Sunday SoundCheck: Ghostface Killah - Set the Tone

During the outro to his new album, Set the Tone, Ghostface Killah is already advertising his next project, the long-awaited Part 2 sequel to his Y2K masterpiece Supreme Clientele. Perhaps he senses that fans might feel a little letdown by Set the Tone, as it nosedives into a middling mess from the start. 

In an odd way to set the tone (pun intended), the first voice we hear on the album's opening track, "6 Minutes" is not Ghostface but Jim Jones... was Cam'ron unavailable? The array of bewildering guests continue, with Ja Rule jump scaring the generic R&B crooner "Bad Bitch," some rando named Iceman on the grating 'Kilo in the Safe' and the newly slim Fat Joe on "Cape Fear"
which is more Tubi original than Scorsese. 

Kanye West, last seen on Infowars looking like Ghostface circa the "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'" video, delivers a suspiciously dated verse on the aptly titled meh that is 'No Face' which recycles a Bulletproof Wallets melody. Always down to exploit a trend, Busta Rhymes shows up on the lame Bad Bunny ripoff  "Shots" which has the go of a corrosive Energizer battery.

When Andre 3000 reemerged last year and released his album of Calm music, he gave a peculiar interview in a L.A. laundry mat where he said that nobody wants to hear old rappers talk about colonoscopies. Even in the early days of the Wu-Tang Clan, Tony Starks styled himself an old-timer and I couldn't think of a better rapper to pontificate on AARP memberships and hip replacements. But we don't get wisdom from Ghostface on Set the Tone, absent are any reflections on his past homophobic and misogynistic lyrics that Jay-Z wrestled with on the well-aged 4:44. 

Despite being signed to Nas' Mass Appeal label and Escobar himself appearing on "Scar Tissue," one of the few standouts, Ghostface hasn't seemed to channel the King's Disease regimen for aging gracefully. Instead we get his bizarre ode to birth control, "Plan B", which is about as tone-def as it gets given today's legislative environment.

In the era of pillow fighting between Kendrick Lamar and Drake, it's odd to hear Ghostface jack lines from the late Biggie Smalls, a rapper he didn't like and famously labeled a biter on an Only Built 4 Cuban Linx skit. "Pair of Hammers," a shameless Ready to Die karaoke session with Method Man phoning it in, might've been saved with more inspired production from a legend like DJ Premier or Easy Moo Bee. Hence a glaring issue throughout this new Ghost album is the beats, mostly by unknowns, seem AI generated.

Set the Tone is subtitled Guns & Roses and given the bouquet of R&B and soul backdrops, it seems Ghostface was aiming for an action-romance blockbuster. But there is nothing as magical as "Holla" or "Cherchez LaGhost" on this effort. Concept tracks like "White Linen Affair" from 2007's The Big Doe Rehab sound transcendent next to anything on Set the Tone. 

Thankfully, some of the guests pick-up the slack. The generic slow jam "Locked In" is boosted by a dependably smooth guest verse from AZ.  Raekwon adds much needed flair on "Skate Odyssey," a flop that reworks a Whispers deep cut with singer October London doing his best Marvin Gaye tribute. It's not a good sign when the only Raekwon feature isn't even on the level of "Never Be The Same Again."

Fittingly, the album's true highlight is a brief skit where Ghostface riffs on his favorite cereals including Fruity Pebbles, Fruit Loops and Apple Jacks, but "with the real cinnamon," of course. If only Ghostface would've applied that same passion and charisma for breakfast on the rest of Set the Tone.  


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