Now this is a match made in hip-hop heaven. For the uneducated, BADBADNOTGOOD is a Canadian trio whose production work is among the most sought out in the game. The group first caught the ears of California upstarts Wolf Gang, but they’ve worked with rising indie stars Future Islands and just got the co-sign from Ghostface Killah, the most prolific and arguably most consistent of the Wu-Tang rouges gallery. What they deliver together is disappointing considering their combined pedigree, but it still slays most of the competition.

The first half of the album absolutely delivers. Opener “Mono” shows off BBNG’s newfound smooth ambiance, a theme that runs through the entire record. It’s wonderfully slick, a perfect James Bond style groove that embeds itself everywhere in Sour Soul. Ghostface comes out strong on the title track and slinks his way around the creepy, undulating beat of “Six Degrees,” his old school flow the perfect opening for Danny Brown’s unhinged spit. The lazy menace of “Gunshowers” couldn’t be more tailor made for Ghost, and holds up as one of his finest songs of the decade.

Things get weak on the album’s second half. “Tone’s Rap” moves at a syrupy pace that feels like it’s boxing in Ghost’s natural energy. “Street Knowledge” opens with a sleepy flow from Tree, and the song never wakes up. “Ray Gun” tries too hard to find psychedelic soul and ends up on the kitschy side, less Zombies and more Scooby Doo despite a great verse from DOOM.

It’s important to look at Ghost’s work in the 2010s, because Sour Soul feels like a retread. He has four full lengths under his belt so far this decade and nearly all of them trace the same gangsta/comic book vibe. Ghost’s alter ego Tony Starks comes out once again, spitting the same tales of betrayal, drug deals and downtown shootouts. At this point, the lyrical content feels similar to the Die Hard franchise, still cool in theory, but we’ve already seen this movie.

Sour Soul may earn unfavorable comparisons to the 2013 effort with Adrian Younge, 12 Reasons to Die, the strongest Wu-Tang affiliated release of this decade and Ghost’s best since Fishscale. Ghost isn’t the only one following that template too closely. BBNG’s jazz used to be darker and more malicious, but they took a radical shift in their sound to smoother textures that make their music more like aural wallpaper. It’s particularly disappointing after hearing their magnificent production work on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Hoarse.” These guys can hold up a rapper without fading into the background, but they seem content to let Ghost take the spotlight when he’s just spitting the same old stories.

That’s not to say there isn’t serious chemistry between BBNG and Ghostface. This clearly wasn’t a lark, thought up in a stoned studio session. BBNG perform instrumental interludes that fit the cinematic mood with a classy vibe and allow for a few moments of ease before Ghost rushes back to the forefront. The best songs feel alive and electric, with BBNG matching Ghost’s stuttering, fast pace. “Mind Playing Tricks” speeds along as Ghost uses a bravado filled double time rap and the more downtempo “Nuggets of Wisdom” has a gorgeous background that’s a grand setting for Ghost. He drops knowledge and lets out a small prayer “Keep your Quran handy, keep it close to your heart/ See the dumbest fall from smart/ I spark a light in the dark,” a brief flash of light in a discography often dominated by grizzly imagery.

Sour Soul is frustrating at times because it clearly could have been phenomenal. Still, it’s The King of Limbs syndrome; if this were the product of any other gathering of minds, we’d be haling it as amazing. For BBNG and Ghost, it’s just another solid release in their catalogues.

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