Whether judged strictly by his work with Wu-Tang Clan or as a solo artist, Ghostface Killah is an indisputable giant. A masterful storyteller whose range extends from graphic crime fantasies to stirring autobiographical recollections, the rapper first appeared with his Staten Island group's trail-blazing Enter the Wu-Tang (1993) and started building a vast solo discography with Ironman (1996). His platinum-certified debut strengthened a partnership with the RZA, whose bracing mutations of dusty soul have either soundtracked or influenced much of his best output. After an occasionally commercial early period with Epic that yielded a second classic, Supreme Clientele (2000), Ghost moved to Def Jam, where he released six additional solo LPs highlighted by his fourth Top Ten pop album, Fishscale (2006). Throughout the following decade, Ghost added to his legacy with a series of creatively unrestricted works, many of which were whole-album collaborations, conceived with the likes of the RZA-inspired Adrian Younge, BadBadNotGood, and Czarface. These included the two-volume Twelve Reasons to Die (2013 and 2015), Sour Soul (2015), and Czarface Meets Ghostface (2019).
Signed to major-label Epic via an arrangement with RZA boutique label Razor Sharp, Ghostface Killah became the fifth Wu-Tang member to release a solo album when Ironman was racked in October 1996. Continuing Wu-Tang's unprecedented spate of spin-off releases, the LP entered the Billboard 200 at number two and topped the R&B/hip-hop chart. RZA served as producer. Raekwon and Ghost's fellow Razor Sharp signee Cappadonna were featured throughout. Its deep R&B foundation and wide emotional range were promoted in the choice of singles, including the strong-arming and deceptively intricate "Daytona 500" (assisted by the Force M.D.'s) and the bleak autobiographical ballad "All That I Got Is You" (featuring Mary J. Blige). The album was certified gold within three months (and years later went platinum). Between one-off featured roles and his group's return with Wu-Tang Forever, Ghost put solo activity on hold. He and RZA also spent time in Africa, an experience that fueled the writing of Supreme Clientele, the second Ghostface Killah LP. Production-wise, RZA handled a few tracks on his own and vacated his seat for affiliate beatmakers such as Ju-Ju (the Beatnuts), Hassan (the U.M.C.'s), and Carlos Bess, though he did touch every cut in some capacity. The album went Top Ten pop and number two R&B/hip-hop upon its February 2000 release, and shortly thereafter went gold, pushed by "Apollo Kids" and "Cherchez LaGhost," both of which charted.
"Cherchez LaGhost" actually became Ghost's biggest single as a lead artist — a number three hit on Hot Rap Songs. That song's comparatively lighter approach carried into Bulletproof Wallets, which rather expeditiously arrived in November 2001 as Ghost's third solo album. Like "Cherchez LaGhost," "Ghost Showers" was built on one of August "Kid Creole" Darnell's high-spirited compositions, and was almost as successful, topping out at number 11 on the rap chart. Veering even farther away from RZA-style grime was another single, "Never Be the Same Again," a smooth contemporary R&B production with then-hot Bad Boy artist Carl Thomas on the hook. Only four weeks after the album's arrival, however, Wu-Tang Clan returned again with Iron Flag, highlighted by the hard-hitting "Uzi (Pinky Ring)," on which Ghost was back in his familiar raw form. Ghost's next move, The Pretty Toney Album, issued in April 2004 as his first full-length for Def Jam, gunned for pop success with the Missy Elliott collaboration "Tush." It was otherwise more street-oriented than Bulletproof Wallets, outfitted with tougher productions from the likes of RZA, No I.D., Nottz, and K-Def. Only a few months after it became Ghost's third album to reach the pop Top Ten, the group Theodore Unit — primarily an outlet for Ghost and Trife da God, but open to several other artists — released the album 718 on the independent Sure Shot label. Theodore Unit ground to a halt, but not before welcoming Sun God, Ghost's son.
Ghost's recordings throughout the 2010s, supported by a series of independent labels including RZA's Soul Temple, tended to be conceptual and/or whole-album collaborations that enabled him to indulge in the rapper's love of pre-disco R&B. During these years, Ghost also participated in various Wu-Tang Clan and related projects, such as the proper album A Better Tomorrow. He lengthened his solo discography with Twelve Reasons to Die and its sequel, both of which were produced by Adrian Younge with giallo scores and dark psychedelic soul epics in mind. (The Brown Tape, an alternate version of the first volume, was produced by Apollo Brown.) Issued respectively in April 2013 and July 2015, the Twelve Reasons LPs preceded and followed the December 2014 release 36 Seasons, for which Ghost worked extensively with the Revelations, and the February 2015 arrival Sour Soul, recorded with another retro-contemporary act, BadBadNotGood. During the next few years, Ghost was active mainly in supporting roles on tracks by Raekwon, RZA's Banks & Steelz, Dabrye, and Logic (the last of whom orchestrated the posse cut "Wu-Tang Forever"). In February 2019, Ghost returned with Czarface Meets Ghostface, a collaboration with 7L, Esoteric, and Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck. Solo album Ghostface Killahs, featuring guest appearances by several Wu-Tang members and production by Danny Caiazzo, was released by Music Generation Corp. later in the year. ~ Andy Kellman