Album: The Pretty Toney Album
Label: Def Jam
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: A to the L
Ghostface’s fourth solo album, and the first to drop the ‘Killah’ from his name has been one of the most eagerly awaited albums of 2004. Following the disappointment of the glossy “Bulletproof Wallets”, Ghost fans were entitled to expect a return to the form of the earlier “Supreme Clientele” and “Ironman” eras, but when balanced against the fact that Ghostface was on a new label, famed for fucking with artists output (see “Tical 0”) it was understandable that they also treated the arrival of the “PTA” with the same tight-bodied, expecting-the-worst feelings of a naughty child about to receive an asswhupping.
It seemed though that with the release of first single ‘Run’ to an expectant public, that Def Jam’s ‘commercial-commerical-commercial’ department has stayed in the back, and allowed Ghost to do his own thing. Putting RZA on the beats was the first smart move on this track, and the dark, needle-skipping feel of the production was enhanced by Tony Starks bouncing wildly off the rejuvenated-from-the-Gang-Starr-guest-appearance Jadakiss. Following this up with ‘Tush’ though produced the first signs that maybe the grubby mitts of the Def Jam team weren’t too far away from the album-making process after all. Missy Elliott’s ineffectual appearance drags down Ghost’s performance over the made-for-radio beat, resulting in a rather damp quib instead of the hoped-for fireworks.
However I’m happy to report that after thoroughly checking out the album, it seems that Ghost did largely succeed in his battle to keep the beancounters off his back – only one other track really carries an instantly commercial appeal (the No ID-produced closer, ‘Love’ which features Musiq and K Fox with the breathy R’n’B hook.)
Elsewhere, its almost classic Ghostface lyrics (half strikingly onpoint, half nonsensical mumbo jumbo) delivered in classic Ghostface style (emotive, often to the point of tears), over classic Ghostface beats (you know the drill – Starks has almost singlehandly made many producers start to dig in the crates again to catch the Stax-era sound).
Cuts like ‘Biscuits’, ‘Kunta Fly Shit’ and ‘Beat The Clock’ get the album off to a hardcore start, perhaps in an attempt to totally lay to rest the glossy R’n’B ghosts from “Wallets”. ‘Biscuits’ is perfect in every way – from the soulful True Master production which features classic horns-to-die-for, to the interplay between Ghost and guest Trife, to the actual delivery of Ghost himself, which flits between hardcore Starks posturing one minute, and offkey singing of violent threats the next. No other emcee can pull this shit off. None.
‘Metal Lungies’ is perhaps one of the strongest cuts on the whole album and continues in a similar vein – No ID laces the track lovely with slithering strings and ominous horns flitting in and out of the mix, as Ghost links up with the other 2/3 of the Lox with perfect results. Though I’m no great fan of the Lox brand of thug NY rap, they don’t sound out of place on this cut, seemingly inspired by the antics of Starks on the mic who one minute sounds like an extra from ‘The Mack’, the next an escapee from Bellevue…
“Deattach wigs, kill flunkies on contact son see,
Didn’t mommy tell y’all niggas to wear clean undies?
See – y’all shoulda listened to her,
She knew her son had a big mouth, and one day death would occur,
Please for Ms. Gale’s sake, and her seeds
Pass the flurry, ain’t fuckin’ around, they knocked to her weave”
One of the other things that stands out throughout this album is the fact that some of the samples that get flipped aren’t obscure in the slightest, but somehow Ghost’s enthusiasm as he attacks the track makes the shit still sound fresh. Check ‘Save Me Dear’ where Ghostface himself produces the track using an old Freddie Scott cut – at times he even drops lyrics over Scott’s looped vocals, almost as if the sample was cued up all wrong. As you may know Ghost is famed for this, and his presence here donates a lovable quality to a track which would have any other emcee condemned for using such a sloppy loop. Similarly, ‘Its Over’ sees the Hiphop-friendly ‘I’m Afraid The Masquerade Is Over’ track again being utilised as a base for a cut, and the Delfonics back catalogue being borrowed heavily from on ‘Holla’ and again Ghost gets away with it in both cases.
Elsewhere, many will feel that ‘Ghostface’ is a logical followup to ‘Cherchez LeGhost’ and ‘Ghost Showers’. Like these two cuts, ‘Ghostface’ is an uptempo crossover club hit, with a heavy percussion track (this one sampling elements from Kurtis Blow’s ‘AJ Scratch’) and a sultry female hook.
The last portion of the album finishes off extremely strongly with the Nottz-produced duo of ‘Be This Way’ and ‘Tooken Back’ leading the way. The latter cut sees Ghost inviting the Miami Mami, Jacki-O, into the studio to lay down some vocals, and over some catchy work with the samples by Nottz, the chemistry between Ghost and Jacki is captured perfectly. The ever-welcome ‘Run’ and the already mentioned ‘Love’ finish things off strongly indeed.
Despite the fact that this is one of the best albums of the year, and the fact that it will feature on many people’s annual top ten lists, this is still a bittersweet album to listen to. Why? Well, rumour has it that a gang of cuts were left off the album due to Def Jam refusing to cough up the cash to clear the samples used. In the weeks leading up to the album release Ghost cleverly leaked these cuts – a whole other album’s worth – and its hard to argue against their inclusion on here – every single one is worthy of your cash. Unfortunately unless Def Jam put their hand in their pockets, they’re likely to be confined to mp3 sharing and white labels only. It’s a shame, because with the inclusion of a few of these in favour of ‘Love’ or ‘Tush’ a near perfect album, would have attained classic status.