Sour Soul is the long-awaited collaboration between Wu-Tang alumni Ghostface Killah and Toronto-based jazz trio Badbadnotgood. I’ve been excited for this album since it was announced last fall, and I was hungry to sit down and give it a full listen. I’ll come out and say it: this is not the game-changingly perfect jazz/hip-hop album that many people thought it would be. Coming in at only 33 minutes, Sour Soul is slim and easily digestible, but suffers from feeling as though it leaves a lot of thoughts half-finished and lacks jaw-dropping moments.
Something to note about Sour Soul before you dive into it (which I only realized on my third or fourth listen) is that it’s actively marketed as being by Ghostface and Badbadnotgood. This probably seems obvious, but it has some interesting effects. When you hear other hip-hop collaboration projects or groups, whether it be Run the Jewels or Hail Mary Mallon or Black Star, you pretty much know that the two rappers in the project are going to have mostly equal time on the mic. Even though there’s only one rapper on Sour Soul (excluding features, which I’ll get to in a second), this division of time still happens. This album is as much Ghostface rapping over BBNG as it is BBNG instrumental segments. Three songs on the album (“Mono”, “Stark’s Reality”, and “Experience”) are entirely instrumental. Other songs, like “Ray Gun” and “Food” have more than a minute of just instrumental on the outro – usually an entirely different beat, key, and feel than the first part of the song.
What the above paragraph is trying to put nicely is this: Ghostface has very little presence on the album, and what presence he does have, is nothing special. The first 2/3 of the album feature pretty standard Ghostface bars about dark, seedy, violent characters that he renders with admittedly impressive detail (see “Mind Playing Tricks”, a great track with a killer beat from BBNG). The final songs, though, feature a bizarre departure into finding God (“Nuggets of Wisdom”) and staying motivated (“Food”). I would much rather hear Ghostface talking about “Dangerous, lethal vocals enter the cranium / I got skeleton bones of titanium / Iron heart, black souls, I live for vengeance / It’s the emotional details I leave in every sentence” (“Mind Playing Tricks”) than “Exercising the mind is scientifically proven / To increase your life line, strengthen your heart / Eat fish, that brain food will get you smart / Yoga, deep medicational tactics / You no good then just practice, cause practise makes perfect” (“Food”). Overall though, none Ghostface’s lyrics do anything new or exciting, instead staying within safe boundaries for what we’ve come to expect from him. On such an interesting collaboration album, I hoped that he would do something a little different and maybe experiment, but that doesn’t happen. His verses don’t suck, but they just don’t blow me away like I wanted.
Ghostface may be lyrically a bit weaker than we’d like, but what about the features? Sour Soul has four features – Danny Brown on “Six Degrees”, Elzhi on “Gunshowers”, Tree on “Street Knowledge”, and Doom on “Ray Gun”. Doom and Danny Brown are two of my favorite rappers ever, so I expected their songs to both be awesome, but I was a bit let down. Danny brings the fire (as usual) with a damn entertaining vierse, but the sneaky and plucky beat from BBNG doesn’t jive that well with his explosive delivery. Doom, on the other hand, has a really clever and awesome verse over an amazing instrumental, but it’s short and just leaves me wanting more, which never comes. Tree’s raspy delivery on “Street Knowledge” works very well over the beat, but is lyrically nothing to write home about. Far and away the best feature is Elzhi on “Gunshowers”, which has this awesome laid-back surfer vibe to the instrumental with eerie slide guitar wailing in the background. The biggest flame emoji moment on the whole album is at the start of Elzhi’s verse – “If you hit the rock bottom of the asphalt, that’s likely your ass fault / My lines are cocaine, the flow is bath salt / I’m a for-sure Don, no one in your circle can box me / That’s like an oxymoron”. I mean, come on. That’s pretty good. And, shockingly enough, Ghostface actually has two verses on this song.
The one thing I struggle to say anything bad about on this album is Badbadnotgood’s instrumentation. Front to back they are absolutely on fire, and so while I still think the album suffers lyrically, I would rather the album just be longer, because I can’t see Sour Soul without those moments of BBNG doing their thing. The outro track “Experience” is a really cinematic song, with swelling strings and punchy horns. The instrumentals on “Mind Playing Tricks”, “Ray Gun”, “Gunshowers”, and their other instrumental “Stark’s Reality” are really just amazing.
Sour Soul is, unfortunately, mildly disappointing. However, I think that it’s only disappointing because I was too full-on hype. Despite my lyrical complaints, it’s not that any of the album is actively bad – I just wish it was better. I walk away from Sour Soul hungry for more of this duo, because I feel like it’s a combination that works so well. Ghostface’s voice gels with BBNG’s backing incredibly well and the album just overall sounds great. What bugs me is that, once you dig into the lyrics a little bit, you don’t find anything mind-blowingly good and struggle to find anything more than just standard Ghostface. Fortunately, a lot of BBNG’s instrumentation is mind-blowingly good, so overall, I think that this album is at least above-average. I want these artists to collaborate again in the future, because I think they’re more than capable of producing the album that I wanted Sour Soul to be. Sour Soul is not the album I wanted it to be, but it’s still worth a listen.
Pretty damn good.8
Instrumentals score 9
Lyrical Content score 6
Composition score 8