Fans of East Coast rap who have lost count of how many albums Ghostface Killah has released in the past half decade are not alone. Neither are those who’ve lost the thread of the Saigon story, which has involved – among other twists and turns – major label drama, a bar brawl with Prodigy of Mobb Deep, and a recurring role on Entourage. Ghost could make good albums like this forever, and he could do it at this pace, but if he wants to deliver another Supreme Clientele or Fishscale, he might want to take his time on the next one. At the moment, I wouldn’t presume to give Saigon any such advice.
Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told
“I been in the pen/been in the ‘jects…been in a box and back.” In other words, he knows about doing time. The pen and the ‘jects held Saigon for a while, but it was a box at the back of Atlantic Records’ shelf – where A&R buffoons who didn’t hear a hit kept this world-beating debut for the better part of a decade before producer Just Blaze finagled a way to release it on an indie – that had him contemplating retirement. Pray he’s left those thoughts behind. Much has been made of Saigon’s moralism, and rightfully so, but even more important are his empathy (enormous) and his honesty (bracing). He blasts the drug dealer who enlisted his services when he was barely an adolescent, but admits he still thinks about calling the guy to hang out when he’s feeling lonely; he hangs onto his faith while asking God what gives; and he vocalizes hard for the young African Americans – in the ‘jects, the pen, and boxes all their own – he deems the Abandoned Nation (also the name of a foundation he runs to assist kids whose parents are behind bars). The ex-con who triumphs through music is rap’s version of the Rocky story, but Hustle & Flow this is not. Quick to call himself a conscious rapper, Saigon never condescends the way conscious types sometimes do, and, better still, his consciousness has breadth. To be clear, no one with this many Just Blaze beats is required to use them toward the public good of indicting for-profit religion’s crass manipulation of the poor. Saigon does. A
Unless you’ve yet to hear enough about how he and his goon buddies used to sell crack and run trains, this is not indispensible. The man born Dennis Cole is now a 40-year-old father of four. No wonder he’s more convincing referring to himself as “Grandpa Ghost” than he is for the entirety of “Handcuffin’ Them Hoes,” a misogynist goon-fest every bit as tedious as the title makes you fear it will be. Sometimes it’s easy to forget this is the same guy who wrote “Save Me Dear,” to say nothing of “All That I Got Is You.” But when Joell Ortiz and The Game show up to help Ghost tell us about that time they happened upon some other goon dumb enough to steal from them while waiting, ten beers deep, for Whoppers at the Burger King drive-thru? Or the one about the Father of the Year candidate who uses his son’s Nintendo as a blunt-force weapon? I’ll sit at this guy’s knee for hours if it means I get to hear stories as wonderfully crass and detailed as that. B+