Ghostface Killah’s mind is a strange, beautiful place. He’s one of rap’s most unpredictable lyricists and most beloved shouting enthusiasts, and he’s just as enigmatic and spontaneous when it comes to putting out albums. More Fish, Wu-Massacre, and last year’s bewildering R&B album Ghostdini: The Wizard Of Poetry seemed to come out of nowhere, as does Ghost’s latest sneak attack, Apollo Kids. The disc’s tightness, cohesion, and quality are even more surprising: Ghostface hasn’t sounded this hungry or focused since Fishscale. “Purified Thoughts” establishes the disc’s sturdy template, with gritty street narratives, soul samples from the ’60s and ’70s for choruses, and titles and guest lyricists (GZA and Killah Priest) hearkening back to early Wu-Tang Clan. At its best, Ghostface’s music is about raw, visceral emotion and unfiltered rage; he doesn’t sound truly engaged unless he appears to be on the verge of a stress-fueled heart attack, as he does throughout Apollo Kids. The guest roster is predictably dominated by Wu-Tang Clan members and affiliates, but Black Thought makes the strongest impression with an explosive blast of Philly-style hood sociology and street-corner history on the stellar back-in-the-day joint “In Tha Park.” Even without that tribute to the early days of hip-hop, Apollo Kids would still boast an ingratiatingly retro feel, as Ghostface returns to the soulful formula that served him so well on The Pretty Toney Album and Fishscale. Ghost never went anywhere, yet Kids feels like a comeback all the same.
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