Sour Soul is a collaborative album from Toronto hip-hop jazz trio BADBADNOTGOOD and rap legend Ghostface Killah. Word of collaboration between these artists generated a lot of hype, especially considering BADBADNOTGOOD’s track record for inventive instrumental interpretations of both old school and modern rap music. In just a few short years, BADBADNOTGOOD proved themselves as artists to look out for with three studio albums, covers of songs like Gucci Mane’s “Lemonade” and Slum Village’s “Fall in Love,” and collaborations with Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt. The pairing of young guns BADBADNOTGOOD and veteran MC Ghostface Killah garnered high expectations and provided mixed results. Sour Soul is a musically impressive album that showcases the skills and imagination of BADBADNOTGOOD, who provide a smoky, sly, old school vibe to the foundation of the music. However, Ghostface Killah’s performance leaves a little something on the table.
Sour Soul runs 33 minutes in length and only features verses from Ghostface Killah on nine out of the twelve tracks. Such a modest offering begs for some monumental content that Ghost just doesn’t really deliver. His verses aren’t boring or bad, but they lack inspiration, allowing him to be outshined by BADBADNOTGOOD’s compositions and guest verses from the likes of Danny Brown, Doom, Tree, and Elzhi. The track “Six Degrees” features sparse, tasteful bass pops and sustained chords with heavy reverb and vibrato. Along with Matthew Tavares’ palm muted guitar riff, “Six Degrees” takes on a James Bond-like suave badass feel. Ghost’s verse sounds passable up until Danny Brown chimes in with his trademark high pitched rapping, unveiling the charisma that the Wu-Tang MC left at home.
Matthew Tavares, who is known for playing the electric keyboard, plays guitar on the track “Gunshowers.” His arpeggiated and sustained chords combined with Chester Hansen’s tight bass hits evoke a dusty western scene over which Ghost lays down some gritty and vengeful lines. On the instrumental track “Stark’s Reality,” BADBADNOTGOOD show off their jazz roots, creating a sultry sonic landscape along with luscious sounding strings. The track “Ray Gun” is one of the more upbeat tunes on the album, with Chester Hansen’s hopping bass line keeping the groove chugging along with charisma. Super villain rapper MF DOOM outshines Ghostface with his guest verse on “Ray Gun,” laying down some playful and biting lines that lead well into the heavy and ominous outro. A sleeper track on Sour Soul is “Food,” which is low key and tastefully understated.
The recording quality of Sour Soul is overall very raw, which means good things for BADBADNOTGOOD and not so good things for Ghost. Most modern rap albums feature heavy postproduction and computerized assistance, but the absence of this really allowed BBNG to come into their own as musical supporters. On the other hand, the organic sound quality of this album leaves a lot of open space that Ghostface Killah doesn’t fill to his fullest potential. Sour Soul is an album that showcases the imagination and creativity of three young jazz cats turned hip-hip icons. For music enthusiasts, this album is definitely worth a listen. However, hip-hop heads might find themselves a little disappointed by the verses floating overtop of BBNG’s tasteful musical landscape.