It’s as simple as this: More people should listen to Ghostface Killah. Sure, his latest opus, Fishscale sold more than one hundred thousand units in its first week, but this Wu-Tang Clansmen is one of hip-hop’s most consistent, and it’s hard to find that reflected in any tangible statistic. Hip-hoppers have always been a fickle bunch, but Puff and Russell must be fooling themselves to think they can turn the hip-hop generation into a political constituency when it doesn’t even support one of its favorite artists.
Similar criticism can be directed at New York. The culture’s long-time epicenter has struggled to find relevancy in the face of Southern hip-hop’s ever-growing popularity. Veterans and upstarts alike are vowing a resurrection of a "new New York." The clash between regions is not a civil war, more like sectarian aggression. Sour grapes on New York’s part, maybe, but this tension could very well wake a sleeping giant.
Cue the Ironman theme song and enter Ghostface, dripping in a velour robe and oversized jewelry. While hip-hop has been collectively turning its attention to Southern artists, Ghostface has embraced the underground, collaborating instead with MF Doom, J-Dilla, Madlib and Pete Rock. Record labels and radio stations maybe looking for the next "Laffy Taffy," but Ghostface has continued to embrace the golden era of ’88. A self-proclaimed soul baby, Ghostface hasn’t just incorporated soul music into his productions, he’s burrowed it deep into the rhythm of his voice. In many ways, Ghostface is more a soul singer than an emcee: Whether it’s the coke deal gone awry, the perils of addiction or an underwater adventure, Ghostface is able to convert raw emotions and sensations into music.
I’ve heard you first started to wear your mask because you were wanted by the police and needed to hide your identity. Once all that blew over, you decided to reveal your face. Is that true?
Ghostface Killah: Nah, fuck that. I started to wear the mask because my name is Ghostface Killah, man. I got that name from Mystery of the Chessboxing, a karate flick. Yeah, I was getting my hands dirty back then. Nigga do what he do. But, you know, Ghostface Killah sounds like a man who should have a mask on.
So you finished your tour with the Wu
Ghostface Killah: We did fourteen days and eleven shows. Everything went well.
How did the tour compare to the old days?
Ghostface Killah: It was cool, you know, with the exception of my man Ol’ Dirty Bastard. We was chillin’ and shit. I couldn’t complain.
You went gold and platinum, yet in relation to all the critical acclaim, your sales have been sub-par. Have expectations gotten bigger or is it just harder to sell records to this generation of hip-hoppers?
Ghostface Killah: Man, it’s a whole new generation of rap fans. It’s everything. The [radio] stations be bullshitting. Niggas playing that wack shit. It’s a combination of all that shit, G. Yeah, it’s harder to sell records. It ain’t like it was before 9/11 and all that. Unless it’s somebody with a big buzz, like a Kanye West, Jaime Foxx, Mary J. Blige or Usher — shit, other than that, man, it’s a task for you.
On Fishscale you have a track with J-Dilla, "Whip You With a Strap," that focuses on raising children, in particular the use of corporal punishment. What other advice does Pretty Toney have for parents?
Ghostface Killah: Listen, man, you got to chastise your kid. If you don’t lay your foot down, your kid is going to be [saying], "Fuck you." And you going to be sitting there crying [in a high-pitched voice]: "Oh, what have I done; I haven’t done nothing to this boy." And that little motherfucker barking on you [in a little boy’s voice]: "Nah, fuck you, mommy. I’m going outside with my friends. I don’t give a fuck what you say." Parents get that when they don’t put they foot down. Niggas got to start going hard on they kids again. Ain’t no law and order any more. I am not saying you got bust your kid’s ass everyday, but you got to go back to the ole remedy. I don’t know about you, but I used to get my ass whipped, and that kept me on a straight path. If I did something wrong or said something wrong to somebody, fuck around and get popped in my fucking mouth, and that’s just what it is, G.
Lately you and many other East Coast artists have been criticizing Southern hip-hop, in particular songs such as "Laffy Taffy."
Ghostface Killah: Man, that’s all y’all be talking about lately.
Playing devil’s advocate, do you think it’s because New York is jealous it lost the hip-hop crown?
Ghostface Killah: New York lost the crown because the New York deejays gave the crown away for some fucking money. New York be bullshitting. Right now, I say fuck New York. Yeah, I’m from New York, but fuck New York. Because niggas is pussy. They is so quick to jump on the next man’s dick and can’t even deal with what they got in front of they face.
That’s why I respect other states, man. New York, I don’t know — for some reason we started to get really soft. And now we act like we want that real hip-hop back, when our fucking deejays is only programmed to play what they playing. They playing more other people’s shit than our own shit. Niggas is screaming that real hip-hop — we trying to bring it back but we can’t even play that real hip-hop on the radio.
I knew New York was wack when they shot my man Amadou Diallo forty-one fucking times and ain’t nobody stand up. But if that shit happen in L.A. somewhere, they would have went to bat for Amadou Diallo. It would have been hell. Stores getting burnt the fuck up. New York don’t stand for nothing. They say if you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything. But we mad at ourselves and can’t even get our shit right. When you look at them other niggas’ videos, they popping off and having fun in there. We can’t even have fun amongst each other in New York. That’s why I say fuck New York. That’s real talk coming from Ghostface Killah.
Back on Cuban Linx you had the "Shark Biters" skit, and more recently Raekwon on his new track, "State of Grace," talked about "rappers biting up the God’s bible." What are your thoughts on these new artists using your music as blueprint for success and the industry’s newfound love with coke rap?
Ghostface Killah: It’s like, really you supposed to stay in your realm, but if nobody don’t got another glass to sip off of and they only see that one glass, then they going to come at that glass. It’s out of respect, though. Subconsciously, they love niggas — they carrying the torch for what we done did back in ’95. So I stopped getting mad at shit like that. They just attracted by the truth. It’s like a magnetic attraction that will draw you closer.
When you observing that shit that was hot back then, you start to follow that shit without you even knowing. Talking about the Cristal, the drugs, the silk shirts, how we was coming through — you know, they get caught up in it. That’s how come a nigga like me, I keep it moving with different topics. I like to write about shit like "Underwater," "Shakey Dog," "Strap," "All I Need Is You." C’mon, man: If I got a pair of brown Tims and you came copped a brown pair, I don’t even want that shit no more. I’ll go to the black Tims. Or the new Nike boots. Whatever I got to do, I keep it moving on you.
That’s that New York state of mind.
Ghostface Killah: Nah, that’s my state of mind.