Born Dennis Coles; a.k.a. Tony Starks and Sun God. Addresses: Record company--Epic/Razor Sharp Records. Website--Ghostface Killah Official Website: http://www.ghostfacekillah.com.
Like many rap and hip-hop artists, Ghostface Killah emerged from a highly successful group act to become a standout success. But Ghostface did not get his start with just any group, he was an original member of the hip-hop supergroup the Wu-Tang Clan, which was lauded as "the most revolutionary rap group of the mid-'90s," according to All Music Guide online. Ghostface was first heard on the group's debut, Enter the Wu-Tang Clan (36 Chambers), and on the critically and commercially successful subsequent releases Wu-Tang Foreverand The W. The rapper demonstrated his own skills on fellow Wu-Tang Clan member Raekwon's solo album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and on his own first solo track, "Winter Warz," which was heard on the film soundtrack to Don't Be a Menace to South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Ghostface came into his own with his highly successful full-length solo releases Ironman and Supreme Clientele, which both featured cameo appearances and production assistance from his Wu-Tang Clan cohorts.
Raised Dennis Coles on what he calls "Shaolin" or Staten Island, New York, Ghostface joined his neighborhood friends Robert Diggs (a.k.a. Prince Rakeem or The RZA), Gary Grice (a.k.a. The Genius or GZA), Lamont Hawkins (a.k.a U-God), Jason Hunter (a.k.a. Inspectah Deck), Russell Jones (a.k.a. Ol' Dirty Bastard), Clifford Smith (a.k.a. Method Man), and Raekwon to form a collective of nine rappers known as the Wu-Tang Clan in 1991. From the start, Wu-Tang Clan's boundaries were loose. While other rap groups often disbanded when members worked solo, all of the Wu-Tang Clan's members went on to release solo work with support from the rest of the group. The group released its first album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) two years later to rave reviews. The release was "rough and rambling," according to Time,"combining ragged street beats with lyrical imagery and audio samples" from Kung Fu films. At a time when the focus of hip-hop culture was on the West Coast, the Wu-Tang Clan drew attention to the East Coast with the album.
Ghostface helped Raekwon on his album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx,released in 1995. According to Vibe, Ghostface proved himself a "superior MC--kicking lyrics of steel" on his friend's record. In February of 1996, Ghostface's first solo track, "Winter Warz," appeared on the Don't Be a Menace to South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood soundtrack. His contribution to the Sunset Park soundtrack, "Motherless Child," and "Who's the Champion" on the Great White Hype soundtrack, were also well received. In 1997, Wu-Tang Clan released a double album called Wu-Tang Forever which Time called "ambitious ... challenging, complex," and "full of energy and promise."
On his 1996 platinum-selling debut, Ironman, Ghostface Killah rapped about male bonding, the drug trade, and male-female politics in his songs. His voice raised just above conversational tone as the rapper borrowed the beats of 1970s soul songs. The song "260" is built around a sample of Al Green's peace-and-love anthem "Let's Stay Together"--an ironic choice for a song about murderous street justice. Ironman debuted at number two on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The RZA produced the work, and Ironman was the first release on Razor Sharp Records, The RZA's imprint on the Epic record label. According to Rolling Stone, Ironmanbecame a hit with "the most evangelical Wu fans."
One of several delays in the release of Ghostface's sophomore release was a four-month prison term he served for attempted robbery. The rapper was accused of assaulting a valet and robbing him of $3,000 after a 1995 altercation at the Palladium nightclub in New York City. Because his car's tires were slashed while in the parking attendant's care, a fight ensued, and Ghostface allegedly tried to take money from one of the attendants. Though he maintained his innocence, he plead guilty to avoid a possible 5-to-15-year sentence if tried and convicted. He then had to return to court for a 1997 arrest for possession of a .357-caliber Magnum handgun. The arrest was questioned after police admitted they wrongly claimed that Ghostface fled the scene when in fact he had accompanied officers to a police station.
Supreme Clientele was not released until the spring of 2000. The album received almost unanimously rave reviews and went on to become a certified gold selling record. Entertainment Weekly criticized the release for its "tawdry skits" and "exhausting" length, but most critics reviewed it favorably. The release was a rare example of a "sophomore overshadowing its predecessor," wrote one critic in the Source.A Los Angeles Times critic predicted Supreme Clientele would likely turn out to be the "most popular solo collection from a Wu-Tang member" since Ironman. Village Voice praised Ghostface's "vocal clarity, verbal dexterity, and narrative facility" throughout the release. Supreme Clientele was also noted for featuring less of Ghostface's Wu-Tang Clan counterparts rapping and more of Ghostface himself rapping on his own through most of the album, though his Wu-Tang Clan cohorts all lent a hand in the studio, and The RZA produced or mixed at least four tracks. Ghostface pondered the elements of everyday life on the recording, including life on the streets, soul food, and music. Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis wrote that although Ghostface's lyrics were tough to decipher and comprehend, "his urgent, overpowering flow is designed to maintain the unrehearsed immediacy of freestyle rapping, in which cadence, sound, and unconscious association triumph over logic."
The 2000 Wu-Tang Clan release The W found the group "at its most focused," wrote Christopher John Farley in Time. "The W becomes a terrifically varied album," he continued, "full of differing vocal textures and provocative rhythmic and lyrical ideas." The album was recorded over two months while the entire group shared a house in Los Angeles. For the strength of Ghostface's Supreme Clientele, The RZA's Ghost Dog soundtrack, and The W, Rolling Stone named the group "People of the Year" in 2000. Rolling Stone critic Mark Binelli wrote The W "hearkens back to the explosive group dynamic" of the Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 debut. Ghostface's third release, Cuban Linx 2: Bulletproof Wallets was due in the summer of 2001.
by Brenna Sanchez
Ghostface Killah's Career
Joined childhood friends to form the Wu-Tang Clan, 1991; appeared on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), 1993; appeared on Raekwon's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, 1995; first solo track, "Winter Warz," appeared on soundtrack for Don't Be a Menace to South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, 1996; released debut solo album, Ironman, 1996; released Supreme Clientele, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Ghostface Killah
- Ironman , Columbia, 1996.
- (Contributor) Don't Be a Menace to South Central While You're Drinking Your Juice in the Hood (soundtrack), Uni/Mercury, 1996.
- Supreme Clientele , Epic/Razor Sharp, 2000.
- Wu-Tang Clan
- Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) , Loud/RCA, 1993.
- Wu-Tang Forever , Loud/RCA, 1997.
- Wu-Chronicles , Priority, 1999.
- The W , Loud/Columbia/Sony, 2000.
October 4, 2005: Ghostface Killah's album, 718: Stapleton to Somalia, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, October 7, 2005.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 8, 1996, p. 69; March 3, 2000, p. 74.
- Melody Maker, January 17, 1998, p. 4.
- New York Times, November 5, 1996, p. C18.
- Rolling Stone, February 4, 1999, p. 25; March 16, 2000, p. 74; April 13, 2000, p. 48; December 14, 2000, p. 126.
- Time, December 11, 2000, p. 83.
- Village Voice, March 28, 2000, p. 110.
- "Ghostface Killah," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 17, 2001).
- "Ghostface Killah," The SourceOnline, http://www.thesource.com (April 17, 2001).
- "Ghostface Killah," ARTISTdirect, http://ubl.artistdirect.com (May 1, 2001).
- Ghostface Killah Official Website, http://www.ghostfacekillah.com (April 17, 2001).