Though it may seem like an oddity on paper, the mix of Wu-Tang veteran Ghostface Killah and Canadian experimental jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD makes a certain peculiar sense. Lately, Cole’s music has taken a turn towards the dramatic, thoroughly lacing his latest recordings with intricate plots of revenge and reincarnation, love and loss; it’s almost too good of a fit for the nocturnal, brooding jazzed out hip-hop trademarked by his triage of collaborators. Together, Ghost and BBNG strike a solid foundation for the ever-dreaded collaborative supergroup concept, coming out ahead of the curve with an album that isn’t just an avoidance of total disaster, but a moderate success on its own terms.
This success owes itself in part to Ghost’s abandonment of the over-arching thematic story-telling of “36 Seasons.” With “Sour Soul,” the testosterone-fuelled braggadocio of albums past makes its fierce return immediately apparent as Cole bursts through the gate with “Yo, cleanse, clean me of my sour soul, I’m vicious… I’m a twisted individual, they say critical, I say, nigga, I’m on top of my pinnacle.” Finally freed from the restraints of his own literary ambitions, Ghost’s lyrical game feels notably more flexible than it has over the past few years, if not more powerful. It’s difficult to shake the feeling that the Killah isn’t riding on his own skill, as if the genius of yesterday’s classics doesn’t osmose itself through the microphone on its own accord; this is still the same do-ragged legend we’ve come to know and love — just finely filtered through an endless procession of singles, albums, collaborations and the passage of time. It’s a perfectly solid showing when Ghost slides into the lines “from the righteous mind’s the law, he powers my soul, teaching me positivity in the whole, how to walk amongst evils and smile in the face of death, to speak knowledge and wisdom to my last breath,” but only the most fervent of Wu diehards are likely to claim this as one of Ghost’s standout performances.
Instead, the brightest moments on “Sour Soul” often come from BADBADNOTGOOD, whose shadowy atmospheric backdrops conjure a consistently immersive experience from track to track. “Gunshowers (feat. Elzhi),” the album’s fourth cut, sports a playfully morose guitar lick sliding back and forth over its deliberately paced beats; it’s the type of music any sensible rapper would foam at the mouth for, both because of its inventiveness and smooth, persistent cool. Unfortunately, the instrumentals aren’t quite as sophisticated as the band’s previous showing on the third BBNG album, but that’s a minor qualm to make given that this is altogether a different type of project – an eclectic jazz trio backing up a hip-hop legend, not an eclectic jazz trio reinterpreting and twisting hip-hop to its own unpredictable ends. Still, what’s here is notably impressive. Take the propulsive nighttime swagger of “Mind Playing Tricks,” for instance; it’s the kind of the track that inspires visions of late night escapades, sunglasses senselessly shading the neon jungle of the city as the scent of vodka permeates the sedan. It’s another hit from a group of talented musicians, but it’s not quite a homerun.
This is all just nitpicking the finer points, though. “Sour Soul,” despite lingering in the shadows of better records from both collaborators, stands as a solid success for both parties. No, this album isn’t going to stand alongside “Supreme Clientele,” and no, this isn’t going stand alongside “III.” But “Sour Soul” will stand all the same. And really, though, isn’t that more than enough in an age when most albums can’t even manage to crawl?