The day I met Ghostface Killah on Washington St. outside The Standard Hotel was as cinematic as one of his songs… It started with the special delivery of a custom made 4 XL dou- ble lined silk and velvet robe followed by the arrival of a van from upstate filled with several birds of Prey waiting to rest on Ghost’s otherwise golden cuffed arm. Fans young and old in our group including the hotel staff eagerly awaited the grand entrance of The Wizard of Poetry himself. This would happen several hours later: long after the call time, long after the falcon trainer had locked her keys and birds in the car and a City Marshall passing by graciously broke in for us, and long after our designated team had to depart. As the black Mercedes finally rolled in I knew it was going to be a more personal adventure with Ghostface, and me.
As he emerged from the car I stood and waited the way one would in the presence of history personified. His stat- uesque height in dichotomy to his boyish smile and demeanor was a surprise. He greeted me with the kind of respect that you see in someone meeting another professional for the first time. I felt an immediate connection with him while refer- encing my love of his extremely clever Pretty Toney videos from old school MTV where he teaches hood techniques for survival, eating for 5 dollars a day, personal hygiene, etc. There was a period in my own life that I spent living on public assistance with my Mother in project style housing. I knew what it was like to wait on line for oatmeal and rice and have peanut butter become a luxury. We had found our small bond. The difference was that my foray into that world was tem- porary and his was a lifetime reality. A reality that could easily have steered his life in a more tragic direction, even with his success in rising above that irrevocable destiny. Instead, somehow, despite growing up with 15 relatives in a three bedroom Staten Island Project, despite sleeping 4 in a bed with 9 siblings two with Muscular Dystrophy in wheelchairs, despite going door to door to ask for old bread and watching the bugs float by in his cereal water, despite incarceration at 15 for robbery in a desperate attempt at empowerment, despite no chance of higher education or a way out without sub- scribing to the violence and inscrutable world of the deal, somehow Dennis Coles aka Ghostface Killah became a gen- tleman, and his own brand of scholar.
Ghostface Killah is one of the only Rappers, or should I say American writers for whom the nature of his work has re- mained so steeped in romantic story telling despite Rap’s authentic origins of begrudging poetic ranting. Ghost is an ex- cellent curator of music has a keen ear for old soul, rapping consistently to carefully chosen tracks from a library of classics. His influence can be heard form Kanye to Mark Ronson. He paints verbal stories that you can’t help but visualize through Issac Haye’s lenses whether the subject is doping and dealing, Stapleton Sex, or his love of family. As one of the founding members of the socially explosive WU TANG CLAN in 1992, Ghostface has always been considered to be the most prolific and evolutionary of the group: provoking the now viral t-shirt that simply reads: “LISTEN TO GHOSTFACE”.
CHRISTINA LESSA: It seems that you really have a hold on what it takes to make a classic and remain ageless through your admiration of old school tracks like Otis Redding and Nina Simone and your collaborations with new young talent. How do you see the progression of your work from “93 to the present?
GHOST: I don’t really see myself gettin old, I’m more like a fine wine, or aged cognac… the young niggas definitely open my eyes to what they doin but my soul for music and ear for the sound I came up on and love never changed, good music is good music, and Ill keep makin this music right here till I’m 90…I write movies is what I do… movies that play in your head through my songs and they live forever.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You’ve said, “Children are our future, and who wouldn’t want to stand next to the future?”… A very humble and telling statement can you comment on this?
GHOST: The children are our future but it looks like the so called role models out there today are still children…. even less than children in the mind, so I stand for a change in life… God is good and children need to find that at an earlier age and stop thinkin bout strippin and drug dealin and all the wrong shit that even some of these so called sports role models be misleadin them into.
CHRISTINA LESSA – Your audience has evolved and grown so dramatically…Did you ever think that 20 years later your vision of creative expression would be appreciated by Ivy Leaguers, White and Blue collar professionals and straight up Hip Hop crowds alike?
GHOST – Again, I’m a soul baby, everybody has a soul that knows good music when they listen… and I’ve played concerts in the hood, in Aspen, Paris, Yale, Princeton, Harvard and all my fans and non fans hear the real… the truth in my lyrics… its hard not to see yourself thru my music somehow. I just pulled some young fans in Europe up on stage, maybe 11, 15 years old, they wasn’t even born when I first started. Their like second generation listeners from their parents playin my music when they in diapers!
CHRISTINA LESSA: With the understanding that every creative moment has its time/purpose, there is so much anger in Hip Hop and pop music in general today, yet you seem to have risen above a lot of anger since the beginning of your career…. The majority of your writing is very romantic, mainly based on the human condition as it relates to Love. Do you think this is why it seems to transcend time….
GHOST: I really started writing down rhymes when I was fifteen. Back in ‘85, yeah. But I loved rap before that. I never really wrote nothing but I might rap a little off the top of my head, but I was little then. Then with WU we represented a period in time that was relevant to then….Yo, I still can write about the streets and violence but that was always an autobiography to me, I’m mature now dealing with the real of life… as far as love… sometimes a chick cheating on you or your girl cheatin with the next dude while you out there tryin to get money right… sometimes that can hurt just as bad a being shot… I been shot, so I know, yo it hurts and everyone at anytime can relate to that pain.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You are such a positive presence, a sort of keeper of the faith always talking about giving back, being grateful and appreciation for the now…
GHOST: I gotta give back… its my job, I work so hard to give everything back to the people, babies in Africa, family who strugglin, friends, my niggas doin life in jail, still got families that need me… and God, I give back to the most high always…. I always give praise.
The now is all we’ve got and we need to give thanks! It’s my family and the people that surround me, that’s what I’m here for. Everything else above that is just gravy.
CHRISTINA LESSA: In what ways are you currently involved in the process of contributing to philanthropic visions?
GHOST: My babies overseas, in Africa, they have no schools, water…food that we eat and throw away… how many times you waste half your dinner and tell the waiter to throw it away? As a people we take it for granted what we have everyday especially here in America, we spoiled… fast for a week see how you feel… Imagine having no choice but to fast for your life…. People here don’t get it.
CHRISTINA LESSA: What are your goals as an artist now?
GHOST: Just to keep puttin out good music I love and to try and show the kids, the youth there’s more in music than just shakin your ass or shooting a gun.
CHRISTINA LESSA – From a purely economic perspective, how has the business model of Hip Hop changed over the course of two decades?
GHOST: The game is dead right now, nobody has to buy your music anymore they download everything…. there is no artistic value to people they just wanna steal your work… its more tour driven, you can’t bootleg or download a live performance… its a memory, and I love to tour and do shows for the world.
CHRISTINA LESSA: You really appreciate the history of 20th Century Music. Who are some of your favorite old soul artists?… where does your inspiration come from?
GHOST: I’m inspired by what I see, hear… my soul, music I came up listening to as a child… my moms would be playing stylistics, and all that fly shit, Delfonics, groups like that can never leave you, Curtis Mayfield… My mother could sing like that. She never made no records or nothing like that. But she used to have them old, old records and have little par- ties at the house and play that. And from me growing up, that’s what I always loved. Lot of kids nowadays, they parents don’t play that type of music. They listen to the radio, but they don’t really know the soul. They might not even understand the music I make. And if they do, the soul is in them, but it might not have been brought out of them, you know what I mean?
Now you have Adele, Norah Jones, Mary al- ways had soul in her music… my PUREST inspiration comes from God tho…
CHRISTINA LESSA: Why have women been such a motif in your music?
GHOST: Because its real…. what I talk about is not fiction… and the women in my life have had a strong affect on how I write. Either way, women are the beauty in men’s lives.
CHRISTINA LESSA: How would you like people to remember you 100 years from now?
GHOST: People always gonna remember me, I won’t be forgotten… hopefully for my music but also for tryin to help and do better for us all.
CHRISTINA LESSA: Will you rap over classical music for FLATT?
GHOST: Lets go! Lets get the right song, music and lets rock it….!