Album Review: BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah – Sour Soul

A left field collaboration is pulled off with experimental flair, says

BBNG x GFK Sour Soul artwork 0 Rating: ★★★★☆

On the face of it, you wouldn’t really expect a marriage between veteran Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah and relative Toronto newcomers BADBADNOTGOOD (BBNG) to be harmonious. Killah’s dark, rapid-fire hip-hop vocals aren’t exactly the first thing you’d think of for an appropriate pairing for the soulful jazz style of BBNG.

And yet it completely works.

The stylish, airy melodies provided by BBNG elevate the Ghostface’s words to fine art. A perfect example of this excellent contrast is provided by the album’s eponymous track, ‘Sour Soul’. Ghostface plots and schemes, ruminating on corruption, technology and the American federal government against a backdrop of wonderfully rich bass and orchestral sound from BBNG. This is a world away from some of the sample-heavy hip hop that we have seen from Ghostface and the Wu Tang Clan.

BBNG & Ghostface Killah

BBNG & Ghostface Killah

The symmetry is not always perfect in this collaboration. In some tracks, most notably ‘Tone’s Rap’, the power of Ghostface’s voice is simply too much, and the melody seems to be a little bit washed out, almost an afterthought. This is probably the most forgettable track on the album.

This impression may only be a result of the preceding instrumental track, ‘Stark’s Reality’, though. Surely this has to be the considered up there as one of the silkiest instrumentals to ever appear on a hip hop album? Simultaneously swooping and laid back, this is absolutely wonderful; it’s BadBadNotGood at their best.

Of the four guest appearances on the album, ‘Ray Gun’ featuring MF Doom is probably the most interesting. This is one of the few tracks we have heard from Doom since he released NehruvianDoom in November, and his deep growling tone complements Ghostface’s nicely. The over-the-top sample that caps the final quarter of the track will be very familiar to people who have listened to Doom in the past.

It has long been known that Ghostface Killah and MF Doom have been working on a project together, called DOOMSTARKS, and if ‘Ray Gun’ is anything to go by, fans can be very excited for what is to come in the future from these two.

‘Food’, the penultimate track on the album, is probably the best combination of Ghostface’s unique vibes and BBNG’s lofty jazz style. It is impossible not to avoid linking the track to Killah’s earlier album, Fishscale. Fishscale, being a high quality grade of cocaine, has given way to fish for Ghostface, with his “debts to society” rather than to the drug dealers being the only thing he is interested in now. Ten years on from Fishscale, ‘Food’ really shows a shift in content for Ghostface Killah’s lyrics, just as the BBNG collaboration represents a shift away from the use of samples in his melodies.

From Sour Soul, both collaborators can walk away with their heads held high. BBNG continue to establish themselves as an emerging force – they will be at several European festivals in the summer, including Manchester’s Parklife – and Ghostface Killah yet again proves the versatility of his talent. Overall, it’s a fantastic collaboration album.

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