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Ghostface Killah

Bulletproof Wallets (Sony/Epic)

Throughout his career, the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah has remained one of hip-hop's brassiest figures, his music as sweet and flashy as it is abrasive. From his raw lyrics to his emphatic vocal delivery to his soulful beats, all the way down to his enormous golden falcon bracelet and dinner-plate-sized necklace medallion, Ghost simultaneously fills and breaks the mold of today's typical hip-hop artist. His songs are filled with as much thugged-out street poetry as the next guy's, but it's his imaginative and often off-the-wall handling of the material that sets him apart, making his music less like "The Godfather" and more like "Yellow Submarine." Drawing from Slick Rick and Kool G. Rap as much as from Otis Redding, Bulletproof Wallets finds Ghostface once again delivering his unique brand of storytelling.

A would-be R&B chart topper, "Never Be the Same Again" becomes a ghetto-fabulous anthem the second Ghostface hits the mic. Imagine Mr. T doing Isaac Hayes karaoke. Against a smooved-out instrumental, complete with crooned chorus from Carl Thomas, Ghost reminisces about the days when his girl used to smell his boxers. On the Alchemist-produced "The Forest," Ghost gives us an updated (but not really) version of Ice Cube's "Gangsta Fairytale," recounting an almost psychedelic tale of the sex-, drug- and violence-infused adventures of Heckle and Jeckle, Bugs Bunny and Humpty Dumpty. The surreal storytelling continues on "Maxine," in which the coked-up title character does an assailant up Al Green-style with a potful of grits, and on "Strawberry," a soulful track depicting Ghostface's crew plotting to Swiss-cheese up some buster (they have to wait for Ghost to finish graphically describing the fellatio he's receiving).

Unfortunately, Bulletproof Wallets has its share of duds. A few of the songs' beats are too overpolished, especially for an artist who sounds most comfortable rhyming over a simple, unfettered Barry White loop. Other songs, such as the one-minute-long "Jealousy," sound more like unfinished pages from Ghostface's scrapbook. All in all, this is a strong effort from one of the Wu-Tang's last hopes, and if the next Clan album is anything as unappealing as their last one, you're better off sticking with Ghost to quench your Wu-thirst.

 
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