CD Review: Ghostface Killah/Wu-Tang Clan

Ghostface Killah

The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam)

Wu-Tang Clan

8 Diagrams (SRC/Universal Motown)

More of the same isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when you've been on a roll like Ghostface Killah. He's moved farther out of the Wu-Tang Clan's collective shadow than any of his former colleagues with a string of '00s albums that have staked his independence from Wu-Tang at the same time that they follow the basic Wu template: dense group rhymes, lengthy, mournful soul samples, and hard beats that sound like metal against metal. Either way—as the fulfillment of the Wu-Tang aesthetic or as a solo artist who's outgrown his sometime partners—he's poised to become the Wu-Tang-er who matters the most, even when he's repeating himself. With Ol' Dirty Bastard dead, Method Man guest-starring on Law & Order: SVU, RZA working on soundtracks, and Raekwon's sequel to 1995's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx still a rumor, Ghostface is starting to look like he'll be the last one standing.

The Big Doe Rehab, Ghostface's seventh solo album, is effectively a redo of last year's Fishscale. It's a uniformly dark disc, fueled by Ghostface's anxious rhymes and supported by guest spots from Trife da God, Raekwon, Method Man, Cappadonna, and U-God. A few tracks stand out from the relentless beatdowns—the soul-funk of "Supa GFK," the unaccompanied ballad "The Prayer," performed by Ox, and "Slow Down," Ghostface's R&B duet with Chrisette Michele. The cautionary tales on "The Prayer" and "Slow Down" aren't exactly convincing counterpoints to the crack narratives that make up the bulk of The Big Doe Rehab, but they do indicate that there's more on Ghostface's mind than drugs and guns.

Part of what's been on his mind lately is the new Wu-Tang album, 8 Diagrams, the group's first disc together since 2001's Iron Flag. Ghostface and Raekwon have both complained publicly that RZA's moody and claustrophobic production, with guitar, strings and keyboards taking precedence over samples and programmed beats, betrays 8 Diagrams. It's definitely a divergence, if not an outright departure: laid-back and narcotized where the group's classic albums were hyperactive and paranoid. Ghostface, Raekwon, and Method inject adrenaline on their verses—particularly Ghostface's lines on the much-discussed "The Heart Gently Weeps," a reinterpretation of The Beatles' "While My Guitar Gently Weeps"—but the rest of the crew often sounds as doped as the beats. RZA's experimentation pays off on the delirious "Get Them Out Ya Way Pa" and the stoned funk of "Weak Spot," but his solo beatnik recitation on "Sunlight" doesn't do any favors for anybody. The disc is, ultimately, a toss-up—different enough from the Wu prototype to demand repeat listening, but hardly the knock-out expected after six long years.