Ghostface Killah's Ironman: The Final Wu Solo Album In The 5-Year Plan | Review

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CLASSIC RATING: 4 OUT OF 6

Back in '92 RZA created what he called the “5-year plan”. The plan was to create the Wu-Tang Clan and also have each member operate as independent artists. In fact of the five Wu-Tang artists who released solo albums during RZA's 5-year plan, only Raekwon's Only Built For Cuban Linx would be on the same record company (Loud) as the Wu-Tang Clan. The other four would be on various labels such as Method Man's Tical on Def Jam, Ol' Dirty Bastard's 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version on Elektra, GZA/Genius' Liquid Swords on Geffen and the album of this review, Ghostface Killah' Ironman on Epic Records. 

Iron Man was released on October 29, 1996, and was the last Wu-Tang solo album to be released during the 5-year plan. Another special feature of this album is how Ghostface pairs up with Raekwon on 13 of the 17 tracks, and even including Cappadonna on 5 tracks. In fact, Raekwon and Cappadonna's names are featured on the cover. This is similar to the approach Raekwon took with his solo album, essentially making them almost a duo or trio when Cappadonna is included. 

Audio wise the tracks draw heavily on blaxploitation movies and soul samples. An example of the blaxploitation films is the intro sequence which includes a lengthy dialogue from the 1974 movie the Education of Sonny Carson ("260" also includes dialogue from the same movie). Musically it's the usual eclectic yet soulful mix you could expect from RZA during his heyday during the 90s.

 Artwork from Ghostface Killah's 1996 solo album Ironman

Artwork from Ghostface Killah's 1996 solo album Ironman

Lyrically Ghostface Killah, more than any other Wu member, would drop 5 Percent Nation references. The 5 Percent Nation or the Nation of Gods and Earth was an offshoot of the Nation of Islam. It was founded in 1964 and their leader went by the name of Allah The Father. Their various vocabulary will be well known to most hardcore hip-hop fans such as 'cipher' which stems from their "Supreme Mathematics". Their renaming of the five boroughs in New York will also be instantly recognizable to the fan of classic hip-hop. Their approach was to rename American cities after famous Islamic cities. Harlem became “Mecca”, Brooklyn was “Medina” and New Jersey was “New Jerusalem”.

Another feature that makes Ironman and Ghostface's lyrics special is how he displays a softer almost childish side on “All I Got Is You” where he chronicles his childhood years. Ghost would revisit this method of performing again on "I Can't Go to Sleep" from 2000's The W.  The best tracks include the aforementioned song as well as the pumping, upbeat title track which kicks off the album in a rush. Another standout is “Winter Warz” which was released 10 months earlier on the Don't Be A Menace soundtrack.

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“Motherless Child” is another track which has an emotional backbone to it, while “Daytona 500” is the most classic song from Ironman. It's named after the famous annual 500-mile-long NASCAR motor race held at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. It also features Raekwon, Cappadonna, and R&B group The Force M.D.'s from Staten Island. Musically it is magnificent and has a quick, yet funky beat which gives Raekwon and Cappadonna a true testing of their skills. The accompanying video is notable for being one of the earliest anime music videos ever made. Although “Daytona 500” never charted, it is considered a favorite among Wu fans.

As a post note factoid, we can mention something RZA pointed out in his book The Tao of Wu. Which is the fact that Ghostface's voice sounds different than it did on Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. The reason is that of the famous flood that happened at RZA's studio around '94 when over 300 beats were lost as well as different equipment such as microphone were damaged. Originally RZA had different equipment and individual settings which he applied to each members voices. And these were lost in the flood and had to be re-applied, however, it was not same anymore. 

As a whole, this album is up to same quality as the other Wu solo releases during the 5-year plan, if not one of the best. Ironman was only the beginning for Ghostface Killah who has gone on to have one of the most successful and critically acclaimed solo careers in hip-hop. Many consider this album as well as Supreme Clientele and Fish Scale to be classic material. 

 Various album artwork and the track list for Ghostface Killah's Ironman CD

Various album artwork and the track list for Ghostface Killah's Ironman CD

Alexander Ramalho