Dennis Coles, better known to the world as Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan, is undoubtedly one of hip hop’s most consistent and fascinating artists, a man who pens underworld narratives as gripping as Scorcese films, and the personification of comic book hero Ironman more than a decade before Robert Downey Jr – however geography is not one of the New York native’s strengths.
“How’s the beaches and everything, are they good?” Coles asks at the end of an interview about his upcoming tour Down Under. I regret having to be the bearer of bad news as I explain that he’ll be leaving a summer behind in the Northern Hemisphere and flying into a rather brisk Australian winter.
“I wanted to go on the beaches, lay in some sand,” he says. As someone visiting Australian shores for the first time, who could blame him?
Coles describes his set as “a lot of energy, a lot of classic songs, Wu Tang classic songs.” He’ll be touring with his DJ and members of Wu-affiliates Theodore Unit.
After debuting with the Wu Tang Clan on their classic 1993 debut Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers), Coles launched his solo career in 1996 with Ironman. Setting the tone for the rest of his career, the album was a critically acclaimed blend of dizzying narratives, mind-boggling non-sequiturs and heartbreakingly soulful production.
“I just found out I was diabetic,” Coles says of making the album. “It was cold outside, I remember I wasn’t really, really, really in the frame of mind that I wanted to be in, where I left off at Cuban Linx, it seemed like it started going somewhere else.”
While his solo debut was just one of many classics from the Wu Tang Clan in the mid-90s – following on from gems like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (on which Coles featured prominently), GZA’s Liquid Swords and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version – he avoided the group’s tendency towards sub par second albums with the equally outstanding Supreme Clientele in 2000.
Since then his career has been marked by consistently tight releases, often chronicling harsh realities of life in the ghetto and the ins and outs of dealing crack cocaine. He will, however, be making a departure from his established formula with his soon to be released eighth studio album – a hip hop / R&B project.
“You grow up, you know what I mean? You could talk about all the guns and crack you want all day but at the same time we’re getting older,” says Coles. “I don’t want to be 40 years old, talking about crack.”
When asked if the album will be in the style of Back Like That, an R&B tinged, Ne-Yo featuring single from his 2006 album Fishscale, he answers in the affirmative.
While Coles describes his new project as being on some “grown man shit”, don’t get it twisted and think Ghostface is going soft. Take, for instance, the aforementioned Back Like That. Over the song’s introduction, Ghostface can be heard speaking to a love rival, who his girlfriend has run off with. He takes the rival aside for a man to man exchange.
“It wasn’t really even that big, man, you know? Nah, it’s alright duke,” Ghostface says calmly, over the song’s melancholy keys and sampled crooning. “But anyway yo, let me get that coat. Let me get those jeans, and let me get that rock on your finger. Oh it’s stuck? Then I’ll take the whole finger then man…”
In addition to the hip hop / R&B solo album, Ghostface reveals that he will also be starting work on the next Wu Tang Clan album later this year – despite famously criticising the production of their last album, 2007’s 8 Diagrams, and even releasing his last solo album, The Big Doe Rehab, on the same day, essentially putting himself in direct competition with the group.