At a time when rap on the east coast was in need a revival, the Wu-Tang Clan emerged to help spearhead a mid-90s renaissance throughout New York’s five boroughs with their seminal 1993 debut album, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Not the prototypical version a rap group, Wu-Tang would splinter after the release 36 Chambers, unleashing a barrage solo efforts from key members the crew.
Ghostface Killah would be the fifth member the Wu-Tang family tree to release a solo debut, stepping up to the plate in fall 1996 with Ironman, which would showcase the making one the more charismatic and indelible artists in hip-hop.
Fans got a healthy dose Ghostface’s potent rhymes via his guest appearances on Raekwon the Chef’s classic 1995 debut effort, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but Ironman saw Ghostface as the headliner. Released on Oct. 29, 1996, via Epic, through RZA’s Razor Sharp imprint, the album saw Ghostface enlisting Raekwon and new Wu-Tang inductee Cappadonna as the two main co-stars on the project. In addition, fellow clansmen Method Man, U-God, Masta Killa, Inspectah Deck and RZA make guest appearances.
Debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart with 156,000 copies sold, Ironman would eventually go platinum and be heralded as a classic album its era.
To celebrate the 20th anniversary Ghostface Killah’s Ironman album, we picked out the five most infectious tracks from the LP. Did your favorite make the cut?
Although the majority the production on Ironman is handled by RZA, his trusty disciple Tru Master swoops in for the kill with his production assist on “Fish.” The song features a sample “Change Is Gonna Come” by Otis Redding and dialogue from the film Crying Freeman. On the track, Ghostface delivers metaphoric rhymes like, “We eat fish, toss salads and make rap ballads / The biochemical slanglord’ll throw the Arabs / In the dope fiend, vocal chords switch laser beams / My triple sevens broke the slot machines out in Queens,” over a regal soundbed. Raekwon and Cappadonna add their efficient verses on this smooth-as-butter track as well.
Ghostface Killah transforms into the charismatic Pretty Tony on “Camay,” a suave affair from that’s aimed at seducing the ladies. The song open with Rae, who comes with his best lyrical game, trying to seal the deal with a woman who is playing hard to get. Cappadonna fairs a bit better on the second verse, but it’s GFK who seals the show. He spits an animated 16-bar rhyme, which sees him practically groveling for the panties. While not a major radio hit, “Camay,” and its accompanying video, has become an undisputed classic in Ghostface’s catalog.
“Say peace to cats who rock MAC Knowledge Knowledges / Street astrologists, light up the mic God, acknowledge this / Fly joints that carry two points, Corolla Motorola holder / Play it God, E-pack over the shoulder” Raekwon spits at the beginning “Daytona 500,” a major standout track on Ironman. Also featuring Cappadonna, who serves as the anchor the track, the three MCs get f to the races with wordy flows and clever quips. “I’ll slapbox with Jesus, lick shots at Joseph,” raps Ghostface. With a groovy hook supplied by Force M.D.’s, and bars galore, “Daytona 500″ is simply an indelible Wu-Tang banger.
“All That I Got Is You”
One the first displays Ghostface Killah’s sentimental touch was on the touching “All That I Got Is You.” Featuring Mary J. Blige on the hook, the song details GFK’s tumultuous childhood, including his days on welfare and the impoverished conditions he came age in.
“Check it, fifteen us in a three bedroom apartment / Roaches everywhere, cousins and aunts was there / Four in the bed, two at the foot, two at the head / I didn’t like to sleep with Jon-Jon he peed the bed / Seven o’clock, pluckin’ roaches out the cereal box / Some shared the same spoon, watchin’ Saturday cartoons / Sugar water was our thing, every meal was no frills,” raps Ghost.
“All That I Got Is You” is a passionate testimonial and a testament to the Ghost’s unique lyrical ability to emote his feeling on a song without diminishing his steely demeanor.
Of all the lyrical wizardry on Ironman, “Winter Warz” features some the album’s most exhilarating rhymes. With Raekwon and Cappadonna riding shotgun, Ghostface delves into his grab bag rhymes, spitting “You asked for it, shot up the jams like syringes / My technique alone blows doors straight f the hinges / Masked Avenger, I appear to blow your ear like wind / With a freestyle, sharper than the Indian spear” while following up U-God’s riveting opening stanza. Masta Killa also comes correct with potent bars his own, but the highlight it all is Wu-Tang’s resident step-brother, Cappadonna, who comes through with one the most memorable guest verses all time. Overall, the song deserves its Wu stamp approval and arguably one Ghost’s best tracks on his fantastic debut album.