Ghostface Killah (or GFK for short) is the king of the storytelling concept album, and his latest release can only cement this reputation. 36 Seasons tells the story of Tony Starks (GFK’s alter-ego) returning to Staten Island after nine years, only to find that in his absence, the neighbourhood has drastically changed for the worst. Overall, the skill and ferocity with which GFK breathes new life is into an old idea is seriously impressive.
It could be said that 36 Seasons’ narrative lacks complexity: Tony Starks cleans up the streets, gets betrayed, then finally emerges victorious in an almost inevitable fashion. However, GFK isn’t completely retreading old ground when it comes to narrative. For example, his relationship with his girlfriend Bamboo is surprisingly sweet. The theme of suspicion of both government and gang is particularly well-balanced, with a reference to police using ‘illegal chokeholds’ landing especially hard. GFK is clearly interested in exploring all the nuances of returning to a community after an enforced absence, and he does so with aplomb.
Almost inevitably though, when an album is intended to tell a single coherent story, few tracks stand out. ‘Emergency Procedure’, which heavily features Pharoahe Monch, is the closest we get to a genuine banger, but so much would be lost by taking it out of context that a single release would be criminal.
Even when experiencing the album as a coherent whole, there are still a few imperfections. Throughout, GFK uses backing from The Revelations, and while their soul-infused beats are perfect for the more emotional tracks, they tend to come up short for the action-heavy parts of the album. At their worst, they undermine the grit of GFK’s lyrics and can make the whole exercise seem a little absurd. ‘The Dogs of War’ and ‘Blood in the Streets’ both would have heavily benefited heavily from a slightly less laid-back baseline and a little more fire to really sell GFK’s vision of gangland warfare.
Ultimately, though, this is still the work of an artist at the top of the game. 36 Seasons takes a few more listens to properly appreciate than many will be willing to give, but those who stick with it will be rewarded with a deep narrative and some genuinely eye-opening social commentary.