Ghostface made his Def Jam debut one to remember when he dropped his fourth solo studio album, The Pretty Toney Album, eleven years ago today (April 20). Blowing dust off of his record player and vintage vinyls, Ghost spins his usual brand of madcap gangster lyricism and imagery with HD quality. The resulting opus is a stellar near-classic that continues Ghostface’s consistent discography. Newbies to one of Wu-Tang’s top guns can get familiar with The Pretty Toney Album via this handy guide, based on some questions you might have after one listen.
Q: So... who is Pretty Toney, anyway?
A: Pretty Toney is our protagonist, the one and only Ghostface Killah of the Wu-Tang Clan (a.k.a. Ghostface, Ghost, Ghostdini, Tony Starks, Starky Love, The Wallabee Champ or his government name, Dennis Cole). The moniker is derived from his Ironman alter ego — also the name of Ghost’s landmark 1996 debut album. Marvel geeks know Iron Man is an alias for Tony Starks, which brings us to The Pretty Toney Album (nevermind the variant spellings of Tony).
Q: Why does the album begin with the most aggressive press conference ever?
A: The Pretty Toney Album dropped in the midst of speculation about the status of Wu-Tang Clan, a label change (to Def Jam) and a shifting rap game. He clears the air on some important points (“We just in the grind right now,” he says of Wu-Tang) and stiff arms other questions (“It’s none of your f**king business,” Ghost answers to one reporter’s innocent query about the length of TPTA’s recording process).
Q: Hey, where is Wu-Tang?
A: Ghostface opts for a Clan-free guestlist on The Pretty Toney Album, instead hooking up with The Lox, Jacki-O, Musiq Soulchild, K. Fox and Missy Elliott. RZA’s presence continues to diminish on this fourth studio LP, which only features two productions by The Abbot (“Run” and “Kunta Fly S**t”). Still, Wu affiliate Trife da God — a member of Ghostface’s Theodore Unit subset — makes an appearance on “Biscuits.”
Q: So there’s really no Raekwon on this LP?
A: Unfortunately not. But Ghostface holds his out without partner-in-rhyme Rae, spitting crime capers and hood erotica like a Donald Goines and Zane lovechild, bred in the streets of Shaolin. The tag team reunites on Ghostface’s 2006 LP Fishscale.
Q: Who is Supreme on “Beat The Clock” and why does he sound just like Ghostface?
A: Well, it is Ghostface. Or rather his inner self, Supreme, who challenges Ghost to a two-and-a-half minute rhymefest, in which he drops punchlines like, “Get off my D-I, then go C-the-K.” Consider it his lyrical exercise.
Q: Who the f**k brought Ghost this chocolate s**t, man?
A: It’s unclear, but whoever brought the wrong flavor energy drink on “Biscuits” (he said a banana Nutrament!) quickly learns not to screw up Pretty Toney’s order.
Q: Why would a Ghostface Killah and Missy Elliott collaboration ever happen?
A: Sigh. Yes, Ghost and Missy trade innuendos on “Tush,” the album’s lead single. On one hand, the song isn’t completely out of Ghost’s element, successfully pairing a funky ’70s sample with a raunchy-fun vibe that only Missy could pull off. Still, it reeks a bit of mainstream pandering.
Q: What’s the best thing about The Pretty Toney Album?
A: Ghostface continues carving out a sound that strays from RZA and Wu-Tang’s kung-fu influenced aesthetic. Here, Ghost raps over heavy doses of soul: Freddie Scott and David Ruffin records are neatly sliced up and repurposed. Conversely, the classic Delfonics cut “La La (Means I Love You)” is left intact — Ghost simply rhymes over the original song on the album standout “Holla.” From Jadakiss’s feature on the urgent “Run” to a surprisingly catchy Jacki-O feature on “Tooken Back,” the guests all bring their A-game. While sometimes amusing, the interludes hold things up a bit. Still, Pretty Toney is a sterling staple in Ghostface Killah’s catalog.
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(Photo: Def Jam)