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The Source reviews Pretty Toney - 2004-04-09 03:58:53

© The Wu-Tang Corp.- 2004-04-09

Rocking a throwback is a good thing. But it means more when you know the history of the person or team you're reppin', instead of just dropping a wad of cash on a colorful shirt. In Hip-Hop, Ghostface Killah is like a jersey that's been handed down from an older brother or uncle. It has a story, maybe even a few stains that let you know some one actually lived in it, or maybe even for it. As the ghetto's Tony Atlas, Ghostface has plenty of dirt on his sholders from carrying his old Earth, Hip-Hop, on his back for so long. But on his Def Jam debut, Pretty Tony, a rejuvenated Ghost reminds us all that she is worth the weight.

Building on his previous work, Starks's fourth solo album seamlessly blends break beats, soul loops, Cold Crush harmonizing and head-scratching lyricism into an unapologetic ode to '93. But Ghost's true gift is that he doesn't just talk about the earlier days, he embodies it in every verse. The hunger and bravado of the Golden Age overflow on songs like the RZA-produced first single, "Run," and "Guerrilla Hood," where Ghost proclaims proudly that his crew, the Theodore Unit, is the "2004 Commodore."

With more breaks than Kurtis Blow in traction, dusty-fingered Hip-Hop fans will undoubtedly be scrounging through collections to figure out which obscure album cut or interlude Ghost and his production squad resurrected. Esther Williams's "Last Night Changed It All (I Really Had A Ball)" is transformed into the head-nodding "Last Night," and even the young'uns should recognize how "It's Over" tweaks Biggie's "Who Shot Ya" to support a tragic story of love gone wrong.

But sometimes a piece of a record isn't enough for Tony Starks to get his point across. On cuts like "Save Me Dear" and "Holla," Ghost exposes the folly of new-jacks who abuse accelerated soul samples. Flipping a middle finger at convention, Ghost spits right along with the entire original song instead of just loops, validating not just their voices, but his own as well.

Not completely oblivious to today's trends, up-tempo cuts like the Missy Elliott-assisted "Tush" and "Ghostface" give the clubs something to help fill the dancefloor but fall slightly short of "Ghost Showers" and "Cherchez LaGhost." But the 'hood will be up in arms for "Metal Lungies," featuring Sheek and Styles P., and the Nottz-produced "Gonna Be This Way." On the latter, Ghost expresses his own inner-city blues, calling for the streets to choose their own path instead of settling for dead-ends and potholes.

Ghost puts his Def Jam muscle to good use enlisting label-mates Musiq and Kfox to sing on the sentimental "Love." Unlike most of the redundant courtship rituals that frequent the radio, Ghost excels by bringing the same sincerity that made "Motherless Child" and "All That I Got Is You" so timeless. This time out, he rhymes: "Love feels good though we stuck in the 'hood/ Love my last album though the joint went wood/ My mans and my enemies, I love them too/ Love God, he let me see past 32."

Bearing the burden of Hip-Hop history could seem like a punishment. But remember, Atlas was a rebel and Hip-Hop was built on the backs of youths who refused to conform. And though Ghost cut his wisdom teeth a few months ago, with his fourth-consecutive exceptional studio album, he proves he doesn't have to stay on the pulse of Hip-Hop because he is the pulse. In a future without a past, this throwback MC will always keep Hip-Hop moving forward.

Score: 4/5 mics

Written by Jerry L. Barrow for The Source

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