Roll out the red carpet for the Cuban Linx era, Adrian Younge-orchestrated Twelve Reasons To Die resuscitates Wu-Tang lore, the Ghost of Hip-Hop Past, and Ghostface’s pre-Fishscale form in one foul swoop. Best watch your head because your scalp’s providing the red.
Like Ghostface Killah’s plot “to become one of the foremost leaders of the criminal underworld,” the road leading to Twelve Reasons could have been marked by tragedy and melodrama. Instead, mic entrepreneur GFK and real world entrepreneur Adrian Younge―who scored Black Dynamite, is a professor, runs a record store, and has enough spare time to craft Morricone-laced audiobooks―give us a Spaghetti Western syncopated to the pulsating vein of a genre reborn. It’s opera with more fat beats than fat ladies; kabuki theater that’s obsessed with Tarantino.
Based on a by-the-numbers crime revenge plot penned by Younge, Twelve Reasons is good hip-hop for the very reasons it shouldn’t be. Unlike most projects in the genre, it’s extremely lean (39 sardine-packed minutes), keeps its concept as close to its gut as a bushido blade, and through its live instrumentation approach feels particularly organic. “You can feel the pores in GFK’s bars” organic. Tracks like “The Center of Attraction” and “Enemies All Around Me” couldn’t exist in other hip-hop universes. With cinema-rich SFX, the layered mood-building of female choruses, and the eerie crooning of William Hart, both songs are part of a masterful take on audible storytelling.
On the eve of 20-year history, Younge, working in the vein of old school homie and teacher RZA, injects the Wu-Tang Clan legend with the fountain of youth. Your hip-hop inner geek will demand Younge give each and every Wu Clansmen a Twelve Reasons type incarnation. And perhaps most brilliantly, Ghostface, along with Wu alumni U-God, Cappadonna, Inspectah Deck, Masta Killah, and executive producer and narrator RZA, stamp Younge’s efforts with a blood-tinged seal of approval.
Though the album plays out like a Shakespearean comic book, complete with GFK’s rap don storytelling, the story driving it can be weak throughout. After building up Ghostface’s brand for close to eight tracks―notably on the big stick-carrying “I Declare War”, the psychedelic “Blood on the Cobblestones”, and “The Center of Attraction”―his turn as a gut-slashing ghost feels rushed. With only about 4.5 songs out of an already short-handed 12 to drive the revenge plot forward, Twelve Reasons feels riddled with plot holes and device plot shortcomings. The concept, though mostly refreshing, also seems to cramp Tony Starks’ style.
With Ghost spilling organs and Younge playing them, Twelve Reasons to Die is an album that spells good things for a genre in need of a rebirth. Ghost, one of hip-hop’s most consistent emcees, remains in top form with a lot of help from Adrian’s master orchestration. I declare this album the hip-hop album to beat in 2013, as well as war on the DeLucas!