Ghostface Killah has a lot of different superpowers. He paints narratives as easily as his heroic counterpart Iron Man takes down bad guys. And like Tony Stark boasts a genius-level understanding of thermonuclear astrophysics, Ghost’s finely tuned ear for a sample is superhuman.
The Wu legend was brought up in the ways of the old school. His voice carries as much character as a dusty old 45. So it makes sense that Ghost would be drawn to BadBadNotGood. The Toronto band has crafted an impressive catalog of throwback jazz and funk cuts filtered through a hip-hop prism. Last year’s Ghost/BBNG team-up record, Sour Soul, felt like the natural next step for a group who came up performing instrumental covers of Slum Village tracks and producing for Earl Sweatshirt. Though Ghost rarely spit as hard as he did a decade or two ago, he still sounded great sinking into BadBadNotGood’s thick, hazy orchestration.
BadBadNotGood’s finest effort to date, IV, follows the filing system of previous records, but for the first time on their own album they add vocalists to their blissful cuts. Guest spots come from all over the stylistic map, including modernized jazz workouts, svelte funk songs, and shimmering hip-hop — all without that dreaded compilation disc feel. It’s all distinctly BBNG.
“Time Moves Slow” features Future Islands’ jelly-hipped frontman Samuel Herring. It’s a classic R&B slow jam, a timeless groove with sophisticated grace. Anyone who has been on YouTube will know all about Herring’s killer dance moves and croaking voice, but his greatest gift might be his heartfelt delivery. “Running away is easy/ It’s the leaving that’s hard,” he sings, imbuing the line with a quaking insight.
Mick Jenkins stars on “Hyssop of Love”, a trippy hip-hop track viewed through glittering, star-shaped sunglasses. The Chicago rapper advocates the natural high of love, not drugs, but sounds blunted out and paranoid — like he’s laid back in a vintage polyester armchair, pondering the “wolves in disguise” at his door. Better still is Toronto singer Charlotte Day Wilson’s turn on “In Your Eyes”. An alluring soul ballad, the track is a ticket to a smokey basement blues club where neat dress is essential but the Jack and Coke is cheap.
For the most part, though, BadBadNotGood affirm their position as one of the finest young jazz acts in the world, mixing classical orchestration with their own take on the genre. “And That, Too” is laced with electronica. “Lavender” is propelled by a synthetic rubber band bass line. The mournful “Chompy’s Paradise” is colored with 40 shades of blue.
The former trio have added saxophone player Leland Whitty as a full-time member after his satin-smooth perfomance on III’s “Confessions”, an album highpoint. “Confessions Pt II” adds bluster to the original’s silk. Whitty is joined by Arcade Fire collaborator Colin Stetson. The pair’s sax lines weave in and out, while Matthew Tavares’ organ gives the track a funky engine. The song is propulsive and assertive, the sound of a band four albums in and confidently wielding their own unique mythos.
These are songs full of poise, jukebox jams cut by dapper musicians in an analogue studio mixed with contemporary jazz. IV sounds as timeless as the instrumentation itself. BadBadNotGood’s work with Ghostface Killah will have drawn in more listeners, but what they’ll find on IV is so much more than they might have expected.
Essential Tracks: “Time Moves Slow”, “Confessions Pt II”, and “In Your Eyes”