Sometimes you have to die to make your mark. In music, the messianic culture runs deep, especially in hip-hop. To be taken seriously, you must be "close to the edge," or as Notorious B.I.G. prophetically said, "ready to die."
Biggie and 2Pac made only a handful of albums before being shot to death, and while both are amazing artists, it seems unfair to consistently knight them "the greatest" simply because they're dead. Elvis is king, Aretha is queen, Clapton is God, and James Brown is Godfather not because they're infallible, but because they made some flops. Their perseverance is their legacy.
But the rap game doesn't work that way. A lengthy recording career is often secondary to getting in, making bank and getting out to work behind the scenes (Master P and Dr. Dre) or as an actor (Ice-T, LL Cool J, Ice Cube).
But if the reverse were true, and artists were judged solely on their music, whether alive or dead, then Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah would be considered the greatest rapper alive, if not the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time). Whereas many of his peers, in between supporting roles in the newest Steven Segal stain, have become boringly methodical musically, Ghost has never lost site of what made him so special in the first place.
He was the first voice out on 1993's "Bring Da Ruckus," the first song on Wu-Tang's classic debut, Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). From that opening verse alone, fans had that feeling of discovery.
During the course of 13 years, three more Wu-Tang records and six solo albums, Ghost has become the unlikely, yet deserving, superstar. Other Wu members had those distinguishable skills that make great MCs-RZA with his vivid lyricism, Method Man with his inimitable flow and Ol' Dirty Bastard with his, well, uniqueness.
But Ghost isn't just great at one of these things; he's great at all three. You always know it's him, his voice slightly higher than the others with a hint of a New York lisp. He's an engaging storyteller, often interrupting himself to correct some minor detail but never losing a beat. Finally, he's a consummate entertainer, touring more in a year than most rappers do in a lifetime.
In hip-hop, there's only a brief window during which listeners will take you seriously. But whether or not Ghostface dies tomorrow or down the road, he's making important music that will last beyond the fleeting tastes of rap listeners.
That's a legacy.
Ghostface Killah plays with Raekwon, Redman, Keith Murray and Supernatural at House of Blues on Thursday, Dec. 21. Doors open at
8 p.m. $30-$33. 619-299-BLUE.