Collaborative albums can go one of two ways. The first way is that the record falls flat on its face as the two artists don’t collaborate well in an auditory setting (think Lou Reed and Metallica) – we’ll call this ‘The Lulu Effect’. The second way is that the two artists work incredibly well together (like Jay Z and Kanye West) and create an album that incorporates the best of both worlds – we’ll call this ‘The Watch the Throne Coefficient’. Dennis Coles (AKA Ghostface Killah) and BadBadNotGood working together to form Sour Soul is a new collaboration from GFK’s extensive work since the 1990s and it’s a step into the unknown for BBNG. A possible sign of ‘The Lulu Effect’ is that Ghostface Killah and BadBadNotGood are not two artists that would spring to mind when thinking of the ‘next big collaboration’. When St. Vincent and David Byrne decided to work together; it wasn’t a surprise; and the same can be said about Jigga and Ye. However, surprise left turns have created some of the best music in history. Kid A by Radiohead was something completely new that revolutionised alternative rock and was met with acclaim from both fans and critics – proving you don’t always get brilliant albums from what you expect. The moral here; don’t judge a book by its cover. So, which will Sour Soul be an example of; The Lulu Effect or The Watch the Throne Coefficient?
BadBadNotGood – an instrumental jazz/hip-hop trio from Toronto, Canada – have worked with an incredible range of artists. Danny Brown; Earl Sweatshirt; Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean are all on the list and really, it’s becoming less and less surprising that Ghostface Killah has been added to the list. Three of the previous four collaborators are among the premier young hip-hop artists and it’s only fitting that the trio move into the big leagues and work with a member of Wu-Tang Clan.
If there’s one thing that can be said about any member of Wu-Tang, it is that they are open to experimentation and this type of amalgamation of jazz and hip-hop is a new step for Ghostface Killah’s already extensive back catalogue. BadBadNotGood’s combination of electronic production and live instrumentation utilises the best of modern instrumental hip-hop (like Flying Lotus) alongside the past smooth-jazz instrumentation of big band artists such as Frank Sinatra. One of the key exhibitions of this amalgamation comes with the one of the instrumental pieces from Sour Soul; “Stark’s Reality” (a title which refers to another of Dennis Coles’ personae). Its incorporating strings, guitar, brass and a hip-hop bassline with smooth-jazz drums really forms an atmosphere of a New Orleans jazz club where cigar smoke hangs heavily in the air.
From the opening salvo of the introductory “Mono”, it’s almost expected that a singer like vocal jazz songstress, Billie Holiday will strike up her vocal chords and belt out an emotive piece such as “God Bless the Child” or “Strange Fruit”. Instead, we’re met with the acclaimed rapping from Ghostface Killah and guest spots from Danny Brown, DOOM, Elzhi and Tree. Killah’s rapping prowess is immediately apparent but, what is most commendable from all other parties involved is that they haven’t appeared star-struck; instead, they thrive. Danny Brown, on “Six Degrees” does what he has done over his past two albums: referencing drug and rap culture and everyday life. His unique delivery, interestingly, works alongside the jazz/hip-hop work from the production trio. “Six Degrees” is also where Ghostface shows his lyrical prowess as rhymes, tongue-twisters and imagery are all packed into the track. The quickly-delivered lines of “Doo-rags and blue and red flags, we keep new tags” and “Brag about 2 chains, 4 chains, 6 chains / Spread eagle bitches in the crib giving brain” all show the eloquent delivery which has come to be expected from GFK.
Ghostface Killah’s lyrical influences are clearly varied on Sour Soul, too. He refers to his Muslim religion in “”Nuggets of Wisdom”, drug culture in “Street Knowledge” and the modern world on “Sour Soul”. This wide variety of subject matter is a testament to his worldliness and the way in which he approaches each new idea goes further to solidify his standing in the hip-hop community. Emotional range is another key characteristic that stands out throughout Sour Soul as Wu-Tang like vitriolic delivery is found on “Street Knowledge” (the track he shares with Tree), excitement is an aspect of “Ray Gun” and near ambivalence allows “Sour Soul” to ease the stress of the join between jazz and hip-hop.
Despite there being moments of brilliance (many of which have already been highlighted), much of the rapping on Sour Soul is not of the highest quality although the cohesion between Ghostface Killah and BadBadNotGood is clear to see. While this collaboration work has avoided being an example of The Lulu Effect, it does not truly represent a case of The Watch the Throne Coefficient. In short, it’s an album that displays strengths from both sides but does not accutely accentuate any of them.
Release: 24th February 2015
Genre: Hip-Hop / Jazz
Contemporaries: Raekwon, Flying Lotus and Wu-Tang Clan
Influences: Miles Davis, Odd Future and John Coltrane
You can listen to “Street Knowledge (feat. Tree)” below:
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