Here’s an idea: Take Ghostface Killah, pair him with a distinct producer or production team, assign him an album-length concept, then let him rip. That formula proved so winning on last year’s Twelve Reasons To Die, Ghostface’s collaboration with composer Adrian Younge, that nobody can fault his latest album 36 Seasons for trying to repeat it. This time production duties fall to The Revelations, a Brooklyn soul outfit whose original material could be mistaken for the soundtrack to a lost Blaxploitation film. In a storyline with shades of Dolemite, Ghostface returns to the streets of Staten Island after a mysterious nine-year absence (“That’s 36 seasons,” he notes) to confront the corruption that’s reigned in his absence.
That’s all promising on paper, so why does 36 Seasons sound so tired? Part of the blame falls on The Revelations, who are so committed to accurately recreating the sounds of vintage soul that they forget to do anything interesting with them. Their accompaniments are bookish to a fault, resisting at every turn the heightened camp that made Younge’s Twelve Reasons score such a thrill. And though 36 Seasons is billed a Ghostface record, there’s something off-brand about it. Ghostface sits out four tracks and regularly cedes mic time either to Revelations singers or guest rappers Kool G Rap, AZ, and Nems, East Coast traditionalists who rap perfunctorily about how they have Ghostface’s back while making not one, not two, but three allusions to “C.R.E.A.M.,” which is extreme fan service even by the standards of a Wu-Tang project. These guests fill so much time here that 36 Seasons often feels like a backdoor pilot for a lame spinoff about Ghostface’s ragtag team of accomplices.
Of course, Ghostface’s storytelling is always a thing to behold, and 36 Seasons is never more engaging than when its hero is trying to reconcile with his estranged girl on “Love Don’t Live Here No More” or resisting a wrongful arrest on “Double Cross.” Even at its best, however, 36 Seasons lacks the maniacal forward drive that propels Ghostface’s most electrifying works. This is a rapper who thrives on chaos, but here he’s trapped in a record that’s too neat and tidy.