Ghostface Killah - The Big Doe Rehab (Def Jam Records, 2007)

It’s been a huge year for Ghostface Killah (a.k.a. Tony Starks a.k.a. Ironman a.k.a. Dennis Coles). At the beginning of 2007, Ghost was still riding high on the huge critical success of last year’s epic cocaine drama, Fishscale and its companion piece More Fish, and then proceeded to release the singles compilation, Hidden Darts on his own Starks Enterprises imprint. As the year went on, he appeared on a few high profile tours, worked on a new Wu-Tang Clan record, presumably did some recording for his upcoming collaboration album with MF Doom, and managed to release his third solo full-length in just 18 months.

Unfortunately, as with all overworked artists, Ghost falters a little with The Big Doe Rehab. It’s not a particular surprise that Big Doe falls short of Fishscale’s glory, or even that it fails to reach the heights of 2004’s massively underrated Pretty Toney Album, but that’s not to say that the album isn’t without its brilliant moments. Not content to sit on a single production team for two records in a row, Ghost enlisted L.V. and Sean C. (better known as the Hitmen), who manage to redeem themselves from their erroneous production work on Jay-Z’s comeback record. While the overall style of the record is vastly different from the claustrophobic grime of Fishscale, the more relaxed, slicker production of Big Doe is a great example of how unwilling Ghost is to make the same record twice. He even throws the listener for a loop in his sequel to Fishscale’s standout track, “Shakey Dog,” and throws away the heavy brass in favor of a slower, lazier cut and guesting Raekwon for a verse on the track.

Ghost continues the street crime epics, however, on tracks like “Walk Around,” where a normal trip to the grocery store turns into a bloodbath. It is on tracks like this where it’s easy to see the difference between an MC like 50 Cent’s glorified shooting tales and Ghost’s gritty and frantic tales. A strength of his that has only become more intense since he began his career; Ghost completely immerses you in the ugliness of the life a young street hustler or drug kingpin, and his descriptive ability still leaves jaws on the floor.

The record ain’t all stainless steel .45s and heavy bags of coke, though. “We Celebrate” is a party anthem featuring the legendary Kid Capri, where we find Ghost sipping on Goose and “holla’in at them birds like Dr. Doolittle.” On the ill-concieved “White Linen Affair (Toney Awards,” he and Theodore Unit member Shawn Wigs attempt to elevate a not-quite-there Frequency beat with a slew of shout-outs, which turns out to be, while not a “good” track, at least good for a couple of laughs. The record manages to pick up again after “White Linen” with Ghost gliding easily over an excellent sample of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Superman Lover” on “Supa GFK,” and he teams up with U-God and Raekwon for an excellently minimal and breezy Baby Grand beat on “Rec Room Therapy.”

Unfortunately, while Ghost obviously made a conscious effort to cut down on playing time, eschewing most of the skits and interludes, but what of them remains is either monstrously out of place, or simply completely forgettable. While the showcase for R&B singer Ox, “The Prayer” is a magnificent a capella exhibition, it interrupts the flow between “Rec Room” and the heartrending “I’ll Die For You.” A big disappointment on the record is Ghost’s decision to keep the Rhythm Roots All-Stars’ appearances to mere assistants on the intro and outro tracks, which sound like nothing more than frenetic and incoherent horns and percussion; a true waste of a great backing band who could have offered more than simple background noise.

In the grand scheme of things, The Big Doe Rehab is a lesser disappointment in a year full of inexplicable disappointments (Against Me!, Common, Wilco, Pelican, Queens of the Stone Age, Mos Def, The White Stripes, Bloc Party, Smashing Pumpkins, and Explosions in the Sky, just to name a few). Ghost still has more talent and juice at the end of an 18-month hot streak than most artists do after two years of inactivity, and it shows in the records he makes. While not an across-the-board smash like Fishscale was, The Big Doe Rehab is still a hip-hop album that sounds like an album instead of a mere collection of background tracks for music videos. In a year where ringtone rap had a stranglehold on real hip-hop, The Big Doe Rehab stands as a mature and knowledgeable voice in a genre that is becoming increasingly more and more painfully ignorant and vapid.

Key Tracks: "Shakey Dog Starring Lolita" "Walk Around" "We Celebrate" "Supa GFK"

Score: 7.8/10


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