Earlier this year, legendary Wu-Tang MC Ghostface Killah collaborated with up and coming jazz instrumental band BADBADNOTGOOD for the studio album, Sour Soul. BADBADNOTGOOD is a trio that hails from Canada, and has previously released 3 instrumental-only projects, their last being III, part 3 of that respective series. Ghostface Killah need not be introduced, but comes off his eleventh studio album, 36 Seasons, to rhyme over live instrumentation on Sour Soul. The album was released worldwide on February 24, 2015.
The concept of the album excited me even before listening because I love jazz music, and I love Ghostface Killah’s style. Together, the combination seemed successful on paper. The classic jazz/hip hop fusion has always had a stable presence in any hip hop head’s music library; namely Tribe, DJ Premier and The Roots, among many others. In addition, BBNG and Ghostface have previous quality projects to arise buzz surrounding Sour Soul.
Upon listening to the album multiple times, I can say that it is exceptional. The live instrumentation exceeds expectations; the trio BBNG has undeniable talent. With the help of a few other musicians, the entire 33 minute album successfully employs 16 different instruments. In theory, that seems like overkill for such a brief project, but BBNG cohesively blended together every last sound.
Sour Soul contains 3 completely instrumental tracks, “Mono,” “Stark’s Reality,” and “Experience,” with the rest of the short album containing Ghostface verses. The classic Wu-Tang Clan Asian influence on “Six Degrees” elicits nostalgia yet modernizes the sound with a quality Danny Brown verse. The instrumental breakdown on comic book joint “Ray Gun” sends chills down my back with its epic baritone loop and horn-section backing. Overall, their collaboration provides a solid contrast between chill, low key instrumentals and high energy, gritty Ghostface verses (i.e. “Gunshowers”).
Ghostface’s classic bravado-alpha persona shines past the seemingly divergent beats. Lyrically, he remains on top of his game; contrary to what Action Bronson spout, Ghostface is still rapping like dis. Lines such as:
Chest boards and sword, alphabetical darts // My clan is Braveheart, y’all move like Paul Blarts
Stem cell, my niggas is scientific // We make crumbs and wax, the T-H-C is prolific
display his ability to utilize multiple rhyme schemes and double entendres. Ghostface touches on various subjects, from austere to absurd; including God, drugs, life as a pimp, and my favorite, the Stark/Doom hero-villain collab (Doomstarks preview?!).
The features on the album stress quality over quantity. Of course, what would an album like this be without an MF Doom feature? His verse on “Ray Gun” remains one of the most memorable on Sour Soul (BLAMMO!). As mentioned before, Danny Brown also appears, in addition to TREE and Elzhi, whose voice resembles that of Ab-Soul.
Unfortunately, while Sour Soul received favorable reviews from most hip hop critics, the album struggled at a mainstream level. It only peaked on 3 different Australian music charts, despite following a healthy amount of pre-release buzz. Regardless of commercial success, Sour Soul prevails as a must-have for any hip hop head. 2015 thus far has been a phenomenal year for hip hop, and this collaboration effort is no exception. I look forward to future BBNG projects and collaborations.