Iron Man – Ghostface Killah’s classic gets the Get On Down treatment

Posted on 26 February 2013
By Carlton Whitfield
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By the time hip-hop ambled its way into the year 1996, one fact was undeniable: the Wu-Tang Clan was not only here to stay, but they were gaining momentum with each new solo release.

Ghostface Killah’s debut, Ironman, entered at #2 on the Billboard charts in late October and was gold with by early ’97.

Rarely has a producer in any musical genre been more on-fire than RZA during this era, and with his wide-ranging work on Ironman he refused to let-up on quality, even as he was clearly being stretched with an otherworldly workload.

Like Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx album from 1995, Ironman is a “co-billed” effort, with the artist title marquee listed as: Ghostface Killah featuring Raekwon and Cappadonna. And like Raekwon’s admirable sharing skills on Cuban Linx, Ghost only rocks solo on only four out of the album’s 17 tracks, with a singular end goal: to create a classic.

Rae and Cappadonna, of course, aren’t the only collaborators here: in true Wu family fashion, the guest list includes RZA, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, U-God, Masta Killa. And, in an interesting collaborational twist, R&B artists from three different eras – Mary J. Blige, the Force MDs and The Delphonics – lend a voice to the at-times soulful proceedings.

Noted hip-hop scribe Chris Faraone sets the stage for Ironman’s landing in the set’s liner notes: “With vigorous [Wu-Tang solo release] precedents before him, Ghostface set an even higher standard for himself, venturing deep through sound and space continuums that his comrades had already trampled, but also finding new frontiers to pillage.

With Rae and Park Hill vet and sleeper ace Cappadonna along for the ride, the MC known as Tony Starks barreled through love songs, posse cuts, verbal battlegrounds, and even soft ballads that show a softer side of the previously guarded Wu. As a result, Ghost earned a well-deserved rep as the group’s most versatile stylist, and as a rare rap artist who’s not afraid to appear vulnerable or pull heartstrings.”

Three singles from the eventually-platinum album were released by early 1997: “All That I Got Is You” (with Mary J. Blige); “Camay / Daytona 500”; and “Motherless Child” (from the soundtrack to “Sunset Park”). These three cuts couldn’t be more different, musically and stylistically, with Ghost’s slippery slang and RZA’s skillful production providing the only definitive continuity. And for many Wu fans, the singles – especially the pop-facing R&B of “All That I Got Is You” – were merely a side note, as they were drawn as much to complex album cuts like “Poisonous Darts,” “Winter Warz” and “Fish.”

Faraone sums up Ghost’s overall approach and status during the Ironman era: “Ironman is absolutely special for the young, starving artist that Ghost presents himself as. On smoke shows like ‘Poisonous Darts,’ he’s boxing every man in sight, throwing haymakers through the final bell. Years later – and especially by the time he returned solo, for Supreme Clientele, in 2000 – Ghost was almost another artist altogether… But as Tony Starks, he was still working to get there, kicking past the underground with two eyes on the prize and a ‘tude like Sonny Carson, the Brooklyn gang legend turned community leader whose autobiographical film is sampled on three tracks here.”

Re-mastered and given the loving deluxe reissue touch for which Get on Down is now renowned, it’s time to give Ironman another look and listen, celebrate it and put it up on your trophy shelf where it belongs.

Get On Down is an acclaimed Boston-based record label and premium online boutique, offering an eclectic array of products, from deluxe music reissues on vinyl and CD to apparel and pop culture artifacts. Established in 2010, Get On Down’s record label boasts nearly 100 titles in its ever-expanding catalog.