Issue 55 (2003)
I honestly didn’t think this interview was gonna ever happen. Trying to get in touch with the Ghostface Killah is about as hard as finding Bin Laden, but once it happened he definitely didn’t disappoint. The following pages take you into the zone of Tony Starks spanning numerous topics like his thoughts on the rumors of inner strife in the clan, the current state of hiphop, the problems afflicting our society and his prescription to save the youth. So kick back throw off your Wallabees and enjoy.
It all started on an island where members of the Wu Tang Clan first met. They was all from the same hood. Ghost, Meth, Deck, Baby U, Rae, and Killa were staples in the Shaolin projects and went to the same school. Dirty, Genius and RZA came from BK and made up the rest of the squad. Back then Ghost was RZA’s understudy and credits Rakeem for really bringing flyness to Staten. Ghost peeped the whole steez, the Polo moccasins, the Polo gooses and Gucci sneakers, and just absorbed it all developing his own trademark. He knew what was fly and it was that mutual respect for style that brought him and RZA together. They would stay connected throughout their drug dealing days and continue to cross paths with the rest of the clan. They all even battled once on stage with the exception of the Rebel INS who was locked up at the time. Cappadonna took home the money that night but the rest of the members would soon realize they were destined to form like Voltron and take over hiphop.
“As time went on we kept our money tight and put it into music and boards and all that and we were [all] getting ready to get these little deals,” remembers Ghost. “RZA knew everybody and he was like instead of me and him doing, “After the Laughter” (“Tearz”), which was going to be our first single, he said fuck that let’s go get these niggas and we made just one bomb. That’s when we came with “Protect Ya Neck.” We reached out and said ya’ll ready to do this and they was like hell yeah! [Rza] was like aiight yo ya’ll gotta try and leave them drugs alone because we’re gonna focus on this. We can’t be doing two things at the same time [but] certain niggas was still trying to hustle on the side. Whatever, whatever we did it and that’s how we formed.”
ENTER THE WU TANG
With the clan at full strength, they proceeded to ambush the game. Back in those days before Tony brought the A.K.A.s to the table (Tony Starks, Ghost Deini, The Wally Kingpin) he was full into the Ghostface persona. He kept his identity secret like some kind of off the wall rap avenger and had everybody buggin like who the hell is this cat in the mask? Everything would finally be revealed during the video for “Can It Be All So Simple,” but you can’t help but wonder what it would have been like if he would have stayed behind the mask
“A lot of people say I should have just kept the mask on,” Ghost remarks. “I feel that way too, but what was done was done. After a while, I just had to come out that and do what I had to do. I’d be the ill masked man [now though] and niggas would have been trying to pull my mask off. Somebody would have had to get shot over that shit. I still got them masks though [and] I’m gonna bring them shits back out and just do what Ghostface do.”
Throughout the Wu Tang reign Tony Starks the Iron Man played a prominent role serving on the executive production team with RZA, Divine and Power, forming the backbone of the Wu empire. Everything was running its course but after a while cracks started to appear in the clan’s armor. There wasn’t as much consensus on the direction of the group as there had been in the past when things were going according to plan.
“Back then everybody was fresh and new,” Starks reflects. “Everybody was listening for the first two albums and then the shit started going downhill. I always had a little say so on all the projects, but once shit started going downhill [it was like] I guess niggas didn’t listen any more. Not just as far as the main heads but everybody as a group. A bunch of ideas will sometimes fuck up the cake and this is what you get right now.”
By the time “Wu Tang Forever” hit shelves the clan had already lost its grip on the throne. The jiggy era was in full swing and things weren’t looking promising. They marched on putting out two more group albums with numerous solos in between but the lackluster responses to those and the latest slew of Wu Tang releases seem to indicate things still haven’t improved. Ghost, however, remains confident that the group will weather the storm but must first acknowledge the mistakes that were made in the past.
“We were ahead of our time,” the Wu veteran believes. “At the same time we blew a lot of shit based on our ways and actions. Right now, everything is still good to a certain extent. We just going through a little crisis right now as a whole, but everything happens for a reason. When we all get a clear understanding about damn yo I should have done this, this should have been like this, we shouldn’t have been acting like this, or quoting this then we can go ahead and move forward again. [We can] start doing what we been doing, putting out good music. The game is kinda crazy right now. There’s a new rap generation out [and] these little niggas don’t know nothing about the old hiphop. They just know what they listening to right now. You ask them about Kool G. Rap and they couldn’t tell you a motherfuckin’ thing. We got to go out and get these niggas again. Once we do that with the right shit we can show and prove why we were put here. Ali lost the title three times, but he won it three times that’s what made him great. That’s the same thing with Wu, but as a whole we have to get our shit together before we do anything. So Tony just been doing Tony. We’re grown men now and time is just going so we can’t just be waiting on each other to do whatever.”
A lot of things contributed to the W losing its appeal, from the overabundance of affiliates claiming the Wu name
“Niggas was running around fucking our name up but at the time we didn’t really give a fuck,” Deini admits. “Some of us did but some of us didn’t because strength is in numbers. But once you start reppin the name for wrong reasons and coming out with wack shit that shit fucks you up. You done tore down the club based on some Wu shit and now we can’t get into the fucking club or get booked nowhere. The shit was just crazy and that did play a part too.”
to the group’s isolationist mentality and inability to follow thru on initial business plans.
“We were anti and more or less stuck on ourselves because we knew we was the best. But even if you’re the best that’ll hurt you because your canceling yourself from the people. So I would have been more involved with people that wanted to do things with us. I would have used our judgment more wisely. A lot of the decisions we made we wouldn’t have made them. Like with the clothing, we would have been on that shit hard because we started that and for whatever reasons it didn’t get carried out to it’s fullest potential.”
While all of these played a role in the Wu’s lack of dominance over the last few years many fans believe that the real culprits have been beef between the core members and a lack of overall unity amongst the group. Rumors of a break up and minor riffs between the clan have been widely reported, but the mere mention of drama sends Ghost into a frenzy.
“Hell no!” he screams. “You always gonna hear shit. These motherfuckers don’t know what they talking about. That’s like the Enquirer. They’ve been saying that for years but [they] don’t know what’s going down in the house. Everybody just comes with their own assumptions on things. People are gonna always talk, but when they stop talking that’s when you worry because that means you not in the minds of the people. Ain’t nobody got beef with nobody because we wasn’t raised on shit like that. Motherfuckers might be mad at each other or have an attitude but it ain’t nothing like “I’m gonna kill you.” We was doing this before the money and it was nothing but all love and this is what we taught to the people. So for us to start acting like we got beef with each other for something that’s not that big [would] mean we deceived the people. We not on it like that. Niggas still love each other even though we might not get to see each other like that because we’re scattered out and got families. We trying to do what we gotta do for ourselves until we come back down to earth and say this is what we gonna do and do it for real. Cuz if we gonna come back and do another Wu album its gotta be for real. I’m not with putting out shit that people don’t fucking agree on. I know my music and I know everybody else know they music but if I’m comfortable with it to be like it’s a go head while other niggas is like nah nah! Then take my voice off. That’s how I’m playing ball right now. At the end of the day we all got to swallow our pride and let whoever they pick as the point person drive the bus. I would love to try and drive my team to the championship with all of us because I can’t do it by myself. I might can score forty a night but then be on the Cleveland Cavaliers and still losing. I just want to win at the end of the day. So if the people are in Starky’s corner for whatever period of time let’s swallow out shit and go for it cuz its only a record. If that record don’t win we go to the next shit cuz you can keep putting out records as long as you fucking want.”
The conversation eventually takes a sidetrack to ODB, the estranged member who signed up with the Roc-A-Fella camp immediately after being released from prison. Other members such as RZA and Meth have sounded off saying that it’s just another instance of Dirty just being himself. Starks tends to agree but dismisses any significance it has on his affiliation with the clan.
“Dirt’s a grown man,” the Wally Kingpin begins after a long pause. “He can do what he wants to do. You can’t tell him nothing. For him signing with the Roc maybe he needed some money right then and there. Maybe we couldn’t give him a million dollars or whatever the case may be cuz I found out late. If that’s what he did god bless him but always remember where you came from. Don’t get over there acting like you full time Roc-A-Fella out of nowhere and you forgot about this. Just give all praises due that’s what I learned. Get your money man. Sometimes you gotta make moves like that. He could have signed with Santa Clause if he wanted to I don’t give a fuck [as long as he keep reppin’ Wu].
Dirt signing with the Roc shouldn’t be a complete shock. Moves like those were a part of the plan. The clan always had a unique deal that allowed them to sign with whoever. That’s how the Wu took over the game. They kept the money all up in the family and dropped album after album. Its that impact along with the classics they delivered that leads Ghost to say their legacy is in tact and will only get bigger in the next ten years.
“We already legendary,” Starks boasts. “People that been in it are starting to realize the mark that we made. Now we got these new niggas I’m not too sure [about] because Wu hasn’t been in their face as a whole. We gotta step our game up and start being in these peoples faces. I think [our legacy] will be alright though because real hiphop is trying to make a comeback and in order to bring it back you have to recognize what was poppin back then. Then you see how ya’ll got started, how you got your deals, who ya’ll niggas got your names from and how ya’ll automatically started families.”
The influence that Wu Tang has had on hiphop is undeniable from the slang to the business model they developed that crews still follow to this day. It’s a fact that they will always be remembered by true fans. And although Ghost continues to play a major part in keeping Wu in our minds he is remarkably humble concerning his own place in history.
“Certain things are not for me to really answer,” Ghost admits. “I humble myself to the father and it’s wherever he places me. I don’t know where my position is. Before I used to want to be the best, but it’s like right now I don’t even want to be the best I just want to play my position and [take it] wherever it leads me. I’m just putting in work. I’m just trying to keep that W up and also my name. My name is on the line [and] I don’t play that shit when it comes to my name. [Saying] he dropped a wack album [is] like talking about my babies. That’s like saying my seed is ugly because this is what I gave birth to. This is what came out of my mind and for someone to down what I gave birth to hurts me because I spent all my time doing it and putting it together. So I try my best to just deliver and not change up too much of what I’ve been doing and try to stay consistent and find the right material to make it like that. That’s why it may take me so long to put out an album. I used to doubt myself. Even when I was writing I was kinda like I gotta make it this and that. I realize [now] if I feel it from the jump then that’s what it is. [But] that’s because I stopped smoking weed a couple months ago. When I did that I started seeing shit clearer. I was kinda nervous writing sober darts. I was thinking I might be fucking up because my mind was so used to having something to smoke in order to get me motivated. But it’s not like that.”
I know you just did a double take right now but that’s not a misprint. Ghost has pulled a Snoop Dogg and sworn off herb. He felt it was a necessary though. Besides questioning himself he would often forget hype lines he had in his head before he could get the pen. Being a diabetic on top of that didn’t help matters but he had to write his music and marijuana was his crutch. Then one day he just had a revelation that made him put down the blunt for good.
“I just woke up and god gave me a vision like don’t even touch it no more” Starks remembers. “I don’t need it and I can’t let that master me. The blunt don’t talk to me and say pick me up, roll me, and puff me. I do that [and] I had to control myself and say I’m gonna try and do it like this and that’s what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I’m getting my work done a lot faster, I’m not forgetting as much, and when I make that decision on what I want to put down I’m quite sure that’s what I wanted.”
WU TANG IS FOR THE CHILDREN
“The message [in my music] is save our future,” Ghost explains. “Right now we live in a fucked up day and time and we not gonna be here for too long so the least we could do for the father and ourselves is try and make a change. There’s no more good old days for [kids anymore]. When crack came in the eighties its like they dropped it off in the hood with the guns. That was the murder in itself [and] those were the last [of the good old days]. I remember when we used to play moose tag and climb trees. Kids don’t even climb trees no more in the hood and throw chestnuts. We were doing all that shit and its no more. We seen the last of that and that’s what scare me. Then you got these guys coming with all that gangsta shit and that just makes it worse because the kids are looking up to the niggas shooting that shit not knowing that ninety-five percent of these niggas is lying. They ain’t selling the drugs they talked about selling. They still talk like the moving shit and its not really moving nothing. Giuliani shut that shit down in New York and I know a lot of people out of state is not doing it like that. If they are they’re facing some time, on there way too, dead or in jail. It’s an illusion and the kids are chasing it. But sometimes you gotta go in, [like myself], and go ahead and talk that same shit to bring the kids to where I gotta bring them. A wise man can play the part of a fool but a fool can’t play the part of a wise man. So I might have to go in as that fool talk that shit and at the same time give them some jewels and drag them to where I’m at. I wish I didn’t have to talk all this gangsta shit but I got babies to feed too. It’s sad that we have to go that route. When I look at the hood and the children today I feel like that Indian in the old commercial looking at the street crying. Us as a people have to learn how to control ourselves and stop falling into the illusion so much. Even if we don’t see it all the way to the end maybe the next generation will but we stuck on ourselves.”
Tony believes the reason that things are the way they are is because people, especially kids, don’t have god in their life. He remembers the days when he had to go to church with his cousins and attend Sunday school even if he didn’t want to go. It was expected then but many of today’s parents stopped going to church at an early age and their children have followed in their footsteps.
“Kids today heard of god like he’s some homeboy,” starts Deini. “They don’t have faith or anything to go off of. They might have gotten shot and still overlooked it [instead of realizing] it wasn’t your time because god didn’t take you. There is a god and the planets, the animals, wind, water, and everybody submits to this god and works by his will. We don’t submit so that means we don’t respect it. That’s the reason we’re going thru a lot of things. Everybody stopped going to church and now your looking at the after effects. From you being a knucklehead and not going now your kids don’t even talk about god in the house or say grace at the table. [They] don’t give respect for nothing, even from going to sleep, waking up, not choking on your food. We’re living in the last two pages of the bible and we don’t even realize it.”
Although Ghost paints a bleak picture of the children today, he does see some signs of hope. He urges musicians to do their part in educating the youth by using music to send out a positive message. By doing that for a few years, he predicts we would see a small change in hiphop and people in general.
“Our babies listen to the music and they get programmed. I think we need to leave that gangsta shit alone and stop kicking that drug shit and drop a few more jewels for our kids sake. And if a nigga disagree with that then he don’t care about my kids or his kids. We don’t need that negative energy right now because we’re fucked up. I think if we cut that off the airwaves, radio is [stricter] on what they’re playing and we kick some real shit we can make a little change.”
“He is just reacting off of what I said about him on Supreme when we came with the Clyde skit [and] I just reacted off of what he said when he came out with his first record,” Tony says speaking on his situation with 50 Cent. “It wasn’t an ongoing situation. It’s just that the mixtape niggas pushed that real heavy. I was wise. I could have been thrown my dart. I could have said [something] but if it ain’t god I don’t let nothing big come into me and throw my shit off course. If it’s that real when it’s cheek-to-cheek eye-to-eye then it’s like that because I’m not the type to be arguing. I’m not gonna argue on wax with no rapper and I’m not gonna sit behind bars for twenty-five years based on no rapper. My life and my baby’s life are worth crazy more than what the next nigga said. Fuck what a nigga say.”
Shark Niggas (Biters)
If you were a fan of “Ready to Die” and “Illmatic” you quickly put two and two together and figured out who Ghost was calling out on the opening skit of Built for Cuban Linx. He took a few jabs at B.I.G but looking at it in hindsight, especially considering he’s no longer with us, it’s one of the few things Ghost wishes he could take back.
“Big got mad, but that’s when I was the fat ghost running around doing lots of stupid shit” Ghost concedes. “Big was ill I wish I would have did a song with him. It was my prime. I was twenty-five. It was my first time getting on, it was entertainment, and [I] was just saying shit. I heard he was upset and felt bad cuz he loved the clan and always kept Cuban Linx in his shit. I felt bad when I got told that news cuz I look at it now and the brother’s not here. I always seen him [but] I only met him one time in California and five days after that he got murdered. By that time the shit was out of my system and something was telling me to get that nigga on your album but I couldn’t really get at him like that. Plus I didn’t know how he felt against me. Whatever I said I wish I could turn back the hands of time and just take all that shit back.”
Pretty Tony is that slick side of Starks coming to the surface. When you see him rocking the jewelry, the insane golden eagle perched on his forearm or the dinner plate that dangles from his neck, he’s just paying homage to the dudes on Staten who were doing it big back in the day. Oh and all the robes, like the one he sported on cover of “Bulletproof Wallets” where he was serving up some salmon (I know ya’ll were wondering) that ain’t nothing new he’s been rocking those since “Criminology.” Ghost is just on some Hugh Hefner shit. He’s taking bedroom wear to another level, but that’s just his style.
“That’s kingness right there,” Deini boldly states. “That’s grown man shit. Granddaddy shit. That’s the shit where you’re supposed to be having a big Churchill cigar in your mouth in a robe with an ill pair of slippers on petting your cat. That’s just me.”
It’s just the essence of Ghost. It comes out in his dress and in his music. Songs like “Impossible,” “I Can’t Go To Sleep,” “The Forest,” “Apollo kids,” “Deck’s Beat,” “Ghost Deni,” “The Sun,” ”Holla” and “The Watch” are all examples of what he’s about. When you finally get him he wants you to figure out that he’s a “70 year old nigga in a 19-year-old body,” because that’s how he feels. That whole mindset is what sparked all those titles, like “Nutmeg” and “Camay.” He just comes with whatever pops into his head. He doesn’t even name the songs until after the album is done. The way he writes is similar but is more driven by the production.
“Whenever I do a song it’s the beat that makes me write how I write,” says Ghost. “A lot of times I don’t write rhymes with no music. Like “The Forest” for instance with the flutes and all that shit it seemed like I was in the fucking forest. I seen myself with a bunch of cartoon niggas and I was just speaking to the trees asking them where Humpty was and I starting going in from there. The beat makes me feel like that. “Camay” was so nice I called it Camay and was like I should rhyme about an older woman on this. When I did “Impossible” it was so theatrical the beat just drove me to it because I would have never wrote that or a lot of other shit you’ve heard if it wasn’t for the beat.”
While the next Wu Tang project is still up in the air, Ghost will continue to do his thing. “Pretty Tony,” the new album off Def Jam, is almost done and due to hit stores in mid February. He’s got about five or six more songs in the works before he goes into final production. Expect a few guest appearances and a similar direction to Supreme Clientele with a little bit of today’s twist. After the album dies down it will be followed up by “The Stapleton Project,” the formal introduction to his side crew The Theodore Unit. Expect that and a new clothing line to hit next year. Starks is also dipping his hands in the movie biz as his company Starks Films is circulating a script called “Raccoons” around Hollywood and have already started production on a video game based on the film.
Look out for the Pretty Tony album coming off Def Jam in mid February