Styles P is now at a stage in his career whereby he has earned enough respect from the hip hop community to throw albums out for fun. That’s not to knock his increasingly lengthy discography, but more of a feeling I’ve got from Styles that his last few albums have been made without the pressures of a big label demanding a hit single or club banger. He’s moved from hanging around with Jennifer Lopez to releasing nigh-on horror-core material. He always was hard-core, but as I found with last year’s “Float”, it seems he has gotten darker and more sinister as the years go by. At this rate we’ll be treated to rhymes involving detailed autopsies that would make Necro blush. Despite getting harder each year, the overall quality of Styles’ albums have wilted gradually and this latest offering is fairly predictable.
“Phantom and the Ghost” references two nicknames that Styles has acquired over the years, as well as the Rolls-Royce models of Phantom and Ghost – two insanely expensive automobiles that some rappers refer to with affection usually reserved for their wives. This album does include some braggadocios money-talk, but the Phantom and the Ghost actually sums up the dark, eeriness of Styles’ “style”. Wild statements of superiority feel cartoon-ish rather than serious, but are backed by dread-full instrumentals (that’s beats packed with dread). “Creep City” is classic D-Block; thumping claps and menacing pianos that allow Sheek and Styles to get nasty. Styles has always been over-the-top, with lines like “I’m giving out Coke like Santa Claus” raising a wry smile amongst the continual threat of violence and death every other bar. This is the soundtrack to crime overall, whether it’s the fear of physical pain, joy of “getting high” or comfort that money brings, it’s all tied together by some of the fiercest production Styles has ever had.
“Deeper Self” isn’t the introspective, positive message you’d expect – who am I kidding, it’s some ignorant weed rap. After a strong start, including further horror soundtrack leanings on “Don’t Be Scared”, the song “Sour” abruptly undoes everything before it. It sounds like a track from a different album, by a different artist that sneaked in to the final mastering session. Fortunately, the mellowness of “Rude Boy Hip Hop” featuring Raheem DeVaughn fares better, coming off like a Devin the Dude record without the obsessive cannabis habit. Older fans are rewarded with “World Tour”, a nod to A Tribe Called Quest, but it’s a shame to report that much of this album falls snugly in to the “average with a couple of keepers” category.
“Phantom and the Ghost” sums up Styles P’s career in that it starts hard, has a soft side, but finds itself falling short of the classic that’s eluded him for far too long. It’s the more poignant efforts that resonate with the listener longer and actually showcase his talents in a better light. Unfortunately, these moments are rare and spoilt by rowdy, loud songs like “We Gettin”. The biggest problem with “Phantom and the Ghost” however is that we’ve heard it all before, ten years ago with better, more memorable production. Compared to the underrated “Super Gangster” album from 2007, this feels closer to a D-Block mixtape with it’s synthesized stylings and imposing tales of street crime. Nevertheless, it’s not a bad Styles P record, and maintains the consistent level of previous records, but that level isn’t good enough for a rapper that can still tear it up with the best.