Ghostface Killah Pays Homage to Past Era of Hip Hop in Santa Barbara Show


Kyle Roe
Arts & Entertainment Editor

Ghostface Killah’s Glorious Days Tour made a stop in Santa Barbara on Mar. 8, bringing slow rolling lyricism over hard-hitting 90’s hip-hop beats to SOhO Restaurant & Music Club’s half-furnished, half-factory-style performance space.

The line leading into the venue stretched around the corner, with a few ticketless attendees waiting outside the door for the precious final spat of tickets. Inside, the guests enjoyed drinks, milled around, or gathered around the stage to secure an early spot, as a DJ warmed-up the crowd with pre-2010 hip-hop tracks. The DJ incorporated a lot of vinyl records into his set, lending it an entertaining aura of authenticity and human touch that constructed an atmosphere without demanding complete attention.

Opening act Freemurda demanded much more attention as a fellow New York City rapper who has collaborated with members of the Wu-Tang Clan in the past, most noticeably with RZA on his 2003 album Birth of a Prince as a member of the Cuffie Crime Family (CCF) Division. Not only is Freemurda the cousin of RZA, GZA, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, he’s the son of Popa Wu, who serves as a mentor figure in the Wu-Tang Clan. During his set, he referred to Ghostface Killah as his “big brother” and a significant reason why he became active in hip-hop.

Despite his deep associations with the old-school-minded WTC, Freemurda’s newest songs are strikingly more trap-influenced than his previous releases, even recent albums like 2015’s Yellow Tape. His new musical direction could be a sign he’s finding his own sound and stylistic identity beyond WTC. It’s a generic sound, but still a deviation from some of his immediate surroundings.

Memorable moments included his boasts of “I don’t be no plug/We the outlet,” from his newest single, “Outlet,” and a spirited acapella freestyle at the end of his set. Unencumbered by instrumental or lyrical restraints, he dished out a couple food stereotypes (“Got more cheese than a Sicilian”), professed his love for older women, and made references to classic cartoon characters (including “You better duck like you Daffy” and “You wet me like agua/On some Goofy shit”).

After a short breather, Ghostface Killah manned the stage with his testosterone-exuding, all-male entourage in tow, some casually bobbing their heads while others filmed sections of the performance with professional cameras and personal phones. He immediately launched into Raekwon’s “Ice Cream,” where he was a guest feature, following up with the more masturbatory and braggadocios “We Made It,” still proudly proclaiming “From Rikers Island to the Cayman Island/We thugs, like life is the same challenge” decades after becoming a hip-hop legend.

Those decades have been filled with fervent activity, with over 30 albums released under his name as both a solo act (sometimes in collaboration) and as part of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Ghostface’s newest music varies in style and theme. It ranges from jazzier projects with BADBADNOTGOOD and an Adrian Younge-led ensemble, in which the latter imitated classic Italian film scores mixed with ’90s hip-hop production, to guest appearances on rehashes of seminal hip-hop tracks. Ghostface performed one of the latter songs, a version of Mobb Deep’s “Eye for an Eye,” released in 2015 though originally recorded in 1994 alongside Nas and Raekwon, which melded with his strong vocal delivery and nostalgic boom-bap production perfectly enough to pass as an old Wu-Tang track.

In a homage to all the stoners in the audience, Ghostface asked the venue to change the stage-lights from blue to green before launching into “Ghost Deini” off 2000’s Supreme Clientele, asking, “How can I move the crowd/First of all, no mistakes allowed,” and singing a short ode to Marvin Gaye, Biggie Smalls, and Tupac Shakur for the bridge. In between some songs the DJ played a quick sample that combined the sounds of broken glass, gunshots, and traffic in a casual representation of the everyday violence that inspired all the night’s songs.

Toward the end of his set, Ghostface set aside some time to let his DJ play “real hip-hop,” which included tracks from iconic rappers like Big Daddy Kane, Doug E. Fresh, and Biz Markie. He elaborated that he respected recent hip-hop artists, but that he’s “cut from the cloth of the 80’s, 90’s hip-hop era” and will always prefer music from that time period. Soon after, he asked the venue to turn off all the lights so attendees could brighten the room with phones and lighters. Almost everyone obliged, filling the inside area with an intimate lighting that illuminated Ghostface and Co.’s faces more clearly than the overhead bulbs.

Ghostface spent the last few songs trying to goad as much energy from the crowd as possible, telling them to jump high enough to grab the disco ball from SOhO’s ceiling while a member of his entourage poured Grey Goose into people’s mouths. He wrapped up the concert with obligatory classics like “C.R.E.A.M.,” at first looking subdued with his hands in his pockets, a raucous “Protect Ya Neck,” and “Box in Hand,” off his debut solo album Ironman, which he performed after a fan handed him a vinyl copy of the album to sign.

Two essential lessons from any Ghostface Killah show or project are 1) always stay true to those who support and care about you, and 2) eat plenty of seafood. After all, both are good for keeping your brain healthy and your head in the right place.