After releasing offbeat R&B exploration "Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City" last year, Wu-Tang Clan MC Ghostface Killah returns to creating pummeling street rap with "Apollo Kids," his ninth studio album set for a Dec. 21 release. Taking its title from a track on his 2000 classic "Supreme Clientele," the album finds the rapper (real name: Dennis Coles) once again relying on his obtuse wordplay and delicious soul samples.
"Apollo Kids" also boasts impressive roster of guest rappers, including Busta Rhymes, the Game, Jim Jones and more than a few of Ghost's Wu-Tang brethren. They all add to the rap-for-rap's-sake vibe of the album, with tracks like "Superstar" and "Starkology" featuring little more than a few flowing verses and a grimy beat to match.
Before the album is released next week, check out Billboard.com's take on each of the 12 songs on Ghostface's latest effort.
1. "Purified Thoughts" (featuring Killah Priest and GZA)
"Apollo Kids"'s opening track and the first of its many posse cuts features an aching soul sample that asks, "Am I a good man?" Ghostface jumps on the dark track and spits in a deep, gruff voice, while Killah Priest later unravels the tongue-twisting line, "Gravity grabbin' me, gradually draggin' me through hell's cavity/This is blasphemy, I fell where the jackals be."
2. "Superstar" (featuring Busta Rhymes)
Ghostface shifts from somber to superfly on "Superstar," his funky collaboration with Busta Rhymes collaboration that showcases the Wu-Tang MC's off-the-wall wordplay. "Mink coats! Rock diamond wristlets!/Bankroll's so thick I don't need a wish list," Ghostface raps over a thick bass line and quick electric guitar lick.
3. "Black Tequila" (featuring Cappadonna and Trife)
Even before Ghostface and his two cohorts, Trife and Cappadonna, arrive on "Black Tequila," Frank Dukes' vibrant production, which hinges on pounding snare hits and wonky guitar parts, establishes the Latin-tinged track as an early highlight. The trio of rappers feed off of each other's chest-thumping swagger on the track, but Trife's violent storytelling remains the most captivating.
4. "Drama" (featuring Joell Ortiz and the Game)
"Drama," the longest track on "Apollo Kids" at only 4:28, recalls Ghostface's meticulously plotted "Fishscale" track "Shakey Dog" by offering a winding narrative of drugs and violence -- as the Game calls it, "Wu-Tang Sopranos." Treating the song like a campfire story, Ghostface, Joell Ortiz and the Game spin a yarn about calculating gangsters, kitchens full of cocaine, and exacting revenge at a Burger King drive-through window.
5. "2getha Baby"
Ghostface's first solo track on "Apollo Kids" is simple and head-knocking, with a buttery sample breaking up the rapper's boasts and sexual innuendos. Once again, the MC's loose, uncluttered rhymes shine through, with an opening line like "It's Tone, crispy like a pair of headphones/Used to play the 280 party rec rooms/Now I play the big spots all in the city/Spraying champagne, scoping out bitties" immediately grabbing the listener's attention.
In just two minutes and 25 seconds, Ghostface spearheads an adrenaline rush of a track that plays off his prominent qualities. "Starkology" lets the percussion stay out of the way of Pretty Toney's flow, with only a few second-long DJ scribbles breaking up the rapper's whacked-out musings.
7. "In Tha Park" (featuring Black Thought)
Staten Island meets South Philly as Ghostface welcomes the Roots MC Black Thought on this guitar-driven track. Instead of delivering his verse with his typically measured flow, Thought matches Ghost's hard-edged braggadocio and drops out-of-character declarations like, "You don't like how I'm living? Well, fuck you!"
8. "How You Like Me Baby"
"How You Like Me Baby" plays out like a distant cousin of "Big Doe Rehab" track "Walk Around," in which the rapper uses a mid-tempo R&B hook as a springboard to his rough-and-tumble rhyming. The track features slick production from Pete Rock as well as a bridge in which Ghostface forgoes any outside singing help and belts out a few bars by himself.
9. "Handcuffin' Them Hoes" (featuring Jim Jones)
"Apollo Kids" is full of Ghostface's romantic recountings and bedroom achievements, but "Handcuffin' Them Hoes," featuring Dipset rapper Jim Jones, is a full-on celebration of women. "I gets my love game on, without a doubt," Ghost snarls before describing how he constantly has too much money to fit in his jeans.
10. "Street Bullies" (featuring Sheek Louch, Wiggs and Sungod)
Ghostface Killah caps off "Apollo Kids" with a trio of songs featuring three other rappers, the first showcasing recent tour mate Sheek Louch, Wiggs and Ghostface's son, Sungod. On "Street Bullies," the three MCs perform admirably over a beat punctuated by a piercing female vocal sample; sadly, Ghostface opts to simply rap the chorus instead of laying down a few bars.
11. "Ghetto" (featuring Raekwon, Cappadonna and U-God)
Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon, Cappadonna and U-God drop by to each lend a quick verse to this track, which chronicles the rappers' hardships while growing up. With its snare rolls and grooving guitar, "Ghetto" wouldn't be out of place on Raekwon's 2009 triumph, "Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Pt. 2."
12. "Troublemakers" (featuring Raekwon, Method Man and Redman)
The three principles of this year's "Wu Massacre" album, as well as an effervescent Redman, close out "Apollo Kids" on a high note. Like any classic Wu-Tang cut, "Troublemakers" is a cohesive mixture of many styles: Raekwon's detailed storytelling, Ghostface's unfiltered danger, Redman's animated drug rhymes and Method Man's cold intensity.