The Pretty Toney Album

Artist: GhostfaceTitle: The Pretty Toney AlbumRating: 4 1/2 StarsReviewed by: aqua boogie

A lot has changed since Ghostface Killah first entered the fold as Wu-Tang Clan's masked lyricist. Let's be real, there was a time, somewhere between Wu's debut "Protect Ya Neck" single and the video for "Can It Be All So Simple," when Ghostface was not considered one of the Staten Island crew's better rappers. Eleven years and dozens of albums later, from original members and affiliates, Tony Starks is doing the most thorough job of holding the Clan's dimming torch. Besides the RZA’s movie scoring (Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2), other high profile members like Method Man and the ever inebriated, whether literally or figuratively, Dirt McGirt haven't exactly kept the Wu-Tang prominent. With his long awaited, much hyped and outstanding fourth album, The Pretty Toney Album, Ghost Deini (nee Dennis Coles) proves he has the persona, vision and flair to keep the Wu alive, all by his lonesome.

With his dinner plate sized neckwear and ever freshly dipped clothing catalog, Mr. Starks is a living relic of year '88, Golden Era hip-hop ingenuity. But thankfully, he manages to embody the era's creative vacuum without sounding out of touch with making music that bangs. Hip-hop professors will note the drums from "Make the Music With Your Mouth Biz" on "Save Me Dear" (produced by Ghost himself) giving the tracks juiced soul vocals even more potency to bolster high charged verses about devotion between man and woman. On "Last Night (Skit)" he raids the Ultimate Breaks and Beats catalog to spit splendid, but oh so misogynistic, sex talk over Esther Williams' "Last Night Save It All."

Ghostface has never been one to shy away from any topic and many of the albums songs deal with male/female relations, whether harsh sexual exploits on the aforementioned "Last Night (Skit)" or being weary of second chances on the Nottz produced "Tooken Back" featuring the Lil' Kim/Fox/Eve hybrid Jackie-O. "Beat the Clock" finds Ghost once again a rhyme animal when dealing with time (the sample clearance stalled favorite "The Watch" and "The Missing Watch" on Raekwon's The Lex Diamond Story can be considered prequels) as he spits his darts sideways over celestial strings. Twenty years down the line we'll still be figuring out Ghost's slang editorials. The painfully short "Kunta Fly Sh**" is vintage Ghost as he pours all his feelings into the mic, resulting in his flow sucking you in, regardless if the content takes a few replays to grasp, if at all: "Yo lord did you peep that?/That ni99a p*ssy that's why I'm gonna eat that!/Live and direct, 5 techs med head, Hugh Heff rolls/Bang on that out of town ni99a cause he U.F.O."

Even 1988 may be too early for the verbalicuous (new word) emcee since his best work hearkens back to the way 60's and 70's soul music touched your emotions. On "Holla" the production is essentially Ghost turning the volume down on the Delfonics' classic "La La (Means I Love You)" for his expressive version of Wu-Karaoke.

Nitpicking is unavoidable since this disc is an imperfect gem, even if it shines blindingly in a rubble-filled field of sellable rap mediocrity. On the one hand, Ghost rocking with no Wu appearances-sans a couple of RZA beats ("Kunta Fly Sh**" and "Run") that suggest anyone uttering 'fell off' and The Abbot's name in the same breath worthy of a head butt to the nose-is a testament to his brazen autonomy. But, a sprinkling of his consiglier Raekwon or any of his trusty sidekicks (Inspectah Deck, U-God, et. al) here and there would have been welcome. Worst of all, hearing Ghost's pillow talk with a chick on "Bathtub (Skit)" could have been done without.

Missteps aside ("Tush"... next single please), if there is any one thing that everyone can come to an accord regarding Ghostface is that the man has personality, and Pretty Toney is a sonic effigy that nears the caliber of his first two heaters Ironman and Supreme Clientele. He frequently shouts out his new millennium crew The Theodore Unit, but this album is very much a Wu derivate with more soul than he has Wallabes.