It’s been almost 23 years since Wu-Tang Clan released their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), a true rap classic considered as a high point in the genre. The 10-man crew was a perfect mix of unique voices and strong personalities, fusing together to make a unified sound. The lyrics were vivid, the beats were gritty and the hooks can still get a house party shaking to this day.
The years that followed saw the members of the group develop their individual styles through several highly-acclaimed solo albums, occasionally reuniting to reform Voltron and drop a full crew project. Ghostface Killah is one of the most prolific members of the group, releasing 12 solo studio albums including his 1996 debut Ironman, and making guest appearances on countless others.
Now 46 years old, Ghost continues to weave cinematic narratives over classic R&B samples, recently collaborating with Toronto jazz/Hip Hop instrumental group BadBadNotGood for 2015’s Sour Soul and putting out Twelve Reasons to Die II, which featured spots from Wu-Tang members RZA and Raekwon.
At the same time, he’s working on the long-awaited Supreme Clientele 2 album and now he’s been tasked with coordinating the next Wu-Tang reunion, the first since 2014’s A Better Tomorrow.
HipHopDX spoke to the rap legend after his set at the NXNE festival in Toronto on June 17 to get his thoughts on the current state of Hip Hop, which city has the best weed, and how Apple Jacks aren’t as good as they used to be.
HipHopDX: What’s on your mind lately? What’ve you been doing these days?
Ghostface Killah: Just staying busy, working, thinking about what my next move is. Got to put this new Wu-Tang album together. Of course, my Supreme Clientele 2 album. A lot of other things are there that I don’t wanna talk about yet. I like to let things manifest themselves. A lot of times I put it out there first and it just fucks it up because the energy is already out there. Just living life, man.
DX: Is another Wu-Tang album something we can expect?
Ghostface Killah: RZA put the ball in my hand. He said ‘Yo, I want you to do it,’ and I been wanting to do it, and that’s a big test for me right there.
DX: Wu-Tang is a group that at one point had the same sound, and now the members have kind of moved in different directions and are experimenting with different sounds, a recent example being RZA working with Paul Banks from Interpol. For a Wu-Tang reunion, would it be bringing it back to that old sound, or trying to find something new that incorporates what you’re all doing?
Ghostface Killah: I mean, you got to always go back to the foundation … It’s not what you do it’s how you do it. But it has to be done right. If it don’t fit then we can’t do it. It’ll just have to be done nice. That’s it. People can’t talk about it unless it’s good.
DX: With the ball in your court, are you making those phone calls to get the group back together yet?
Ghostface Killah: No, because I’m going to do my part first and let them know what I did and then have them listen to that and follow my lead. It’s like how they do in sports with athletes. It’s like alright, just follow my lead. [So I’ll be making the calls about who is on what track, etc.] I could be wrong, but my ears are my judgment. My heart tells me what’s right. But then again it might be somebody unexpected that blows everybody away. That’s how the Clan be. You never know who’s going to blow the track.
DX: Are there any other guys you’re interested in bringing in for the project aside from the core group?
Ghostface Killah: I mean when we do this, we don’t got to bring nobody in. Unless there’s somebody that’s already out with a strong name or a good voice that would be good. I learned to not be selfish. People know us. We got 10 people in the goddamn group. But you could still use different guys as different instruments — I look at people’s voices as instruments that complement the track and make it sound good. When I do my Supreme Clientele 2, I might want a Rick Ross or [Mobb Deep’s] P and Havoc because the beat calls for it like that. Who might sound good on this? It’s like you never know until you put it together.
DX: XXL just did their Freshman cover. Who would be on your list right now?
Ghostface Killah: Oh! Drake!
Ghostface Killah: Drake! Yeah man I like Drake. He really can rhyme though. You don’t really know what’s happening in the beginning of a rapper’s career. That’s with all rappers.
DX: Drake’s an up and comer for you?
Ghostface Killah: No he’s not an up and comer. I thought you meant young. He been here for like 4-5 years. That’s what it is now. Jay Z, The Lox, Jadakiss and them, everybody got they position. I ain’t really know what to call it but the younger generation. I like Uncle Murda, Drake, even ScHoolboy Q.
DX: I saw you talking to Q backstage today, is that the first time you met him?
Ghostface Killah: Yeah. First time I met him physically. I’m a lyrical guy — I like how you put words together, and shit like that. I’m one of those guys.
DX: One of the main criticisms I’m hearing in Hip Hop now is that there isn’t the same appreciation for lyricism anymore. Waka Flocka said recently that “clever rap is over.” Do you feel like lyricism is still appreciated in rap?
Ghostface Killah: Of course! Of course, but you know it don’t get promoted that way. Everything is so clubby nowadays. Big bass. Easy words. Ain’t nothing really being said. And that’s the mindstate of the children today and that’s because they can’t do it that way too. They can’t say “I grew up on the crime side, the New York Times side…” it don’t even click with ’em like that. No disrespect to nobody but the easy shit you know? “Stanky Legg” and this and that and the third. They into the easy rap now. That’s no disrespect.
DX: Is that a bad thing?
Ghostface Killah: I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing because it’s evolving. Nothing ever stays the same. That’s where your kids is at and everything. Shit, I got kids that love that. It just changes. But you got to change with the times too. But still know what got you here. If you take a real famous cake like Hostess or Entenmann’s cake like they got in New York, you want your same Entenmann’s cake that you tasted in New York 20 years ago. You don’t really want them throwing a bunch of other shit in there that they had. It just fucks it up.
Nothing even taste the same no more. Cereal? Fruity Pebbles, Trix, Apple Jacks, it don’t taste the same. They’re tryna save money and use cheaper ingredients like preservatives. But it’s never the same, you don’t ever hardly find the same taste. You could order watermelon, and the watermelons don’t got black seeds no more it’s just all white seeds. Some oranges don’t got seeds. Some apples don’t got seeds. They changed ‘em because they’re clones. It’s a lot of other stuff like that.
DX: With the cereal, I wonder if there’s a nostalgia element. Like, it always tastes better in our memory than when we’re having it now.
Ghostface Killah: Nah, but I remember when I had Apple Jacks and it was the shit! But now when you taste it, it don’t taste as good as it did back then.
DX: You can see that as a parallel for rap right now. They’re using cheaper ingredients, and feeding it to the public and the public is eating it up.
Ghostface Killah: Right, but now since these guys is not saying nothing meaningful like Rakim used to do that and KRS-ONE and them, they had meaningful shit to say. They’re for us, our age. It’s simple-minded rap now. I remember a girl said ‘I don’t wanna hear bomb atomically in the club because it make me think too much.’ I can dig that. You don’t wanna have to be thinking in the club. Everything is so much of just club shit. Every fucking thing. It’s too much. There’s no message no more. It’s not what you do it’s how you do it. There’s still some stuff that can get a message across, but a lot of it doesn’t. That shit ain’t me. I’m from the Rakim era, I’m from the Big Daddy Kane era. Even though times change, but I prefer that. Or I prefer some R&B music…
It’s cool though. Sometimes you got to get with [different styles], just so you can show your versatility a little bit. But don’t do it when you trying to play yourself. Even though the fans, they think you’re trying to play yourself. The fans are very, very hard to keep happy, like ‘Oh no, why he did this?’ I could take a picture with fucking Drake and they’ll be mad. It’s just a fucking picture, man. At the end of the day we’re all people. I’m not mad at nobody in this game, most of these guys I ain’t never even broke bread with, so what the fuck am I mad for? You never stole money from me. You ain’t fucking my chick and if you was, you can have her. ‘Cause that’s not my bitch.DX: The Martin Shkreli story caught the public consciousness and it was such a bizarre back and forth between you guys. Where do you stand with that now?
Ghostface Killah: Fuck Shkreli. You know where I stand with ‘em. I would never see Skreli. Some people want they fifteen minutes of fame, and sometimes you got to ignore certain shit. I learned to ignore shit as I got older, or to try to ignore it. I’m a Taurus the Bull so I got a very high temper. I try to swallow my pride and don’t do shit, like I got a lot more to lose than he got to lose. I got family, babies, children. If I really got upside ya head, they gonna arrest me. They not gonna lock you up.
DX: It felt like he was trolling you. Trying to get under your skin.
Ghostface Killah: The devil does that. He was playing a part of who he really is, and hurting people with AIDS. That was my main thing. You’re a piece of shit if you’re just gonna take someone who’s sick, and take their medicine, $13.50 a pill to like $700 a pill? Who does that? I wasn’t doing that to get under his skin, he might’ve just wanted to feed off me to try to get attention for buying that Wu album. That was my thing. You know damn well you ain’t never gonna see me. That’s it because if I ever would’ve seen that dude, I might’ve literally smacked his fucking head off. Then I’m in jail now ’cause he’s going to press charges after what I would’ve done to him.
DX: I just learned about Wu Goo through the bizarre infomercial from earlier this year. Tell me what’s happening with that.
Ghostface Killah: Well the Wu Goo is going good. We doing a lot of deals. We got that CBD oil that we’re going to be pushing. For the smokers out there that like to get high, you can get the oil direct through that pen and just blow that. It’s safer than paper because it’s clean, it’s organic and things of that nature.
DX: What city has the best weed in the world?
Ghostface Killah: The best weed in the world? [Long pause] Uhhhhhhh…
DX: If it takes you that long to think about it, it must be Toronto. [laughs]
Ghostface Killah: Toronto got its thing. Toronto, I guess. Denver.
DX: Denver, Colorado?
Ghostface Killah: Yeah Denver got some shit. It be spots where you wouldn’t even know had the good shit. My man just said he went to Australia and was like ‘Oh shit!’ Yeah man. Shit like that when you don’t even really know that be in there like that. My man Ben from out there in Oregon. Killa Dilla, like that’s Oregon.
DX: Anything else that’s making you happy or pissing you off these days?
Ghostface Killah: Nah man I’m just tryna live life, man. Just whatever. Give all praise due to God, man. That’s it.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.