Ghostface Killah
By: Brian Berger | Categories: HiLo Heroes

“Catch me at the flicks, Apollo rap Frederick Douglass,” advised GHOSTFACE KILLAH (born 1970), the single most inventive MC of the last two decades. That lyric, from, “Ghost Deini,” is mythos and the man — Dennis Coles, from Stapleton, Staten Island — both. It wasn’t always thus. Emerging with the Wu Tang Clan in 1992-93, Ghostface seemed a quirky enigma. His collaborations with Raekwon on The Odyssey of crime rap, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995) and its sibling, Ghostface’s own Iron Man (1996), changed everything. While his style was utterly unique, Ghostface’s brilliant sense of narrative, slang and characterization clearly flowed from a tradition that includes Chester Himes, Langston Hughes, Gil-Scott Heron and Slick Rick. Each of his four subsequent solo albums from Supreme Clientele (2000) through Fishscale (2007) has some claim to being his “best.” Since then, while Ghostface’s inspiration remained urgent, by December 2010’s Apollo Kids, inspired fans like writer and filmmaker Dallas Penn (see “Starkology,” below) were doing more promotion than his erstwhile record label, Def Jam. Yet poetry — and protest — triumph:

Holiday season is here and I’m vexed
Who the fuck made Christmas up?
I’m fucking broke, it ain’t making no sense
Newports are $7.50, a box of Huggies is off the meat rack
She’s back, thirty days, she relapsed
Our troops need to leave Iraq
And rap niggaz need to go on strike so we can get more cash

HIP HOP ON HILOBROW: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (25 posts about old-school hip hop) | DJ Kool Herc as HiLo Hero | Gil Scott-Heron as HiLo Hero | Slick Rick as HiLo Hero | Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels as HiLo Hero | Afrika Bambaataa as HiLo Hero | Biz Markie as HiLo Hero | Eric B as HiLo Hero (forthcoming in November) | U-God as HiLo Hero | Slug as HiLo Hero | Adam Yauch as HiLo Hero | Ghostface Killah as HiLo Hero | DJ Run as HiLo Hero | Flavor Flav as HiLo Hero | Scott La Rock as HiLo Hero | GZA as HiLo Hero | Schoolly D as HiLo Hero | Aesop Rock as HiLo Hero | Notorious B.I.G. as HiLo Hero | Melle Mel as HiLo Hero | Rick Rubin as HiLo Hero | Rakim as HiLo Hero | Ol’ Dirty Bastard as HiLo Hero | Madlib as HiLo Hero | Talib Kweli as HiLo Hero | Danger Mouse as HiLo Hero | Kool Moe Dee as HiLo Hero | Chuck D as HiLo Hero | Dizzee Rascal as HiLo Hero | RZA as HiLo Hero | Cee-Lo Green as HiLo Hero | Best Ever Clean Hip Hop

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On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: William Moulton Marston.

READ MORE about members of the Reconstructionist generation (1964-73).

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Historian, journalist, and poet Brian Berger is coeditor of New York Calling. He has written for many publications, a few of which even still exist.