Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – Twelve Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape

"Twelve Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape"

Ghostface Killah & Apollo Brown – Twelve Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape
24 July 2013, 11:45 Written by Joe Goggins

It’s as appropriate a time as there’s ever going to be to reflect on the legacy of the Wu-Tang Clan; this year marks the twentieth anniversary of their seminal debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and if reports from their recent gigs on the continent are to be trusted, it seems as if this week’s shows in Manchester and London will offer up that rarest of live musical occurrences – a full reunion of the eight surviving members. Plans are afoot, too, for another studio record, their first since 2007′s muddled 8 Diagrams.

Ghostface Killah is almost certainly the Clan’s most consistent member when it comes to the quality of his solo output. Raekwon and GZA can lay claim to the two truly classic solo offerings of the group’s mid-nineties purple patch – Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… and Liquid Swords, respectively – but Ghostface’s debut, Ironman, wasn’t far behind, and he continued to drop solid efforts long after his bandmates had seen their creative sparks fizzle out. Supreme Clientele, released in 2000, is the only musical output of genuine worth from an era that saw the group primarily preoccupied with infighting and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s legal troubles, whilst Fishscale and Apollo Kids ensured that he spent most of the past decade in high critical esteem.

Twelve Reasons to Die is his latest full-length, released back in April, and it served as an emphatic reminder that Ghostface has lost none of the keen sense of theatre that’s underscored most of his career; it’s a concept record set in 1960s Italy, with probably his best-known alter-ego, Tony Starks, serving as protagonist. He’s an enforcer for a crime family, who murder him in revenge for having abandoned them to work for himself. He’s cremated in vinyl to create twelve LPs, which bring him back to life, musically, as the understandably-vengeful Ghostface Killah. I’ve never typed a paragraph quite as absurd as this one, but Ghostface is such a delightfully colourful storyteller that he does the concept a hell of a lot more justice than I just have. Besides, isn’t it nice to hear a modern hip hop record that’s been given some serious thematic thought, for once?

This particular version, The Brown Tape, is an official alternative to the original, with Apollo Brown on production duties (hence the title, which is also a nod to the popular nickname for Raekwon’s Cuban Linx.) Brown claims that this re-do represents one of the most challenging projects of his career, and it’s immediately obvious that the gravity of the Wu-Tang affiliation weighed pretty heavily on him during its creation; he’s basically made Twelve Reasons sound like an old-school Clan record. Whilst the original featured operatic production, tailored to the album’s concept, by Adrian Younge, The Brown Tape brings more typical elements of the Wu-Tang sonic palette to the table; distorted female vocal samples, clips of movie dialogue and rawer, more minimal beats are all introduced, whilst the running time of many tracks is altered, with the title track missing the cut entirely.

Given that most Wu-Tang solo records since the mid-nineties have either involved safe, but ultimately uninspiring retreading of old ground (GZA’s Legend of the Liquid Sword, Masta Killa’s No Said Date) or messy attempts at branching out (Raekwon’s Immobilarity), it fundamentally seems a shame to try to drag Twelve Reasons backwards. Younge’s production, replete with live instrumentation, brings a warmth and humanity to the sound of the album, so to replace that with altogether more run-of-the-mill beats seems like a step in the wrong direction.

The understated, bluesy guitar sample that drives Brown’s version of ‘Rise of the Black Suits’ just doesn’t fit with Ghostface’s concept as effectively as Younge’s piano, whilst the borderline funk of the bassline he opts for on ‘The Sure Shot’ is equally jarring. That’s not to say that Brown hasn’t given the story some thought; the dramatic horns on ‘I Declare War’ are an inspired touch, and the delicate piano sample on ‘The Center of Attraction’ are perfectly married with the lost love that the lyrics concern.

Brown’s take on Twelve Reasons isn’t a bad effort, but it doesn’t really serve as anything more than an approximate answer to the question, “what would this sound like if RZA had produced it?” Wu-Tang Clan have a fair bit of history when it comes to living off of former glories, so it borders on sacrilege to take such a fresh, forward-thinking album by one of its key members and try to align it with the past. Twelve Reasons to Die is one of the year’s most exciting hip hop releases, but I wouldn’t think of The Brown Tape as much more than an ill-advised slice of pure nostalgia.

Listen to Twelve Reasons to Die: The Brown Tape

Share article

Get the Best Fit take on the week in music direct to your inbox every Friday

Read next