Ghostface has proudly waived Wu-Tang’s Iron Flag ever since revealing his face in 1993, and over the years he’s developed into the best and most consistent artist in the clan. Check the catalog; Ghostface can go head to head with anybody. But after selling only 69,000 copies of his Def Jam debut, The Pretty Toney Album, in its first week earlier this year, you have to wonder if hip-hop’s notoriously fickle audience has lost interest in Tony Starks.
Only two months after dropping The Pretty Toney Album (another certified classic), Ghostface is back with his ragtag crew, the Theodore Unit, in its debut, 718. Other albums released by crews had people screaming and running to the hills, but the Theodore Unit — which, along with Ghostface, is Cappadonna, Kryme Life, Trife Da God, Wigs, Du-Lilz and Solomon Childs — exceeds expectations on its solid debut. But don’t get it twisted: Without Ghostface on ten of the sixteen tracks and a fantastic selection of beats, the Theodore Unit is no better than any entourage turned rap group.
The album has sparked an interest primarily because it includes four vaulted tracks originally recorded for The Pretty Toney Album. On the strength of “Gorilla Hood,” “Paychecks,” “The Drummer” and “Smith Brothers,” 718 will win over even the most jaded Wu-Tang fan. “Gorilla Hood” producer Cilvaringz laces a triumphant violin loop that Ghostface smashes with ridiculous lyrics: “Bulletproof goose pillows/ I’m still alive since the last time I left/ Teflon pajama set/ Truck armor neck neck arm weigh your head/ Move an A-Bomb, get drunk and paint the whole town red.”
The driving force behind 718 is the production, done by series of relatively unknown RZA-esque beatsmiths. “Pass the Mic” producer K-Def flips a raw horn sample, reminiscent of the way RZA used a Sesame Street sample in “Pinky Rings.” The Milestone-produced “Be My Girl” features Solomon Childs rhyming over a classic syrupy soul sample.
If I were running things, 718 would have been released prior to The Pretty Toney Album in order to generate a buzz for Ghostface’s Def Jam debut. The Theodore Unit is nothing more than an average collection of emcees who would have never been put on if it weren’t for Ghostface, and 718 acts as a behind-the-scenes look at the creation and development of Pretty Toney as well as a glimpse into Ghostface’s state of mind during recording the album. Can it be that it was all so simple then?