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Ghostface Killah & Badbadnotgood – Sour Soul

"Sour Soul"

Ghostface Killah BADBADNOTGOOD Sour Soul
25 February 2015, 13:30 Written by Kitty Richardson
If you've been conscious of a Ghostface Killah release of late, it's probably not this one. But while rap fans have spent the last few months being distinctly underwhelmed by Wu Tang's A Better Tomorrow, New York's Tony Starks has been beavering away elsewhere with prog-jazz protégés Badbadnotgood.

On paper, this collaboration is a music editor's masturbatory fantasy; underdog jazz trio partners with one of rap's most omnipotent voices on album created with strict adherence to 1960s and 70s recording techniques. The aim, presumably, to pay homage to the records that have for decades provided the source material of 95% of hip-hop beats. And yet, the resulting project is weirdly disappointing; a bold creative decision ends up splitting the collaborators’ contributions down the middle, and BBNG bring surprisingly little vigour or experimentation to the table.

On the one hand, the minimal vintage processing means that Ghostface's raw ability is laid bare, free from the relentless multi-tracking and ad-libs of Rap Vocal Production 101. Producer Frank Dukes transplants the MC from some unobtainable, ho-laden paradise to a decidedly unflashy practice room, with no reverb on the desk and no air conditioning. I imagine this is how all those people who saw Prince last year at London's 1,000-capacity Electric Ballroom felt; here is a musical deity stripped of all the padding and production decades of commercial success affords, and he's still absolutely killing it. It's career-affirming.

Sadly, BBNG don't seem to thrive at all in the same stripped-down environment. There are moments of brilliance - single “Ray Gun” for one, featuring everyone's favourite grumpy super villain DOOM, comes striding in with Bond-esque brass and balls firmly to the wall. On “Tone’s Rap”, we find Ghost propping up the bar like Sinatra's long-lost hoodlum brother; the band underscoring his hustler's lament ("Yo bitch, fuck I got lint on my robes, I can't pimp in these clothes...") with a languid blues reminiscent of Angelo Badalamenti. “Six Degrees”, a tight and spiky little number, also hits the spot, with guest Danny Brown mouthing off in his inimitable, lunatic-at-a-bus-stop way.

Elsewhere, however, weaker contenders sound like the sort of generic lounge you might find on a Jazz Moods compilation. The band get so laid back that they are almost horizontal; drum fills feel limp, lead guitars fail to lead, the ensemble take up too little space. The promise of a live band to create a truly responsive, dynamic and musical underlay to rap - usually an expression tethered to the metronome of samples and loops - goes unfulfilled.

A-B’ing this record with BBNG’s first two puts the lack of energy present here sharply into focus. An engineer might argue that my 21st century, pop-fatigued ears are just struggling to adjust to the softer, less compressed sound of pre-80s production. I'd argue that this young, technically-gifted and critically-acclaimed band can do better. Perhaps, in the need to provide Ghostface with a steady downbeat, they've made a creative decision to stay still and hang back. Perhaps they're just a bit star-struck to be sharing airtime with one of hip hop's undeniable legends. Whatever the reason, it's a shame to say the least - on Sour Soul, a band more than capable of sharing a stage seem to have put themselves firmly in the background.

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