Twelve Reasons to Die
By Jody Rosen
This “groundbreaking concept album” (as the press release calls it) tells the story of an internecine mafia war, which erupts when Ghostface Killah’s alter ego, Tony Starks, an aspiring member of the Deluca crime family, falls in love with a woman from the Delucas’ circle – and I’m falling fast asleep trying to recount the ludicrous plot. Focus instead on Ghostface, whose shaggy, breathless flow remains one of pop’s most transfixing sounds. Composer-producer Younge combines breaks with live instruments, for blaxploitation soundtrack-style stuff – a touch dull but not intrusive enough to detract from Ghost’s riveting presence.
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Album Review: Ghostface Killah, Twelve Reasons To Die
With 20 years of experience and a resumé of critically acclaimed albums, Ghostface Killah has established himself as one of hip-hop’s most consistent and reliable acts. With 12 Reasons to Die , the Wu-Tang veteran joins forces with composer Adrian Younge. The result is a gritty partnership of live instrumentation and lyrical slaughter.
On 12 Reasons to Die , Ghostface is in full Tony Starks mode, looking to exact revenge on the DeLuca crime family that betrayed him. The album strictly adheres to this narrative, which results in some hits and misses. While the Mafioso-giallo story that propels the album is an intriguing conceit, it proves to be too restrictive for an album that clocks in at 40 minutes. It’s more episodic than cinematic and each of the album’s 12 tracks feels too purposely segmented and separated, which can take away from the album’s emotional pull. There’s a little too much time spent on the exposition of Starks’ demise and not enough on the story’s climax, which feels rushed and a bit of a letdown.
Overarching storylines aside, 12 Reasons to Die is a lean and mean exercise in lyrical mayhem. Ghost is in fighting shape, weaving through a sinister tale of bloodshed and revenge. His abilities as a storyteller have long been second to none and he shines on “Rise of the Black Suits” and “The Sure Shot (Parts 1 & 2),” waxing eloquent about his gangster stature with an assurance and authenticity few in hip-hop can actually claim. At the same time, he manages to infuse the album with some tender moments. “The Center of Attraction” spins the tired “Ride-or-Die Chick” trope with a tangible level of sincerity and it makes his betrayal on “An Unexpected Call (The Set-Up)” that much more powerful. Later on, when Tony Starks begins his murderous rampage, Ghost shows he hasn’t lost an ounce of the energy he first showcased on “Bring Da Ruckus”, by tearing through “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” with incredible ferocity.
The greatest victory on 12 Reasons to Die is Ghost’s chemistry with producer/composer Adrian Younge. Having cut his teeth scoring the film Black Dynamite and working with Venice Dawn on 2011’s criminally overlooked Something About April , Younge’s production sounds tailor made for Ghostdeini the Great. It’s a gritty, no-frills fusion of the Wu’s early sounds and the sonic textures of soul acts like the Delfonics. The album’s got a tangible sonic atmosphere and every kick and snare takes on a life of its own. Younge’s sound is one deeply rooted in ‘60s and ‘70s cinema, and songs like “Beware of the Stare” and “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” employ sweeping operatic vocals with flanged spaghetti Western guitars. The album’s crowning achievement is “Enemies All Around Me,” which finds Ghost reconnecting with Delfonics front man William Hart (the two previously collaborated on the 1996 song “After the Smoke Clears”). It’s a harrowingly eerie song that pairs Hart’s haunting falsetto with fuzzy guitars and subtle snare pops.
Ultimately, 12 Reasons to Die is a pitch-perfect pairing of Adrian Younge’s soulful production and Ghostface’s invigorated rhymes. Despite some misguided narratorial instincts, the album is a testament to Ghost and Younge’s passion for stripped down instrumentation and raw talents.— Sean Ryon ( @WallySean )
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Ghostface Killah: Adrian Younge presents Twelve Reasons To Die II review – hard-boiled hip-hop capers
G hostface Killah’s renaissance – see his solo album 36 Seasons , and Sour Soul , the collaboration with jazz trio BadBadNotGood – continues with the second instalment of his hardboiled hip-hop caper made with Adrian Younge, LA producer and soundtrack composer: Younge’s lavish, jazz- and soul-tinged production providing the aural red carpet for one of rap’s greatest yarn-spinners. The story – featuring Ghostface as Tony Starks, the betrayed gangster who gets stabbed in the back by the DeLuca crime family – is at times ridiculously bellicose (the closing track, Life’s a Rebirth, makes the end of The Wild Bunch seem tame), but these kinds of over-the-top payoffs are what the Wu Tang Clan have always traded in. RZA’s narration and appearances from Raekwon (who plays Starks’ avenger, Lester Kane) keep the Wu connection alive, but cameos from Vince Staples ( Get the Money ) and Bilal (Resurrection Morning) make sure it’s not the same old faces going over the same ground. The Ghostnaissance continues.
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Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge : Twelve Reasons to Die II
Approaching new Ghostface Killah work in 2015—in this case, his second Adrian Younge collaboration, Twelve Reasons to Die II —requires a recalibration of expectations. On the one hand, clamoring that his new stuff isn’t up to his classic standards would involve the fools’ game of expecting the musical past to be reconstituted at our ears’ beckon call. On the other, there is a certain tangible disappointment in how lackluster some of his work has been ever since the mid-aughts Pretty Toney / Fishscale / Big Doe Rehab run of good-to-great Ghostface. I mean, remember Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City , everyone?
This may seem like I’m setting the table for a bad review of Twelve Reasons to Die II , which isn’t the case. It’s more to establish that no, Ghostface Killah isn’t ever going to be as great as his peak Wu-Tang Clan work, or even as great as Ironman , Supreme Clientele or Fishscale . But while he isn’t the lyrical abstract expressionist he once was, he’s become more musically adventurous and stylistically ambitious than ever.
The first Twelve Reasons to Die album is arguably the best of the lion-in-winter Ghostface works. It was an unexpected fusion of Ghost’s operatic, over-the-top crime narratives and bandleader Adrian Younge’s funk-by-way-of-John-Carpenter arrangements. It’s a reliably batshit story—black gangster Tony Starks takes on the DeLuca mob family in New York, gets killed, his body gets melted into 12 vinyl records that contain his spirit, which comes back to kill the bosses later. (There was also a comic book series. It’s convoluted and ultraviolent, as you might expect. But not a bad read.)
So now we have the sequel, and if you liked the first this won’t disappoint. Once again we’ve got a blaxploitation-type narrative, this time driven by the efforts of mobster Lester Kane to fill the void left by the presumably dead Starks (who is now the demonic Ghostface Killah, trapped in the records and unleashed whenever they’re played) and fight the DeLucas. There’s also some shit about a secret Starks son, and body-switching or snatching. Like I said, it’s nuts, but it proves that even if Ghost can’t summon the levels of novelistic detail he once could and often defaults to literalism, he’s still a creative and ballsy storyteller on a macro scale.
Twelve Reasons to Die II boasts more guest appearances than its predecessor, which ends up being a double-edged sword. Raekwon does all the Lester Kane verses and shows how integral he’s been to the effectiveness of so much Ghostface Killah material (and vice versa)—the best Ghost verses are on the Rae-assisted “King of New York” and “Let the Record Spin.” The ascendant Vince Staples absolutely blows up the spot when he shows up on “Get The Money,” a perfect example of the student becoming the teacher if ever there was one. But there’s also “Death’s Invitation,” which features Scarub, Lyrics Born (a long way from conscious Bay Area rap) and Chino XL inexplicably rapping so far off the beat laid down by Younge and his band as to be embarrassing.
Clearly, Younge’s stylings aren’t compatible with every rapper, and by all accounts they weren’t that compatible with Ghostface early on—their chemistry came with practice. But they certainly have it now. Younge and his band members know when to show off a bit with an organ riff or drum fill and when to be strictly backup. On the sequel, “backup” is the default setting more often—a breakbeat, a keys/piano melody and the occasional funk guitar lick is most typical—and while this corrects how the band would sometimes be too obtrusive on the first album, it also makes Ghost’s shortcomings more obvious.
Look, the man is 45, and as far as rappers in their forties go, Ghost isn’t fading into a dad-rock-of-rap role like Jay-Z or using dizzying lyrical technique to mask a lack of fresh ideas like Eminem. He’s not embarrassing himself by hiring a coterie of currently-hot producers to grasp onto fleeting trends. These are simply his twilight years, and he’s lost some of his spark. But he’s still trying genuinely new things on his terms on all of his recent albums, whether it’s working with Younge and crafting a mixed-media narrative or doing a joint recording with avant-funk band BADBADNOTGOOD . Even when they fail (like the disastrously awkward sex-jam nightmare of Ghostdini ), the experimentation is promising.
I’m not sure quite where Twelve Reasons to Die II falls in terms of late Ghostface. It’s so similar to its predecessor, which is a pretty good album but one whose success depended on its singularity. Yet it’s also a more enjoyable listen than almost all of his other recent work except the first Twelve Reasons to Die . Ultimately, shit, if he wants to keep doing chapters in this series it wouldn’t even be the worst thing, given how solid the first two are. While I do think Ghostface Killah might have one final classic in him, the blood and guts and rhymes of these records will keep loyal fans sated in the interim.
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Ghostface Killah's new album, 36 Seasons, sees the rapper revive his Tony Starks alter ego. Brian Level/Courtesy of the artist hide caption
Wu-tang's fabulous fabulist returns.
December 9, 2014 Ghostface Killah's new 36 Seasons is a concept album with a big cast. It stars his Tony Starks alter ego in dense action scenes.
Ghostface Killah's new album, 36 Seasons , comes out Dec. 9. Stan Oh/Courtesy of the artist hide caption
First listen: ghostface killah, '36 seasons'.
November 30, 2014 A superstar cast made a real life love story — disguised as an action movie — just because.
Adrian Younge (left) and Ghostface onstage at the Seattle stop of their tour last week. Erich Donaldson hide caption
The Ghostface Killah Rises Again
April 22, 2013 A high-concept collaborative album by a veteran rapper and a film composer knits together hip-hop and soul music.
Ghostface Killah with Adrian Younge and his band, Venice Dawn, after their first performance together. Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge's new album, Twelve Reasons To Die , comes out April 16. Courtesy of the artists hide caption
First Listen: Ghostface Killah And Adrian Younge, 'Twelve Reasons To Die'
April 8, 2013 In the grand tradition of the Wu-Tang Clan, this collaboration is brash and Technicolor and heartfelt.
Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge, 'Twelve Reasons To Die'
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April 25, 2006 Dennis Coles is a Staten Island rapper whose moniker is Ghostface Killah. A member of the veteran hip-hop supergroup the Wu Tang Clan, Ghostface has gone from performing exclusively in a white ski mask to become one of the most recognized and respected rappers in hip hop. His new album is Fishscale .
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By Ian Cohen
Tommy Boy / Salvation
December 10, 2014
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: dashing bon vivant Tony Stark is mangled in a horrifying accident on the job, is resurrected by a confluence of mad science and divine intervention, strikes out to defend his turf and smite his enemies. This is the basic origin story of “Iron Man”, the comic book franchise that gave Ghostface Killah , aka Tony Starks , his first album title and likely, his last shot at a major movie role . It is also the essence of 2013’s Twelve Reasons to Die , where a linear narrative of revenge was told over live-band, time-stamped soul music with the guidance of a young and new collaborator. Does that also sound familiar? It should if you’ve heard anything about 36 Seasons ; the main difference is that Adrian Younge is exchanged for Brooklyn revivalists the Revelations and that Tony Starks doesn’t actually die before he rains vengeance upon those who have wronged him.
One can see this continuous and considerable narrowing of Ghostface Killah’s artistic scope as a course correction or an apology to his hardcore fanbase; penance for the shameless bids for commercial relevance on The Big Doe Rehab and Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City . The sadder truth is that Ghostface has been in an artistic tailspin for the past seven years and, as with Twelve Reasons to Die , there seems to be a tacit acknowledgement that he can’t pull out unless someone else takes the controls.
Though still credited to Ghostface Killah, 36 Seasons is a truly collaborative work. Comic book artist Matthew Rosenberg returns to provide the storyline and Ghostface doesn’t even appear on nearly a third of the tracks, which are earmarked for character introductions and a chance for the Revelations to show their neo-soul credentials. While nowhere near as fantastical as Twelve Reasons ’ supernatural storyline—Ghostface was a hired gun murdered by his employees and his remains were melted into 12 vinyl albums— 36 Seasons is far more promising. In short, Tony Starks was keeping Staten Island in check just with his presence, but for reasons that aren’t quite clear, he’s exiled for nine years; that amounts to “36 seasons,” as Ghostface constantly reminds the listener throughout. He returns home and sees his girl take up with a local drug kingpin (played by Kool G Rap) and his former running buddy (voiced by AZ) joins the boys in blue. He’s determined to clean up the streets, but has to do some dirt first, which lands him back in jail after he’s double-crossed by those he trusted.
This is straight-up criminology and the potential is off the charts if you have even the slightest shred of hope that Ghost could regain his gifts for plot twists, jaw-dropping detail, and character sketches that resulted in the most vivid storytelling hip-hop has ever witnessed. But that Ghostface disappeared nearly a decade ago. As such, there was no reason to say "spoiler alert" for any of the above. For one thing, it will be mentioned in every single review of 36 Seasons , because the entire story is laid out in a four-panel comic included in the CD’s insert. All of it .
And 36 Seasons is more in line with the spirit of Ghostface’s recent output, where he’s more prolific and "for the love" than ever and somehow lazier at the same time. His lyrics barely deviate from the plot points laid in a comic book that can be read in 20 seconds, reverting to Twelve Reasons ’ childlike literalism and chronology. The first line is, "Ayo, I’m back after nine years/ That’s 36 seasons/ Shit is changed up for all types of reasons" and from there on out, potentially graphic scenes are often similarly reduced to, "this happened and then this happened."
How has shit changed and what are these reasons? We’re told that the streets are being overrun with petty thieves and drug dealers, but also that Ghostface’s exile was likely the result of a bid in the Tombs . So who are these kids? Are they like the Polo rubgy-stealing turncoat from "R.A.G.U." or the incompetent, petty drug dealer from "Maxine" ? No, on "The Dogs of War" (not to be confused with the Fishscale highlight "Dogs of War" ), they’re selling drugs in a way that Ghostface merely finds unacceptable for aesthetic reasons.
When he confronts his estranged lover Bamboo (played by Kandace Springs) on "Love Don’t Live Here", we don’t get the shocking invective of "Wildflower" , the wounded alpha wolf cry of "Never Be the Same Again" , or a combination of the two as on "Back Like That" . It literally goes nowhere; Tony Starks arrives at Bamboo's house; she is surprised. She has moved on. He feels disrespected. He rhymes "the crib" with "the kid" twice in the same verse. It’s actually painful to hear him attempt to modulate his voice trying to muster some kind of emotion during this thing. Starks retells his betrayal ("Double Cross"), his lightbulb moment ("Pieces to the Puzzle"), and his murder plot ("Homicide") in similarly unembellished terms and once the climactic shootout arrives, it’s presented as damn near an afterthought—"I’m filling funeral homes and graves/ It’s no surprise GFK the only one that survive." And then he wins back Bamboo. The end.
Maybe the reference to his past work is unfair and 36 Seasons should be taken at face value. But after you hear the story once, at face value, 36 Seasons is a serviceable, New York soul-rap album that has limited replay value. The frequent absence of Ghostface might actually be the best thing going for it, as he’s consistently outdone by Kool G Rap and AZ; maybe their characters are more well-defined and maybe their relative lack of celebrity makes them more capable of merging with character. More accurately, they simply write better raps in 2014. Likewise, Pharoahe Monch appears as "Dr. X." on "Emergency Procedure", and spits typical tongue-twisting linguistics about the periodic table. But once it’s done, you’re still left with a track about creating a gas mask, which is otherwise useless outside the context of 36 Seasons .
Otherwise, the high points of 36 Seasons often seem unintentional—during the rising action of "The Dogs of War", Theodore Unit lackey Shawn Wigs offers, "you know how we do, O.G. style, I'll dress up like the pizza man," which is hilarious because it’s Shawn Wigs. Likewise, the undercurrent of New York City police corruption somehow makes 36 Seasons uncomfortably prescient, especially when Ghostface complains of "illegal chokeholds" in a moment that feels way too hot to the touch right now. But the peak of 36 Seasons comes during the outro of "Homicide", where Ghostface promises swift retribution and yells, "I’ll wipe my dick on your spaghetti fork!" Once you try to figure out what a spaghetti fork is and the astonishing insult of having someone do that to it, once that... evocative image fades, there’s a lingering sadness that it’s the first time you really hear Ghostface on 36 Seasons instead of the increasingly mundane Tony Starks.
The Meaning Behind The Song: Twelve Reasons to Die by Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Table of Contents
I first heard the song “Twelve Reasons to Die” by Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge on a rainy evening. I remember stumbling upon this song at a friend’s house, and from the moment it started playing, I was captivated. The haunting melodies, impeccable production, and thought-provoking lyrics immediately drew me in. As I delved deeper into the song’s meaning, I discovered a gripping tale that unfolds throughout the album of the same name.
The Story of Ghostface Killah
The interlude at the beginning of the song, narrated by RZA, sets the stage for the story of the Ghostface Killah. Unable to achieve immortality in life, Ghostface becomes immortalized in death. His reputation as a relentless avenger spreads far and wide, instilling fear in the hearts of gangsters for generations to come. The lyrics suggest that Ghostface is a man with an unbreakable will, so determined that even death cannot stop him from seeking revenge on those who wronged him.
The Instrumental Journey
“Twelve Reasons to Die” is primarily an instrumental track, allowing the music to speak for itself. Adrian Younge’s production is nothing short of exceptional, painting a vivid picture with each carefully crafted note. The haunting melody heightens the sense of anticipation and builds a sense of tension throughout the song. It feels like a musical journey that propels the listener into the heart of the Ghostface Killah’s story.
RZA’s Unusual Role
It is worth noting that RZA, known for his role as the Wu-Tang producer and mastermind, takes on the role of narrator in this track, despite not producing the album. This choice adds an interesting layer to the song’s meta-narrative, blurring the lines between the story being told and the artists involved. It showcases the strong connection and creative collaboration within the Wu-Tang Clan and their ability to explore different roles within their music.
“Twelve Reasons to Die” by Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge is a mesmerizing track that concludes the album of the same name. Through haunting instrumentals and enigmatic storytelling, the song transports listeners into the world of the Ghostface Killah, an avenger determined to seek justice even in death. It showcases the immense talent of both Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge, as well as the seamless collaboration within the Wu-Tang Clan. This track, and the album as a whole, is an artistic triumph that will undoubtedly leave a lasting impression on anyone who listens.
Album title: Twelve Reasons to Die (2013)
Produced By: Adrian Younge
Written By: Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah & RZA
Release Date: April 16, 2013
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Adrian Younge and Ghostface Killah's latest collaboration, 12 Reasons To Die II, is now available as a deluxe 7 inch box set! The set includes six singles in full color jackets with two of the singles being both picture discs and Serato controllers! Fans who have been anticipating a sequel to 2013's acclaimed first installment can rejoice: Adrian Younge's and Ghostface Killah's Twelve Reasons To Die II has finally arrived. To up the ante this time around, Ghostface has added a very important lyrical sparring partner to the mix: Raekwon. The chemistry that was cemented two decades ago on Rae's classic Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is as strong as ever, clearly heard on five out of the album s 13 songs. And on the topic of chemistry, album executive producer and Wu-Tang patriarch The RZA returns to Part II as the story's narrator. Where the first installment of Twelve Reasons To Die was based in 1960s Italy detailing the machinations of the feared DeLuca crime family Part II inhabits the grimy streets of mid-1970s New York City. Descendants of the DeLucas are running the city, but a powerful, younger crime syndicate is percolating, commanded by black gangster Lester Kane (personified by Raekwon). The storyline for Part II is vividly brought to life with the help of Younge's never-endingly evocative and unique brand of cinematic, psychedelic soul. The music on which Younge himself plays upwards of 10 instruments on certain songs was recorded strictly on analog tape, to bring out the true grit of the '70s era that provides the Twelve Reasons backdrop. Twelve Reasons To Die II is another heavy feather in the caps of all involved, especially Younge and Ghost, who again poured their skills and intellect into this dramatic and engaging tale. It all fits perfectly into the Wu-Tang family tree as well as Younge's always-expanding musical universe, which now proudly relies on Linear Labs to house it. Record One: Side A - Serato Tone Side B1 - Powerful One Side B2 - Powerful One (Instrumental) Record Two: Side A - Return Of The Savage Side B - King Of New York Record Three: Side A - Rise Up Side B - Daily News Record Four: Side A - Serato Tone Side B1 - I Get The Money Side B2 - I Get The Money (Instrumental) Record Five: Side A1 - Death's Invitation Interlude Side A2 - Death's Invitation Side B1 - Let The Record Spin Interlude Side B2 - Let The Record Spin Record Six: Side A Blackout Side B1 - Resurrection Morning Side B2 - Life's A Rebirth
- Package Dimensions : 8.5 x 7.24 x 4.49 inches; 2.25 Pounds
- Manufacturer : Linear Labs
- Date First Available : September 2, 2015
- Label : Linear Labs
- ASIN : B014T1616M
- Number of discs : 6
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