Ghostface — a rap legend and Wu-Tang Clan member known for his loud, fast-paced flow and Joycean, stream-of-consciousness lyrical narratives — has built an empire around his established poetic lyricism. And now, BadBadNotGood, a Canadian jazz trio made up of music school castaways, has found solace in Ghost’s rap kingdom.
Though BadBadNotGood has already made a name for itself with its retro fusion of jazz and hip-hop, it sounds genuinely comfortable and at home with Ghost, seamlessly providing eerie, psychedelic instrumentals and effortlessly playing backing band to one of rap’s most celebrated lyricists on the new collaborative album Sour Soul.
Sour Soul opens with “Mono,” a 58-second instrumental that immediately lets listeners know they’re hearing something different, something strange and something extraordinary. Soft drumming, powerful, ever-present bass and ethereal electric organ slowly build into a curious melody, reminiscent of old crime movies.
Evil is afoot. And Ghostface Killah is coming to save the day.
After the album’s eerie instrumental introduction, listeners seamlessly travel from song to song as they would from page to page in a comic book. Each verse is a new piece of comic-like dialogue. Changes in melody indicate conflict — conflict that Ghost and his team of crime-fighting lyricists must put to an end. Images of tough rappers in unflattering superhero costumes and capes come to mind.
“Ray Gun,” the clear highlight of the album, epitomizes the musical nirvana that can be reached in a successful rap-jazz collaboration. With quick, crisp drumming and lazy, raw guitar, BadBadNotGood brings Ghost’s subtly nuanced lyricism to the emotional forefront. Ghost opens the track with a declaration of his status as a savior from the hood: “Back in black, it’s your local superhero from the hood / Ironman Stark’s got the good.” In this moment, BadBadNotGood’s expert musical support, in conjunction with Ghost’s blatant, self-aware narcissism, allows the listener to journey into a dark comic-book land, confident that Ghost will destroy all darkness and eventually reveal the light.
In other tracks, Ghost takes a less confident tone, tapping into a deep spirituality (“Sour Soul”), working toward redemption (“Tone’s Rap”) and providing wisdom gained through loss (“Street Knowledge”). And BadBadNotGood’s background instrumentals capture the emotional spirit of each track, cueing listeners to changes of heart, instances of passion and moments of redemption.
Ultimately, BadBadNotGood’s jazzy freshness — along with Ghost’s veteran, stream-of-consciousness lyricism — transcends all genre-inflicted confines that one might expect to hold back this god-sent collaboration. Sour Soul successfully transports us to a dark world grounded in pulp fiction, old comic books and psychedelic fog.
Contact Jeremy Siegel at [email protected].