This Friday (October 29th) is the 25th year anniversary of Ghostface Killah‘s classic debut, Ironman. For Ghostface, the occasion is bittersweet. Released a year after his star-making performance on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… — and during the end of Wu-Tang Clan’s creative peak — Ironman capsulizes a dark period for Ghostface, one where his physical health was declining and he was still trying to transition away from the streets.
“I was fucked up. My head was fucked up,” Ghostface told me during a conversation at the Dream Downtown Hotel in lower Manhattan in early September. “That’s when I was diabetic. My best friend [Grant Williams] left me, went to jail for like 23,24 years. I didn’t know how to handle the diabetes, I’m losing weight here and there… It was a dark place for me. That’s why you get [songs like] ‘All That I Got Is You.'”
According to Ghostface, that darkness — plus pesky deadlines — was the reason he made an album that was rushed and unfocused. Despite the complicated feelings Ghost has, he can’t deny the impact of Ironman, a hip-hop masterpiece, driven by RZA’s gritty blaxploitation-infused production and Ghostface’s imaginative and lurid storytelling. (The album would probably be held in higher esteem if it wasn’t eclipsed by Ghost’s followup, Supreme Clientele, which is probably the best rap album of the 21st century.)
During our conversation, Ghost almost seemed bored reflecting on Ironman and the new extended reissue that will be heading to DSPs on Friday. Instead, he wanted to talk about, literally, anything else: including other albums he feels prouder of (like Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City); what he has coming in the future (yes, Supreme Clientele 2 is on the way); and how younger rappers have embraced him. (In the middle of our conversation, Trippie Redd and California rapper Chris King randomly walked up and said hi and invited him to a show in Brooklyn; I took a very nice photo of the three for King’s Instagram.)
We spoke to Ghostface Killah about his catalogue, the fate of the mythical DOOMSTARKS album, and more.
Do you feel like you’re a better writer now than you were back then?
Ghostface Killah: Most definitely. Because I understand how to write and what to write. I’m more comfortable in my skin now of knowing where to go. I write, chill… come back to it. You know what I mean?…[I] don’t got to rush to get it all out. If my mind is not straight, then I leave it alone. Sometimes you got to have a clear head. Can’t write with a fucked up head.
Even with all the success you had, it seems like the ’90s were pretty tough for you.
[There] was good times and fucked up times a little bit. I went to jail in the ’90s. Now that I’m looking at it, I would agree with you. After that, I haven’t got locked up ever since. I was doing a lot of dirt in the ’90s — fighting and shooting shit.
What would you tell ’96 Ghostface Killah now?
Just to relax. Behave, man and just take care of yourself. Because I was moving around too quickly and just doing stupid shit a lot. On the block, selling drugs here, fighting and still carrying weapons. It was too much. Then — boom — diabetes comes. I believe God gave me that to slow me down.
When i found out, I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know what it was really. I was doing [Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…] and trying to take the little pill they give you, and shit. And then by the time I got to Ironman, I stared really losing weight, and shit like that.
You originally didn’t know if Ironman was gonna be called Ironman or Supreme Clientele, correct?
Yeah, Rae and RZA pushed for Ironman… because I was Tony Starks already before Ironman… So I’m like, “Yo, I either have Ironman or Supreme.”
I was Tony Stark’s on Rae’s album. So I went with that right there. But Supreme been on my mind for a minute. I couldn’t wait to name my album Supreme Clientele.
Does the album title affect the direction of the album? Like do you think if you would have named Ironman Supreme Clientele it would have sounded different?
I think so. Supreme Clientele just sound how Supreme should have sounded. Like it sound like Supreme because it was just more juicier and more colorful.
I know during those years, it was pretty collaborative, how did you guys decide on the blaxploitation production… Was that a RZA thing? Or did you bring that to RZA?
No RZA brought it to me. Because RZA was making the beats for all of us at the time. So I just went with him. I think he was in Ohio. RZA had a piece of land up there and he started playing the beats, and I’m like, “Put that to the side, put that one to the side, put that to the side.”
I was just looking for some good beats, whatever the case may be. And it was more of a lighter version of Cuban Linx. I just took what I could take at that time. I didn’t know how to be like, “Nah RZA, I don’t want that one. I don’t want that one at all. I want a straight sound like this one.”
Do you consider it to be the sequel to Cuban Linx?
No, no. Cuban is by itself. Yeah, Cuban is just in a class by itself. Ironman was just trying to hurry up and get something out because I had a deadline. That’s why I don’t deal with deadlines no more. Deadlines will fuck you up.
Did you feel strongly about Ironman when you released it?
No. I didn’t feel like I lived up to 100% what the people took me for.
Did that attitude ever change, even as more people started to love it?
No, no. Still feel like that right now.
Supreme is me, as far as my mind and everything, at that time. And I wouldn’t change really nothing about it, really. Like, the light was over me. So, when I started doing Bulletproof Wallets, the next one, it was crazy too. But they just took a few samples, a few records off. You took the Slick Rick record [“The Sun”] off. You took “The Watch” off. You changed the beat to “Flowers.” All that meant something.
You changing beats. You take one beat out… that was for the cut. You can’t replace that with another motherfucker. That’s like a nigga replacing your girl. Come on, B. I picked this bitch for her looks and her ass.
Do you feel like you missed out on almost like a trilogy of classics because of what happened with Bulletproof?
Yes, yes, yes. Definitely, Definitely.
I remember when Fishscale came out a couple of years later, that was a big moment.
That was a big moment. I mean, it’s not as big to me [but] to anybody else. But Fishscale was all right. I wouldn’t have made it that long. That’s why I say I was still learning. I would have cut a lot of shit off and just made it compact. But something was leading me to be like, “Nah, put it on, it’s phat. Let the Nigga’s eat.” But I would have cut a lot of that shit off.
Do you feel that a lot of your albums are just too long?
Nah because Supreme was right. I don’t think BulletProof was that long. I just got the three songs that fucked me up. And Ironman was… a couple songs could have go taken off of there. “Marvel” and maybe the last record and shit like that. Yeah, two or three songs could have probably came off.
Where do you stand with The Pretty Toney Album?
My mind wasn’t stable on Pretty Tony because the weed started fucking me up. That’s why I don’t smoke weed now. It started fucking me up. Like, doubting myself. A bunch of doubt was on me.
You know, I’m spending a lot of money in the studios. Like I couldn’t do nothing. I was in the booth recording myself a hundred times, doing the same verse over and over and over and over, not showing myself. I lost confidence in what I was doing because of the weed. I couldn’t function. But I was smoking anyway because that’s what I was used to doing. Smoke, catch a few lines, it just started fucking with my thoughts. Like, I couldn’t control my thoughts.
How did you regain your confidence?
Stop smoking. Then it started coming back. They say your brain cells… it takes you seven years to recover after you smoke.
Do you believe that’s true?
I believe so. I believe when you smoke weed, it do destroy your brain cells. When motherfuckers smoke, niggas get lazy, don’t want to do nothing. You just want to eat and play the video game all day and laugh. Or thinking you cooling out on the fucking block.
Are you still working on Supreme Clientele 2?
Oh yeah. I got a lot of it done.
But I just don’t got the features on it yet. And then I’ma change a couple things around because I’ve been on it for so long… you know, when you get new beats, some beats is blowing the other old beats out. So I got to keep it, make sure that it’s still that.
When did you start?
Oh, been long time. Over ten years ago.
I always put it on the back burner because you need a correct place for it. In between them years, I did the [Wu-Massacre album] with [Method Man] and Rae. I did [two Adrian Younge projects]. Little baby projects. I just did a Ghostface Killah [album] with my man Remedy and I did 36 Seasons with Bob Perry and all of them. But I said, “no more.” I got to get back to what people know me for.
Do you not count those as full Ghostface Killah albums?
I count them. I count them. But you know what? They just theme albums. They’re not like Supreme and Iron and Bulletproof. They just work did for hire. Nigga paid me to go kill somebody. That’s it. So I count them because they’re under my belt, but I don’t count them as how I counted my first couple of albums. Like even [Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City], that’s one of my favorite albums. It might be my favorite.
Why would you say that’s your favorite?
Because I got a chance to do what I had to do, what I wanted to do. Which is to tell stories. Because I love R&B music. I’m more of an R&B cat.
You got a chance to see my pen go go for a lot of records straight. Everything was a story. There was no abstract shit in there. Maybe except for the last record I did with Ron Browz [“She’s a Killah”]. But other than that, everything was a story and I liked it like that. Like, “yo, tell it. Just write it.” Like the joint that me and [Fabolous] did — “Guest House.” Like the beat made me go in there like, “I’m in the Crib, this nigga fucking my chick. This kid was a fucking cable nigga.” So I had Fab play the cable nigga. Like, “yo, come in, play the cable nigga.” Then I had Estelle on the other joint, “Paragraphs of Love.” That’s one of my favorites. It’s a couple of them in there that I appreciate. I don’t really see too many flaws in it like I did in my other albums.
It’s funny because obviously you have that storytelling ability but, you also have the abstract style which no other rapper has been able to do like you. So when you do Supreme Clientele 2, you feel like you’re going to lean on the abstract stuff or you want to show off your storytelling ability?
Regular street rhyme — that was abstract, regular shit to me. But telling stories is different than me just rhyming about my glock and my gun and all the other shit like that. So I’ma have more of like a Cuban linx feel on Supreme Clientele, mixed with regular story darts and shit like that. I might just have one verse up there, one record that was… like [what] I did [on] “Nutmeg” and all that. Like words that niggas didn’t even know… like “yo, what the fuck you talking about?”
When you played “Nutmeg” for your friends for the first time, what was the reaction?
They probably didn’t know what I was saying, but the shit was phat though. Like I glided on it, but just using different words.
So you never got any pushback, like even from your circle?
Not from my circle but from people. “What the fuck is you talking about?” But yeah. It was a style that I created. I was in Africa when I did that verse. I said I’ma make a style where nobody will ever know what the fuck I’m talking about. And then I was with [MF DOOM] one day and DOOM told me, “I got my style from you.” And I kind of figured it, but he admitted it.
You mentioned DOOM… will DOOMSTARKS ever be released?
Listen, it’s up to his estate.
They got it. They already got the music from back then. All I told them was, “Before we make a move with it, let me redo the same verses over.” Because I didn’t want it to sound old. I wanted it to sound new to the people. Let me just go in there and do the same rhyme over. and that’s it. But beyond that, they just not buzzed on anything.
When you told them that, what was their reaction?
I talked to this… I think it was his manager. They didn’t budge off of nothing. He was like, “I don’t even got control of that, his wife got it.
Do you feel strongly about the music, from what you remember?
It was so back then. All the way back then. So I don’t know how it sound like. It was back then.
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