the desperate shilling of Ghostdini? At the outset, it would sure seem so. Apollo Kids plays out something like a lower-stakes version of The Pretty Toney Album, no RZA but plenty of that record’s time-honored breakbeats, blaxploitatied guitars, and swallowed-whole soul samples.

It’s the kind of stuff that his harried intensity always sounds
viscerally powerful over, even if the rhymes aren’t prime material. He
doesn’t throw his darts sideways anymore, but without sort of bullshit
clutter, he’s still an incredibly ostentatious lyricist, just one that’s
easier to parse. The record’s opening trio is evidence enough of that:
on “Purified Thoughts”, Killah Priest and GZA add their typical
ballast-heavy musings on metaphysics and crack sales to Ghost’s boasting
of feeding children in Benin and “Africans chantin’ me on like
Coachella.” When matched up with a more comparable style, Busta Rhymes
helps turn “Superstar” into an Olympic-level track meet of fast-rap,
while Ghost and Cappadonna appropriately spaz out for “Black Tequila”.
And while “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes [ft. Jim Jones]“ is possibly the least
promising run of words ever to grace a Ghostface tracklist, there’s
still an illicit glee in how lines like, “And I ain’t even gotta be
dipped/ I pull out my pocket two sloppy joe mitts this thick!” counter
the problem that some of his most locked-in performances as of late come
at the expense of tactful gender relations.

While the music and the personnel are all comfort food for Ghostface, Apollo Kids still
leaves something of a strange aftertaste. The basically arbitrary
sequencing never allows too much momentum to build, and the lack of any
sort of organizational principle makes it come off seeming more
slapped-together by Def Jam interns than an Event release befitting
Ghost’s rep. But the larger issue is that Apollo Kids feels like a
record that’s good because it never dares to be great. Even on
Ghostface’s more uneven LPs, there are always reasons to think of
Ghostface as a victim of his own prolificacy rather than someone who can
no longer make a legit claim as one of the greatest rappers ever–
“Alex (Stolen Script)”, “Maxine”, “White Linen Affair”, to name a few.
That “2getha Baby” and “How You Like Me Baby” didn’t spark much buzz in
advance shouldn’t be a surprise, as they feature the kind of
clock-punching rhymes (“She look like she get it from her mama/ That’s
right Michelle I’m Obama”) that Ghostface is supposed to be an
alternative to. Those are two of the three songs on Apollo Kids that
are solo joints (the other being “Starkology”, which is so minimal it’s
barely there), and the most troubling aspect is that Apollo Kids makes a strong claim as Ghost’s best LP since Fishscale, and he’s hardly on it.

You’ll never have to question whether foot soldiers like Shawn Wiggs,
Trife Da God, and Sheek Louch are going to try and bring whatever
constitutes their A-games, but Ghostface should never get outshined by
the likes of Joell Ortiz when it comes to criminology. “In Tha Park”
also is somewhat underwhelming for a song that features two of the best
voices in hip-hop on the same track for the first time; yet whereas
Black Thought’s invocation of fights at the Spectrum and out-of-town ice
skaters feels steeped in personal history, Ghost’s hip-hop origin story
comes off like he’s told it dozens of times.

It’s hard not to feel conflicted about Apollo Kids. Unlike
Ghostface records that presumably get unfairly judged by the standards
of his best work, it’s tempting to overrate it due a general relief that
he didn’t try to make Ghostdini again. And even if the initial
buzz of simply getting a new LP wears off pretty quickly here, it’s not
to the point where “no Ghostface” is better than “new Ghostface.” But as
with the aforementioned Weezer, Ghostface’s weakest output is coming at
a point when he’s releasing more than ever, and differentiating
correlation and causation just gets harder and harder: I realize the
days of spiced-out Calvin Coolers are long gone, but it’s also been
enough time since the relatively earthbound Fishscale that I’m not certain the remedy is just slowing the fuck down.

Ian Cohen, January 3, 2011

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/14942-apollo-kids/

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