Published on August 16th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City’ – Ghostface Killah 
Summary: Ghostface’s R&B-inspired release ultimately reminds us what’s missing from the hip hop genre today. Both rap and R&B need grit. Even at his most ludicrous, Ghost has more than enough to go around.
Length: 56:09 | Released: Sept. 29, 2009
Producers include: Scram Jones, Xtreme, Ant Acid
Label: Def Jam
Top 40 U.S. singles: 0
For as often as hip hop and R&B are lumped together, artists and producers have struggled to bring out the best of each genre on a single track. It’s even harder to do it over the course of an entire album. Most of the time it just feels like one with a splash of the other. Or a glorified copy-and-paste job.
Rap and R&B are the on-again, off-again lovers that drive us mad.
The pairing can work beautifully. Jay Z’s “Song Cry” comes to mind. Or it can be a dumpster fire (Chris Brown). It takes grit and soul to blend them successfully. It takes an arc in some fashion. R&B, in particular, needs stones to reach its full potential. I’m just glancing at the charts, but here’s what’s popping in R&B right now – John Legend, Jason Derulo and Tinashe.
It certainly looks like it needs a little Ghostface Killah, circa 2009. That year the 39-year-old Wu-Tang mainstay released a solo disc of R&B-inspired melodrama called Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City. Look past the goofball title. It’s engrossing from its first track to the last and it came in the middle of a remarkable run of releases that showcased the Wu-Tang work ethic as truly the stuff of legend.
The album was Ghost’s 8th solo effort and his fifth in five years. He would release two more solo albums in the next four years.
The clip for Ghostdini‘s lead single “Baby.”
For all intents and purposes, Ghostdini is a concept album. It’s about love gone south. It’s about weakness and self-deprecation and it strives for more than a little slippery redemption. Marquee guests like Estelle, Llyod, Fabolous, John Legend, Kanye West and Ne-Yo all fit into the mold of the record without splitting its character. Four singles were released from Ghostdini – “Baby,” “Forever,” “Let’s Stop Playin’,” and “Guest House.” They didn’t generate much business, but we know Ghost isn’t a singles artist. The focus is usually elsewhere.
The focus on Ghostdini is immediately evident. “Not Your Average Girl,” featuring Shareefa on the chorus, shifts the age-old pursuit into a gear only Ghostface would publicly seek out on record. Plainly, it seems the romantic complexities one faces as he’s approaching 40 are considerably higher than they were when he was approaching 20. Wait for the smile to cross your face as you listen. Ghost’s rhymes are on point.
From “Not Your Average Girl:”
Hey pretty mama, do you fit the bill?
Do you got what it takes for you to fit into my will?
Backed by lush production work that includes R&B samples from Marvin Gaye and the Whatnauts, Ghost all but calls Ice Cube’s bullshit bravado on “Can’t Fade Me” and sets out to do an album-length response to say it’s just more complicated than that.
He don’t really love you like I do
Kiss your feet, make love to you like I do
Wake you up in the night, thank and surprise you
Cross my heart, swear, put my hand on the Bible
I’m not a cold-blooded killa, baby, I cry too
The best thing for me is when I’m laying beside you
Listening to Ghostdini, I’m reminded that the blues are an integral part of R&B music. After all, the genre is a mix of both rhythm and blues, isn’t it?
The blues – I mean real, lived-in, bloody and bummed out blues – is rarely smooth. It’s performed by men and women with rough edges and the level of drama equates to the amount of weight on their shoulders. I’m thinking of the blues James Brown felt as he was down on his knees during “Try Me.” Or what Sam & Dave must have been feeling when they testified to “When Something is Wrong with My Baby.” By definition, the R&B genre needs some honest-to-God sweat along with a mix of stacked decks and self-induced defeat in order to achieve its purest form.
A Hot 97 interview with Ghostface.
Ghostface’s rhymes capture the defiant desperation and drama of some of Brown’s best tracks, making R&B a seemingly natural setting for the rapper. There are thugged-out pleas all over Ghostdini. Among the most effective: He’s a woman beater, no doubt/And he lies too.
The most exciting track on the album, arguably, is the woman-done-me-wrong murder fantasy of “Guest House.” Thematically, the tale is as old as any Robert Johnson recording. Only Johnson sort of lived it. Ghostface presents it as art.
…As far as I know.
From “Guest House:”
I stood up, pulled back my sleeve and checked my watch
Where the fuck is my wife? It’s 12 o’clock on the dot
Very impatient, I’m gettin’ nervous
Can’t stop pacing
Then Ghost finds her in the guest house with another man, voiced by Fabolous. His defense?
“Yo, cuz, she told me she lived with her pop!”
I won’t give away the ending. But it’s masterful storytelling.
The unbelievably crude “Stapleton Sex” is largely unnecessary within the context of the album. The track was dropped altogether from the edited versions of the disc. “Let’s Stop Playin’” features a chorus by John Legend.
For as talented as Legend is, he’s always had the ability to stall an otherwise interesting track. Here, however, his refinement does wonders. It’s not out of place on a record rooted in emotional complexities.
From “Do Over:”
The way you rub my face, the way you talk to me
The way you look at me
I know ain’t no girl in the world ever gonna give me that
Like the way you give it to me
So right now I’m pleading, and this is my word on everything
I’m on my knees, babe, just take me back
Give me one chance
I’m asking for a do over…
I guess you could say Ghost was riding high at the time of Ghostdini’s release. After all, he made a cameo two years earlier in the big-budget comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story. But Ghost isn’t the only one on this record at the top of his game. Kanye West and Ne-Yo bring the best of their talents to the “Back Like That” remix.
“Yo, what I did was wack,” Ne-Yo sings. It’s like we can’t even imagine.
A 2014 interview with Ghostface, discussing his upcoming disc.
Is Ghost’s brand of R&B flawless? No. There’s some air in the album. Vaughn Anthony whiffs on the already dull “Paragraphs of Love.” The exceptionally talented Estelle is lovely, but even she can’t save the track. And everyone sucks it hard on “She’s A Killah,” which burrows in on mindless.
But, honestly, those are about the only weak links.
Although the album only sold 43,000 copies by the end of 2009, it was almost universally hailed as a much-appreciated slice of urban poetry. Ghostdini earned a four-star review from Rolling Stone, four stars from XXL, a 7/10 from Spin. Even critic Robert Christgau, then 67 years old, gave the album an A- rating.
What connected at the time – and what still resonates – is the sound of a man slowing down to reconsider the way the dominoes have fallen. The mix of humor and regret is striking. Ghostface, born Dennis Coles in Staten Island, can plead and pivot with the best of them.
Even as he struggles to take himself seriously, it’s hard for us not to.