“I still got a story to tell”: Wu-Tang Clans’s Ghostface Killah talks growing old, finding God and Twelve Reasons to Die
Ghostface Killah needs no introduction.
The Wu Tang member is in a small circle of living legends in hip-hop that are still active and creating at a high level. At the ripe age of 42, Ghostface this year releases a new album, Twelve Reasons To Die. The project, helmed by Black Dynamite producer / multi-instrumentalist Adrian Younge, marries the rugged and intricate imagery we come to expect from a Ghostface narrative with the cold drama of Ennio Morricone. During a recent stop on the Twelve Reasons tour, I got a chance to sit with Ghost and have a conversation about the new album, his creative process, ageing in hip-hop and the role of Islam in his life.
Thank you to Andrew Lojero and Fulton 55.
How did 12 Reasons To Die originate? did you already know about Black Dynamite?
I heard shit about Black Dynamite but I didn’t really know what it was. How the album came about, Bob Perry hooked up with my manager and they spoke about RZA being behind some project or whatever the case may be with this guy named Adrian Younge. To make a long story short, we committed to do it. They sent me five tracks to do but it wasn’t supposed to be an album at first… until I gave them the songs, they heard them and then they wanted to create an album. When I talked to Adrian, he said that’s what he wanted to do from jump street.
What was your reaction when you heard Adrian Younge’s music?
It was straight up my alley. It was like things I would have rhymed to a while ago, even still right now. It was like, ‘oh shit!’ to hear somebody like that, because they don’t make those no more, they don’t just go in like that. It was easy to complete.
Was it Adrian’s idea to have the whole storyline to the project?
That was his idea. When they sent me the beats, they sent me a description of how they wanted me to flow over the beats, like ‘talk about this girl, you love this girl.’ I had to follow suit.
This stage show is a bit more theatrical and ambitious than most rap shows and the tour schedule seems pretty serious, what made you decide for this?
I mean, this is work. This is what I do. We entertainers. You gotta go entertain. This is what the job calls for, to stay relevant and keep your name alive. You have a project, you have to work. What’s the use of just dropping an album and not milking that cow? You have to do all this shit.
Based on the two songs that have leaked from 12 Reasons, it sounds like your pen game is particularly sharp on this one. I’ve read in a few interviews that you’re more sober now at this stage of your career and I’m wondering what your writing process is like now compared to what it was 20 years ago?
The writing process now is me being more focused. I was focused then but I was doing a lot of drugs then and drinking every fuckin night, so it was that. which was cool, it was like whatever whatever whatever but I slowed down. The process is basically the same but back then I had more fun, it was more free. It was just fun.
You didn’t think about it as much?
You didn’t really think about it as much, it was just more fun being around your friends. My best friend is doing 25 to life and things of that nature. Things change over a period of time. Friends that you was with back then, they’re not with you now. I’m not just talking about my best friend that’s doing 25, I’m talking about people that was around you in general that made that part of that era fun. Now it’s like, I’m still getting it in. The game changed, the game is different now. You gotta really be careful, you gotta be aware of what’s going on, what you doing, what you writing and shit like that. I mighta been more witty and conscious of the different flows a little bit more back then because of the weed … you know, it opens up the closed door. So it’s like, when you’re on drugs different rhythms and different shit just come to you like that. It just comes to you like that and you just gravitate to it like that.
At the same time though, I’m sure at this stage experience is a particular kind of teacher.
Of course! Now being sober, you just think, you know what I mean? It may take more of a second to get it across but you get it across and you get it across well because there’s nothing coming in and trying to rip that thought away. You’re just more focused now.
Right. They both work hand in hand. Sometimes I miss smoking weed.
How is your motivation different as an artist, now that you’ve been in it 20 years plus?
My motivation is even more now than back then. Back then it was like ‘ok I’m doing it, it’s whatever whatever whatever’, because you’re young! You don’t really look at the full circle. You just in it. Now you can be on the outside standing in, you focused, you know what it is, you’ve been through so much shit it’s hard to miss shit. Now you know what to fix, you know what to do and what not to do. So if i gotta work double and twice as hard as what I did before, because I didn’t do it, I’m doing it now! So my motivation is up to par.
Back in the day, did you have a vision for yourself at this stage in your career and if so, what was it?
I just knew I was going to be something one day. I knew that, I seent it. I seen myself onstage. I felt it back in the ’80s, maybe around like ’87-’88 I felt that shit and it came in ’93. I seen myself onstage and this is what it is now.
I think we’re at an interesting time in hip-hop. It’s turning 40 something and we have cats like yourself that are decades into it and are still creating at a high level. How do you view aging in hip-hop?
Hip-hop is not going nowhere, it’s never gonna go nowhere. Jay[-Z], even though he got a lot of money, he ain’t never gonna stop. He’ll be 50 and still be rhyming. You just gonna do it just to do it but it’s gonna be a whole new other thing when it’s that age. I tell a nigga, even when I’m 70 i’m still gonna write rhymes. you got the Delfonics, you got my man William, he still write music, he still sing! So it’s like muthafuckas is 50 and they still tour! You think you ain’t gonna write music? You got fuckin’ Elton John and them niggas still recording but you gonna stop recording because that’s what you think you’re supposed to do when you get to a certain age? No, when you got a certain love for something, you love that thing.
All that’s gonna change is I’m probably not gonna talk about crack and drugs and all that no more. I gotta talk about what I’m doing at 50! Shit, when you 70 you talk about your mothafuckin’ cane and you talk about your fuckin’ … you might be sick with cancer or you might know somebody who got it. You talk about those situations because the people around you, that grew up with you, are gonna have those things. False teeth, all that shit. You have to talk about that and that’s what’s gonna keep you relevant. They’re gonna grow with you. Since you 70 now you got your friends that’s 70 and they wanna hear that. Just things of the world, there might be a time when an era might come in when you might have to get on some Marvin Gaye shit and just talk about like, what’s going on.
Yo man, it’s getting deep out here. By the time I’m 70 the microchips might already be in, well, the micro chips is already in but you never know, everybody might have to start getting it. It’s gonna be a lot of shit going on and you gotta sing about these things. Times is going to have to change. you get older and you start singing about your love, your life. Damn, this is my wife. My kids, you start saying shit how you miss them and how you never got to be around them all them other years when you was doing this and that and the third.
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