Ghostface Killah picks his best songs
(Credit: Niklas Hellerstedt)


Ghostface Killah picks his best songs

Ghostface Killah was integral to the Wu-Tang Clan movement in the 1990s and rose to fame alongside his counterparts, such as RZA Method Man and Raekwon, from the projects of Staten Island.

Ghostface was raised in the Stapleton Houses of Staten Island and was one of the first people that RZA drafted into the Clan after the original three members (RZA, GZA and ODB) decided to transform the trio into a larger, more formidable nine-member crew.

The emcee (real name Dennis Coles) was a significant contributor to the collective’s debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), and is widely considered a New York legend. As a solo artist and Clan member Coles has released an unfathomable amount of music.

The lyricist has released a massive 13 solo studio albums and seven collaborative albums. Coles’ first debut project, Ironman, was released in 1996 and debuted at number two on the Billboard 200. It was well-received, and with features from the likes of Cappadonna, Raekwon and Method Man, it was very much a Wu-Tang-centred body of work. 

This set Ghostface Killah on a good trajectory. However, his projects were not as successful as his peers Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, who were hitting the charts with their singles regularly. That said, he took four years to work on his second album and, when he returned, released Supreme Clientele to critical acclaim. It was praised for its creative lyricism and fantastic cohesion.

After 20 years in the game, in 2013, the Staten Island rhymer spoke to Complex to speak about his favourite tracks from his most essential albums. You can see what Coles had to say below.

Ghostface Killah’s favourite Ghostface Killah songs:

5. Wu-Tang Clan – ‘Can It All Be So Simple,’ Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), (1993)

Produced by RZA with some help from the legendary Prince Rakeem, ‘Can It Be All So Simple’ sampled the Gladys Knight track ‘The Way We Were’ and was a stand-out track from Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album. Recorded at the Firehouse studio in Brooklyn, it is gritty and built the foundation for the gritty sound Ghostface Killah used throughout his career.

The track showcases Killah’s incredible lyricism, and the first verse from Ghostface Killah was a landmark moment as he proudly exclaimed, “Started off on the island, AKA Shaolin!” representing the overlooked New York City borough.

4. Raekwon ft Ghostface Killah – ‘Wisdom Body,’ Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, (1995)

‘Wisdom Body’ is an example of the raw, aggressive and unapologetic Killah who surfaced as a solo artist after the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut project. The beat is somewhat reminiscent of ‘C.R.E.A.M.’ with its catchy piano riff but is totally offset by Coles expressing his disdain for “Fake n*ggas who tried to flex!”

The exciting track also hears Coles emcee about women for the first time, but, again in an unusually gritty way, making references to “rugged profiles” and “waistlines banging like basslines.” The track was recorded in Miami alongside Raekwon. ‘Wisdom Body’ was Coles continuing to support the endeavours of his Wu-Tang Clan counterparts.

3. Ghostface Killah ft Mary J Blige – ‘All That I Got Is You,’ Ironman, (1996)

Cleverly produced by RZA, ‘All That I Got Is You’ incorporates a Michael Jackson sample and sees Ghostface Killah softly reflect on childhood and tell a vivid story of his life on Staten Island. The song was an example of Coles’ maturity as he showed a more vulnerable side of himself and a desire to work with vocalists. Although Ironman heard a shift in sonics, it was still successful. However, Ghostface Killah once admitted he didn’t enjoy making it.

In an interview with Complex, Coles once stated, “I was going into a slump during Ironman. I found out I was a diabetic around that time, and I was just stressed out. My mind wasn’t all the way there. Certain joints I couldn’t really catch. Like the one I had Masta Killa and Deck and RZA and them on ‘Assassination Day.’ I couldn’t catch it. I let it live, but like, ‘Fuck it, I’ll back out of that one,’ and kept it moving.”

2. Wu-Tang Clan – ‘Impossible,’ Wu-Tang Forever, (1997)

Wu-Tang Forever holds a unique space in hip-hop. Although it was highly successful, it appeared while many of the crew members were in pursuit of solo careers. As such, it was a challenge for many MCs, and it was compared with its iconic predecessor, Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers.

It was a tall order for the collective to produce another Enter The Wu-Tang. However, Coles performed incredibly well on the LP. The beats were less minimalistic than RZA’s early beats and suited Ghostface Killah more. The story told on ‘Impossible’ was one of the most powerful in the entire body of work.

During his interview with Complex, Coles explained the track’s backstory, stating, “‘Impossible’ has to be my favourite. I darted it out! That was a true story, some of it. One of my baby’s mothers’ brothers got murdered from Staten Island. He was a live nigga and shit. And they killed him on the Fourth of July. And I remember I was there. Not outside when he got murdered, but I was upstairs. And it was chaos. ‘Cause everybody loved this dude!”

“When I write shit like that, it’s the beat. Every rhyme I wrote, whether it was a weak one or a hype one, it’s because of the beat. The beat has something in it. A lot of times with me, I know how to swim through notes, and lay on certain shit. The beat’s getting ready to break down, I break down with it. Switch the flow up during that break-down, and then come back. That’s how I read music. And I’m not even a producer like that. It’s just a gift. As I went on, I got better with it.”

1. Ghostface Killah – ‘Mighty Fuel,’ Supreme Clientele, (2000)

Supreme Clientele was a milestone in Ghostface Killah’s career and saw him return to basics. Executively produced by RZA, the sound was reminiscent of the old ‘Protect Ya Neck’ boom-bap Wu-Tang Clan. As such, it was received extremely well by critics. His lyricism improved between 1993 and 2000, and his collaboration choices also had.

As a creative force, RZA had urged Coles not to flood the project with other Clan members in a bid to prevent record labels from getting Wu-Tang-style records until every member had been signed.

‘Mighty Health’ was Supreme Clientele’s lead single and was extremely lo-fi in its production. Sparse in its arrangements, by 2000, it encapsulated a by-gone era. However, its originality and purity couldn’t be denied by fans or critics.

Heaping praise on the single, Coles told Complex, “‘Mighty Healthy’ was crazy. ‘We Made It’ was crazy. Even ‘Stay True.’ ‘We in the fields with heat.’ That’s my most colourful album, and it’s up there with my favourites. I don’t listen to my albums no more. I just do it, then I let it go.”

“I was doing that Hip-Hop Squares shit, and Fat Joe and Khaled were up there, and they were telling me how them niggas had used my voice and the beat from ‘Mighty Healthy’ and how Kanye had put it on ‘New God Flow.’ They said the shit was crazy, shit was bangin’. So I’m like, ‘Word?’ And they’re like, ‘You gotta hear this shit.’”