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Posted on July 13th, 2015 (2:00 pm) by Justin Goodman

Comics can be the subtlest (and sometimes exceedingly unsubtle) medium for conveying cultural ills and fears, which is why Ghostface Killah’s 36 Seasons mentioning “illegal chokeholds” after Eric Garner was both provocative and traditional to the form. Maybe that’s why reviews of it were noticeably lower than its predecessor, 12 Reasons to Die, when he collaborated with Adrian Younge. The former lacked the same light-hearted, humble beginnings of a Wu Tang collaboration, and the latter indulged in the whimsy of its plot by releasing it as a comic book series. In an era when many of the top-grossing Blockbusters are originally comic books, there’s nothing more fitting than a rapper who evokes (and authorizes) them; in an era when many of those Blockbusters are simply an episode in a series of sequels, there’s nothing more fitting than that same rapper and composer releasing a sequel: 12 Reasons to Die II.

As with any second issue, TRTDII mostly retraces old territory, refining it, and lightly peppering it with vaguely familiar landmarks. With most of the DeLucas who captured and pressed ex-DeLuca Tony Starks (Ghostface Killah) into 12 vinyl records dead, a void opened up for Lester Kane (Raekwon), an upstart crime boss, to openly declare war against them in a few years. A straightforward premise; aside from some underground (Scarub), social (Lyrics Born) and freshman (Vince Staples) rappers – the first two, with the equally underknown Chino XL, making up the bulk of the technically cacophonous, but mostly descriptive, track “Death’s Invitation” and Vince Staples on the filler track "Get The Money" – nothing particularly jumps out. Adrian Younge’s still profuse yet slim composition (“Return of the Savage” opens as an aria and ends shifting between puckish noir and hardcore rap which Wu Tang Clan popularized), and Wu’s love of vicious, flowing, intricately woven in references (both lyrically invoking the late Big Pun’s career-solidifying song, and rhythmically: “decapitatin’ heads like a journalist snatched by ISIS”). Never mind the anachronism of Italian gangsters from the ‘70s being influenced by a Latino rapper from the ‘90s making references to conflicts of the 21st century. We’ll accept fridge logic given the consistency and entertainment value.

As far as hip-hop concept albums go, however, they reward and are rewarded for experimentation. But TRTDII fails to exceed any expectations. Unlike Kanye’s debut, The College Dropout, or Kendrick’s sophomore Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, Ghostface Killah’s contribution is the last of an echo. The linear narrative, the omniscient narration, the resurrection plot line, the straightforward morality, the thuggish poetics, the fired gun production: We could go back 100 years to hear Virginia Woolf rebuke of Edwardian literature and have it resonate, agreeing that “those tools are not our tools, and that business is not our business.” It’s gotten stale, in short. So when a confident buzz saw synth opens “Powerful One,” we find that it fits comfortably between the experimental extremes of the ironic grit opening Kanye’s “Hell of a Life” and the sociopathic bursts of Death Grips’ “Guillotine,” and that “Powerful One” lacks all power in feeling confidence over middling.

“This is not the last you’ll ever hear of Tony Starks,” is the last promise of the album. It’s the same kind of promise that Marvel gives post-credits: a hint of what to expect, without a timestamp. TRTDII, unfortunately, has both hint and timestamp. Only a select fandom will fever over it. Among them you will mostly find those nostalgic for their childhood and those nostalgic for a childhood that was not theirs. What can be expected en masse of the moderate rap fan, as with the moderate Marvel fan, is the safety of a child dressing in his parents clothing.

Track List

  1. Powerful One
  2. Return of the Savage (feat. Raekwon and RZA)
  3. Rise Up (feat. Scarub)
  4. Daily News
  5. Get the Money (feat. Vince Staples)
  6. Death's Invitation (Interlude feat. RZA)
  7. Death's Invitation (feat. Scarub, Lyrics Born, and Chino XL)
  8. Let the Record Spin (Interlude feat. Raekwon)
  9. Let the Record Spin (feat. Raekwon)
  10. Blackout (feat. Raekwon)
  11. Resurrection Morning (feat. Raekwon and Bilal)
  12. Life's a Rebirth (feat. RZA)
Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge - 12 Reasons to Die II
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

68 / 100
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