Collaborative records rarely prove to be more than the sum of their parts. So often the meeting of talented musicians results in bloated, mediocre records that are disappointing at their best and dull ego trips at their worst. Thankfully then, Sour Soul, formed from a union between rap icon Ghostface Killah and the supremely impressive jazz trio Badbadnotgood is the exception to that rule.
Part of the record’s success comes from the (perhaps unexpected) similarity between Ghostface and BBNG’s styles. Both artists exhibit a tendency to work in a way that is experimental and yet streamlined; their mutual sense of structure and flow ties their riskier artistic feints together. One need only look as far as Ray Gun, a lush track that owes a debt to the James Bond themes of old, to see the way the two artists’ work clicks. Ghostface spits verses in his braggadocio style, but his sense of humor and enviable ability to drop pop-culture references stops his verses from ever spilling over into inflated, empty threats. Similarly, BBNG’s work on the track is bold and exuberant, but the slightly tongue in cheek feel of the instrumentation indicates that one shouldn’t take the brass balls on display entirely seriously.
Mind Playing Tricks rattles with a paranoid power; title track Sour Soul is heartfelt and raw; and Tone’s Rap is by turns cruel and wounded. Just as impressively, the instrumentals – such as album closer Experience – feel intrinsic to the experience; they’re never just tacked on so BBNG can get a look in. And even when other artists feature, such as the inimitable Danny Brown with his turn on Six Degrees, the record never feels overstuffed. Brown does predictably fine, energetic work, and the contrast between his high-pitched, nasal delivery and Ghostface’s rumbling timbres is endlessly entertaining.
Food is another album highlight. Not only is Ghostface’s delivery and lyric exceptionally strong (just listen to the way he snarls out the lines “These wolves is vicious, assigned to danger/The changer, I’m ’bout to pull you all through a chamber”) but the moments when the rapper pauses and lets his jazz buddies fill the silence feels natural, and necessary. This isn’t an example of two musical talents taking turns, it’s an example of two musical talents working together in a deeply impressive way.
Sour Soul soars where so many other records have failed largely because it doesn’t even really feel like a collaborative record. There is nothing mechanical or forced about Sour Soul. It’s an organic, impressive, deeply adult piece: a fusion of minds that compliment each other in all the right ways.