Talking About Life with Ghostface Killah
Mr. Ghostface himself.
The rap game is no country for old men. Still, 20 years after Dennis Coles first donned a hockey mask and hit it big as the Ghostface Killah of rap’s most influential group, he continues to strengthen his legacy as one of the most revered solo stylists in rap history. Equally beloved by proselytizing hip-hop purists, swag-generation streetwear bros, mouth-breathing bloggers, and stodgy old music critics, Ghostface has long parlayed his cult-hero status into mainstream notoriety. He’s appeared as himself in two episodes of 30 Rock, affected a vague accent for a much-discussed cameo in Iron Man (depressingly left on the cutting-room floor), and been immortalized as an action figure draped in a real 14-karat-gold chain.
His latest album, 12 Reasons to Die (co-created by composer and producer, Adrian Younge), is an audio movie that trades on his penchant for dizzyingly evocative bars that could easily double as true-crime fiction. After wrapping up a 49-date tour in support of the album, and nearly a month and 50 emails after our initial contact, the Wallabee Kingpin called us to drop knowledge on what he’d do if he was forced to retire from rap, the power of starting now, the (sometimes exhausting) fervor of European fans, lessons he wished he learned in the 90s, and why molly is wack.
VICE: Your latest album, 12 Reasons to Die, is an audio movie influenced by blaxploitation films, mob movies, and Italian horror films. What horror movies do you remember liking as a kid?
Ghostface Killah: I wasn’t into horror movies.
I caught your recent performance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and it was great. It’s obvious you take pride in performing live. How do you feel like your performances and shows changed over the years?
Well, you know, you feel more comfortable. You’re comfortable with the songs that you’re doing. A lot of times it just depends on the vibe of what’s going on, you know what I mean. I just started working with the band again for 12 Reasons, and it’s different from having a DJ. To me it’s just a vibe. You gotta be comfortable. I’m comfortable with my music. 'Cause some days going into the crowd might not be right, the mics might not be right, and that can just throw everything off, so you’ll just be like, Let me get this shit over with.
But if you’re with it and you’re feeling it and the crowd is with you and the energy you’re giving them, they’re giving it back to you, it makes a huge difference. I just can’t say it’s an everyday thing on a regular basis you’re going to fuck around and get a good performance. I would appreciate it if I was a fan. But for me, personally, it shifts. It just depends.
You’ve been around the world for the last 20 years, from Ireland to Japan and back. Where was the place you experienced the biggest culture shock?
What you mean by culture shock?
A place where you felt weird or out of place, or you found it hard to acclimate yourself to a new place.
Everything is quite the same to me, you know what I mean. They might have a different culture, how they eatin’ and certain shit, and how they live, but as far as going on stage—it is what it is. Music and a microphone. I’ve been to all the way to Japan and Hawaii and all parts of Europe. Russia, Czechoslovakia, and all that other shit. Everything is the same. When you get overseas, it gets better for you. Because they appreciate it more than what the United States and other places I’ve been to. So I can’t even shit on them.
The only thing about going overseas is that they just want more. They want you to fuck around and be up there for three fuckin’ hours and shit.
They don’t want you to stop.
Twelve Reasons to Die is now available on cassette, comic, and CD formats.
Do you remember the moment you had where you sit back and felt like, Damn. I guess we made it.
[Long silence] I don’t really have a moment like that. I remember when we got on, when we first got our record played. I remember that. That was a very, very good feeling, hearing yourself on the radio. We was living in a house together and shit. We were happy. That’s about it.
Everything else has been a day-by-day thing for us. I don’t think we take it too, too, too seriously. Especially back then when we couldn’t recognize the blessing that was going on. Even right now, we know that it’s a blessing but I don’t even think it really, really sunk in.
You seem very spiritual and peaceful. How do you stay so zen?
I’m just a regular person, like any other ordinary person is. Things is real around here, you know what I mean? God is real. You have a lot of prophets, angels, everything is real, you know. You know me, I’m a deep person, so my mind goes really, really deep. It’s like when I look into the depths of things, dealing with my spirituality and the most high, it’s serious. It’s nothing to play with, nah'mean? I try my best to be as humble as I can be. It’s very hard to try to stay humble in this world that we’re living in right now. But I don’t have a choice because I could wild out and get 25 years to life, easy.
I’m talking about the way I think and everything like that. It’s a process. But you gotta love the most high more than anything. Because the more love you have for that energy, it’ll stop you from a lot of the bullshit you might be getting into because you don’t fear no one but the most high. And that’s where I am in my life right now.
But I ain’t no sucker, though. I know that when it’s all said and done, we all gotta answer to the most high. And I just want my slate to be as good as it can be. Sometimes your impulse is to wild out and do the dumb shit that enters your mind based on somebody else’s ways and actions. That can get you in a lot of trouble. Or you can just chill out and let it blow past. You know, I’m just at that stage right now.
At this point in your career, you’ve had an action figure, you’ve had a book, The World According to Pretty Toney, you were a video-game character in Def Jam: Vendetta. What’s the one Ghostface product that doesn’t exist that you’d like to make?
You know, I have a few movie scripts that I wrote. I would love to see that come into play when the most high grants us with the chance. I would love that.
If you had to stop rapping, what job do you think you would you be best suited for?
That’s when I would have to be on my deen and just follow the ways. I gotta live like a prophet and just work for God. You know, just go around feeding people, and making sure that the sick is OK and things of that nature.
Is there anything that you know now about the industry that you wish you knew when you were younger in the game?
There’s a lot of things. I wish I learned to know the business better. Write as much music as you can now. To not be around certain people, you know. Hang out less with your homeboys and spend more time with business-minded motherfuckers.
But you know, you can’t dwell on that. Because now is the time to do what you gotta do. We’re not done yet. So whatever it is I wanted to do then, we can do it now. It might take you some time, but you know what, a lot of us ain’t really doing nothing with our time. Just sitting back, getting high, talking bullshit, and cracking jokes all day when you could just be focused. 'Cause now… time is just flying, yo. One year seems like six months now. It don’t seem like a whole 12 months. You just gotta not let that shit pass you by. And whatever you got going for you or you’re trying to do, you lay it out right now and even if [it doesn’t work out], you just say, “All right, fuck it, I did it. I’m just going to let everything manifest itself.”
At least you did it. And it’s like, okay, whether it comes into play or not, you can't skip it. That’s what we do a lot of times. We say some fly shit, we say we want to do shit, but we’re just fucked up. We’re wishing. Damn, I wish I would have done that. This motherfucker came out with it and now he’s rocking with it. It’s like, Yo, I had the idea, all we had to do was get in the door somewhere.
You know, we fuck up a lot of shit like that, though. But it is what it is. It’s life. Ain’t nobody perfect.
I’ve heard you talk about how you feel like younger kids in rap and outside of rap don’t have the same kind of respect that you had coming up. What’s the message that you’d like to instill in young rappers or young kids who may be out there and directionless?
I mean try to listen to the people that are—I’m not just going to say important—but listen more. When somebody tells you something, it don’t mean somebody is trying to hurt you and shit like that. It’s like a lot of times when somebody is telling you something, they’re telling you that because of what they experienced and what they went through. What is it—babies having babies and shit. These little kids are coming up 'cause their mothers were into drugs and the streets and in all the clubs. They’re young. A little motherfucker that’s 18 right now… their mom is probably 38, 40. Or whatever the case may be. They’re young. They were 18 to 20 when they had them. That’s what it is. Babies having babies, so their mentality is on some other shit. They don’t listen. They’re more disrespectful now because their parents aren't really chastising 'em no more. And even those that do try to chastise, since the kids are so much up to date now, they’ll fuck around and call the police on you.
Second of all, they don’t have God in their life. If they knew what the most high was really about, you ain’t just living here just to be here. There’s a reason why we’re here. There’s a reason for everything. But the kids don’t know that. They just think they were born free and this is what it is. Not knowing that all this is going to catch up with you in your later years.
The kids gotta learn more. They gotta listen more. Be to God more. Listen to your parents, man. Fuck that molly shit. Even the lean and all that other shit. I’m not telling you to stop it and shit, but don’t let that become your whole life. Don’t let that become you, nah'mean? Word.
Thanks a lot, Ghostface. I really appreciate it.
All right, yo. Hold it down.
Follow Jordan on Twitter: @jordanisjoso
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