Ghostface Killah said hello to the world with the very first verse on the very first Wu-Tang album, became a god to rap nerds with Supreme Clientele, and reached an all-time critical peak with the dope-dealing sagas on 2006's Fishscale. Next up is a bit of a curveball — September’s The Wizard of Poetry will be an R&B-heavy affair, featuring collaborations with the likes of Raheem DeVaughn, Estelle, and John Legend. Ahead of his show at the Nokia Theatre tonight, Ghost chatted with Vulture about mellowing out, rapping at 70, and the appropriate way to sing about crack-slinging on an R&B album.
What does the title The Wizard of Poetry mean to you?
It was a title I had since I did the Pretty Toney album, and I just wanted to do something that had meaning with it. I wanted to base it around The Wizard of Oz. I was passing the chuckle patches and all that stuff like that, doing everything till I got to the Emerald City, and meeting the person that was like God, you know what I mean? That’s what I was gonna do: fall asleep where the chuckle patches was at, under a tree or something, and here go these skits, and they laughing and all this shit. I could have been dreaming, or whatever the case may be. But things had to change, 'cause I couldn’t take the same likeness of that movie and put it on my album 'cause then it’s gonna cause a problem. But I still kept the Wizard of Poetry and Emerald City.
Did you know that The Wizard of Poetry would be an R&B album when you first thought up the title?
No, no, no. When I first thought Wizard of Poetry, I just thought, I’m just gonna write a bunch of ill stories however I wrote it. But it would just be poetry — you know, ill, ill shit. But I always wanted to do an R&B album, and that’s how it came in.
Was anyone in your camp trying to dissuade you from doing that?
No, not really. I was gonna do it anyway. But there wasn’t nobody, like, saying, nah. My manager was like, "Do half and half"; this and that; "You'll lose your fan base." I’m not into it for my fan base right now. I did that for my fan base for like a bunch of my albums. I gotta do what I want to do for myself right now. What’s gonna make me happy.
You’ve also said part of doing an R&B album is that, as you get older, you can’t rap about the same type of stuff you used to.
Yeah, I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still will do that on other tracks, but this album right here is an R&B album. You can’t talk about slinging crack on an R&B album. Unless you get caught — it depends on how you say it — and your girl is gonna leave you, and she never came back, cause you were doing whatever you were doing.
But in general, is getting old in hip-hop something that worries you?
I’ma definitely be old in hip-hop. I’m not gonna be on the road. But this is a mental thing. You can write music till you 70. This is a hobby. B., muthafuckas always act like they retiring and don’t go nowhere. You know what it is, man. You can’t get away from it, B. You don’t think Michael Jordan wants to pick up the ball sometimes? But that’s what it is. That’s why a boxer always keep coming back, like Muhammad Ali, until he just kept getting his ass beat. Until you realize, I just ain’t got it no more.
Do you worry about that happening to you?
I mean, yeah, you always worry about it. But that’s what makes you great. It keeps you on your toes. The muthafucka that thinks that he’s not falling off, his darts start coming more weaker. Once you worry about it, and hope that this don’t happen, then you’re guaranteed to be around for a long time. 'Cause you’re always trying to be on point.
You also mentioned that the album was partially motivated by the fact that you haven’t shot anyone since the nineties. No need to get into too much detail, but can you talk about that particular incident?
Oh, nah, I ain’t talking about that, B. This nigga wanna talk about a shooting I said in the early nineties. What’s wrong with this nigga? [Laughs] Nah, nigga. You wilin’ and shit. Nah, nah.
Okay, moving on. This is your last album on Def Jam — are you already looking toward the next step in your career?
I don’t know. The way the game is right now, even going independent is still fucking everything up. Everything is just fucked up in the game. So I don’t know what to really do. I just know to do my work, and that’s it.
Is the joint album with DOOM next?
I’m waiting for DOOM to get back at me so we can fix it up. I gave him all my parts. I’m just waiting for him to fix it all up.
How do you manage to stay consistent, when so many of your peers take so long between albums?
That’s just working. My shit is, at least try to drop an album once a year. Or, if not, within a year and a half. And that’s it. As far as putting music out, my shit is, once you’re gone for two and three years, then you seem to lose the people. It’s like you selling crack or weed on the block, and you fuck around. They used to copping from you, but then you leave. Even if you left for a fucking a day, they gonna go to somebody else. They still gonna be checking for you, but they gonna go to somebody else. And once they get used to going to somebody else to get their weed — and it might be better than yours or just as good — they not gonna need you no more. 'Cause they gonna go see the other person they made a bond with.
Definitely. What’s your schedule like when you’re in the studio?
My hours is anytime, B. When you got rap music, you could work right now till six o’clock in the morning. You got your own hours. And a lot of hours is late-night hours. A little bit of daytime, then you go back at night, and you catch what you can catch — get up in the morning, listen to what you were writing. “Oh shit, I wrote that?” Then connect a couple of lines on that, and that’s how it goes. Just connect the lines, and before you know it, you got like, six, seven songs, son. And it’s like, oh shit. It makes you want to keep on going.
You still write with pen and paper?
Yeah, of course. Definitely. I wish I could do the other way, but I can’t do that shit. But that don’t mean nothing. Muthafuckas act like they don’t write, they ain’t making no real hits.
You’re one of the most critically acclaimed contemporary rappers. Do you read your reviews?
I don’t really read it a lot and stuff like that, dog. I go by what people tell me. I just take it how it is. But I didn’t really get a chance to really show to my best ability. I haven’t really went in in a long, long, long time; I think that my future is gonna tell where my hand is at, you understand what I’m saying? Within the next couple of years, it's gonna tell where I really stand. Right now I made a name for myself, but the future is gonna be the good days.