A Hip Hop album telling the story of vengeful murder. The theme alone reveals one of the most well endeavored activities by MCs and depleting exploitative markers of shitty rappers alike. The achievement alone here is victory over redundancy, a highlight of producer Adrian Younge’s rising talents and an affirmation of Ghostface Killah’s supremacy.
Twelve Reasons To Die’s story has Ghostface Killah rhyming as Tony Starks, an original Black man on the low end of the Italian DeLuca crime family. As he cannot ascend higher than he merits, striking out on his own causes war. He is betrayed by his lover, who is the head boss DeLuca’s daughter, assassinated and made into 12 vinyl records. When these records play he is resurrected as the Ghostface Killah and returns all 12 DeLuca family heads to the essence.
The spirit of Andre Younge is exactly as he has well described and revealed. Never using post 60’s equipment for his music making, he reconstructs the past with a dynamic originality—it’s Hip Hop. To study the past and build something unique that engages via the familiar in homage and inspiration and propels the work out of it with innovation. With Ghostface Killah, a G.O.A.T. level MC and the Wu family recruited, Twelve Reasons..is an exploration in supreme execution.
To begin we have the Younge beatwork inspired by Italian cinema scores by Ennio Morricone,giallo films and the vision of RZA working in the 1960s. It all is best described as Bambaataa would – the Funk. The Funk is the exploration of the beat. Veering beyond Jazz’ improvisation by obsessing with a specific study of that drum and bass pounding we get the classic world of the JB’s to Funkadelic/Parliament. Obsess more and you get Herc’s breakbeat (Happy 58th Bornday Herc!—the release date for this album). When Younge captures the drum, his band knows how to funk with the Funk. Like the bass drums vibrating as a sedative into the sharp hi-hat snap all grooved by the raspy snares on “Rise of the Black Suits,” this is an album filled with completely full tracks. There is no space left and so absorption into their study is a necessary joy. The verses are interspersed as instruments as on “I Declare War” with its marching drums and tough plucked bass activity. Any precise emptiness is presented cleverly as Masta Killa is exposed to powerfully announce, “I’m prepared to go to war for the battle of supremacy…” The BPM (beats per minute) is also faster when necessary as on “Blood on the Cobblestones” with rolling drums, the perfect MC (Inspectah Deck) for such a pace and a great baritone voice (U-God) utilized to emphasize the focus on riding out a chaotic war against the DeLuca mafia.
The musicality itself accentuates the themes as when Ghost contemplates the future and tries to appraise the seriousness of his position as a self-made boss at war with the DeLucas on the soulfully pensive “Enemies Around Me.” William Hart’s wail is arched perfectly around Ghost’s vocals, the guitar picks dusty notes and the first verse is filled. It sets up the prelude of brilliant silence to Ghost’s second verse coming in (“It’s mind-boggling the heart wants it, the mind rejects it”) through a beautifully understated operatic “Ahh.” Younge is superb at introducing the verses using all his tools. Whether the chorused “La-la-la-la” and RZA’s narrative intro to “Rise of the Ghostface Killah” or the nicely sparse drum track and psychedelic chorus for “Revenge Is Sweet” going through two distinctly lush measures to then have Ghost blast through a third measure of reverberating organ and guitar strings. For Masta Killa the unique drop outs to a solo bass pickin’ and organ stabbing on “I Declare War” emphasize his verse as the voice of Ghost’s affirming army. It’s much like RZA’s work on the 8 Diagrams LP switching up on Jamel Arief’s mic turn (i.e. “Get The Out the Way Pa,” “Gun Will Go”).
Younge uses the Wu MC add ons to fill the characters and this elevates the tale. Masta Killa, the most featured, is incredible with pacing that has deep range within the slow flow supremacy as on “Murder Spree” where his first verse details the hells rapidly (“I’m cold, reeking of ice picks, scratch and sticks and closed fists/Brass knuckle steel toe kicks/crack ribs, punch your lungs…”) or dramatically wind down on his second verse (“Red wine and pink pill/Unknowingly that this would be his last meal”). Cappadonna’s interaction with Ghost on “The Center of Attraction” is pure street wisdom charisma as he warns Tony Starks that his love for the DeLuca’s daughter is a trap (“Nah, don’t even fall for that caucasoid/She got your drink laced trying to turn you into an android/She’s not your peanut butter, more like a fucking nutcase…”). The limitations of story result in greater detail offered by the MCs epitomized by Killarmy’s Killa Sin with a brutal verse that captures the drive to return the DeLucas despite the consequences.
The great album is supposed to stand song by song and as a unified unit. Oversized critics note that the songs are episodic rather than cinematic; rather, nigga, the work is cinematically told in chapters with the fluidity achieved in the fluctuations engaged in by the MCs and Younge’s production. There is the range of emotion on “An Unexpected Call” from MC to MC and the band follows suit. Ghost’s melancholy telling of his broken heart doomed to death as Tony Starks is “never to be remembered/ never to be respected” on the track’s strung harp strips and organ chirps. Deck then, over a subtle flute, takes the voice of one of Starks’ peoples, to somberly tell his experience of the news and the revenge that must be exacted. The difficulty of this entire album is to differentiate the emotional verve of planned revenge and the intensity of actualized vengeance. Though shorter in actualized vengeance than the former the pinnacle of “Murder Spree” and “The Sure Shot (Part 1 and 2)” are such well-made songs it is their effortlessness that may garner it rare dismissal but earn it praise to the repeat listener.
Ghostface Killah is one of the greatest MCs that will ever rhyme and share his ideas and essence on the mic. Twelve Reasons to Die is not a complex tale with many characters as the pioneering Prince of Thieves Hip Hop story LP by Prince Paul or the epic journey of Sticky Fingaz’ Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones. Instead, it is a simple, engaging story that lets its performers perform and reveal to us the craftsmanship supremacy they wield. It bears constant repetition that Ghost may have the highest percentage of any when judging every skill level and talent quotient an MC may have.
Like 2Pac, Ghost’s personality is so uniquely dynamic it details Blackness and Hip Hop via his emotive emphasis, word choices and artful intensity. The greatest songwriter on man’s relationship with women, “The Center of Attraction” goes from a man giving real reasons for falling in love with the DeLuca’s daughter to then defending her against Cappa’s accusation. All for a versed Luther Ingram that gets his heart broken on “An Unexpected Call” where the impending vision of doom is relayed sharply (“It was an evil day the Sun glistened over the city/Shined bright though the window and the eyes of my kitty/I was reluctant, A ball in the pit of my gut…”). Like Rakim all over the Follow the Leader LP, he intricately tears up his victims with a calm, fluid delivery on Part 1 of “The Sure Shot” only to turn Part 2 to punctuate each line of his bio and end his third verse summing up the violently triumphant new reality of the Ghostface Killah. And on the majority of the album, his enunciation, voicing and exposition on violence is G-Rap A-alike.
12 Reasons To Die is a work that limits the scope of Ghostface only to reveal the depth of his range. A range that again affirms of his legendary status with the most consistently strong catalog of any G.O.A.T. level MC. For Younge, it is a brilliant gem in a young catalog that offer many reasons to study his live career.