Since the announcement that Toronto trio BadBadNotGood and Wu-Tang Klan’s Ghostface Killah would be working together, the products of their labour have been nothing if not hotly anticipated. In the last few years, BadBadNotGood have built up a reputation for producing explosive fusions that experiment with the traditional parameters of jazz, hip-hop and electronic music. Having collaborated with such hip hop heavyweights as Tyler, The Creator, Frank Ocean and Leland Whitty, their collaboration with Ghostface then seemed like something that would be a natural and exciting step for the trio.
Onlookers have hoped that the bringing together of these creative minds would spark something fresh and new from both sides. In Sour Soul, we get an album that features a range of interesting extra artists and sees BadBadNotGood meticulously demonstrate their musical capabilities, but it feels like Ghostface Killah is resting on his laurels.
The succinct 30-minute album does not give much material to work with, being only nine tracks long, with three of the tracks being instrumentals much in the vein of the the jazz interlude of the opening track Mono. With the album’s title track Sour Soul, we get the first taste of what Ghostface has to offer, and it begins well, yet stays very much within his comfort zone.
Saying that, there is still much to be applauded. The album was inspired hugely by the 1960s and ’70s and uses live instrumentation over sampling throughout which gives it a more genuine and interesting feel. The combination of the jazz and rock inspired instrumentals and Ghostface’s expressive, accusative flows make for exciting listening, even if it has an air of predictability about it.
It’s only when the other collaborators come into play that the music really steps up a gear. Take the explosive Six Degrees, with its guitar riff that is suspiciously reminiscent of Dr Dre circa The Next Episode. It is only when Detroit MC Danny Brown brings his contribution to the table that the rap begins to get more interesting, and in fact it almost seems that Brown’s verses challenge Ghostface, forcing him to push himself to step it up. Then there’s Elzhi’s efforts on Gunshowers and DOOM on Ray Gun; every partnership works to add another layer to the tracks, giving them another edge beyond Ghostface’s solitary efforts.
Ghostface is at his most exciting during Mind Playing Tricks, where he seems to have got his flow back and the combined vision really comes together. However, there are times on the album where it really feels like more of an instrumental album than anything else. Time and time again, it is not the raps or the verses that take centre stage, but the tightly set backing instrumentals from BadBadNotGood. The instrumentals bring about more of a nostalgic hip hop feel than the actual rapping does.
All in all, the combination of BadBadNotGood and Ghostface Killah sounds mostly like a really, really good jam session between the two acts, and there are moments when the music shines and the layers all come together in explosive fashion. The nature of the way it has been written and recorded just means that sometimes it lacks focus. It is always interesting when two different talents get together to create something new; there is the opportunity to do something great and groundbreaking. Sour Soul doesn’t quite push any boundaries, but ultimately it doesn’t really matter, because even if there was potential for it to be so much more, it still just about ticks the right boxes.