Ghostface Killah: 'Apollo Kids'

Ghostface Killah

Apollo Kids (Def Jam)

A December release date is never a promising sign—anything issued then gets buried by year-end lists, holiday box sets, and the insistent chime of never-ending Christmas music. December is the month when labels push out material they've been sitting on, or rush out contract fillers, or otherwise cut their losses before the end of the year. So the Dec. 21 release of Ghostface Killah's ninth solo disc indicates his commercial standing these days, which is basically invisible.

It's a little odd how Ghostface Killah's solo career has shaped up. His early '00s run on Supreme Clientele, The Pretty Toney Album, and Fishscale established him as the most productive Wu-Tang rapper; but the consistent high standard he set for himself has been hard to match, and coming close, as he does on Apollo Kids, doesn't quite feel like it's close enough. It's not entirely fair—Apollo Kids is a solid Ghostface album, full of banging bass, extended soul samples, spirited rhymes, and sterling guest spots from Bustah Rhymes, the Roots' Black Thought, and Wu-Tang affiliates Cappadonna, Raekwon, and GZA. It's just a little too solid, too workmanlike, a little too close to the Fishscale blueprint, to count as one of his best albums. The high points—"Superstar," "Black Tequila," and "In tha Park"—really are high points, but they're sandwiched between a lot of other songs that don't leave a lasting impression.