Famed internet curmudgeon and video game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw once claimed, “A good sequel… uses the original as a jumping off point for a whole new story with whole new technology, while a bad sequel merely wallows in the original.” He was gearing up for a scathing review of Bioshock 2, but his words ring true for any art form. Croshaw used Playstation 2 survival-horror staple Silent Hill 2 as a prime example of the former category, and, just recently in the hip-hop world, we might have received the greatest sequel ever, Run the Jewels 2, which did exactly what Croshaw demanded an excellent sequel must do.

So, how does 12 Reasons to Die II stack up? The first was all comic book glory, a ridiculous romp through Ghostface Killah’s Mafioso fantasies, brimming with shoot outs, gritty production and mystic vinyl (more on that later). It was a concise, brilliant package that stands as the best Wu-Tang related release of the ‘10s. 12RTDII serves up new technology (as in more guests and an expanded size), but it fails to fly from its predecessor, retreading ground that can be painfully familiar.

We start in medias res with the growling, lurching beat of “Powerful One,” its zany, electrocuted keyboards a reminder of Ghostface’s pulpy storytelling, and where the prequel left off. In 12 Reasons to Die I Ghostface’s alter ego Tony Starks was killed by his old boss and melted into 12 different vinyl records. Yeah, you read that right. Apparently these goons didn’t realize their world worked on comic book logic, and Ghostface rose from the dead once the records were played all at once. It was batshit crazy, but if Ghostface has ever had one thing nailed down, it’s conviction. His tale of a scorned man with superhuman powers was made thanks to his utter devotion to creating this DC like world.

The engine at the core of 12RTDII: Electric Boogaloo is the same as it was on the first, the combination of Adrian Younge and Ghost. Younge is still a mighty producer of soul and vinyl tinged boom-bap, all organ vamps, gospel choirs and hard hitting drums. Just like on the first record, his backdrops are perfect for Ghost’s over the top performances, but here he’s having a harder time fitting Raekwon and RZA into his settings. The problem with 12RTDII: Oh No, More Reasons To Die is that Ghostface often takes a backseat. Raekwon plays Lester Kane, a gangster who makes a deal with the devil (Ghostface) for the power to pull off Punisher levels of vengeance on other would be Kingpins. In a clear violation of “show don’t tell,” much of the exposition is delivered by monologues from RZA in interludes. Ghost always brings hyperkinetic energy, but it’s derailed each time RZA interjects another insane tale about Kane and Ghost. Raekwon is in fine form, but his laid back, menacing flow doesn’t gel with the album’s off the wall vibe.

There are two guests that thrive here. The first is California MC Scarub who actually keeps up with Ghost’s rat-a-tat flow on “Rise Up” with a grin. Young lord Vince Staples also shows up, absolutely obliterating Ghost on “Get the Money,” and delivering the finest verse on the album. He plays an ornery upstart working under Kane: “Kane said a record earned is a pot of gold/ Prize a loan, put a marble floor in my momma home.” It’s fun to hear Staples cut loose from his usual cold persona, but his portrayal of an up and comer who’s on his way to overthrow the old guard might be a bit too on the nose. Ghost, outside of a few wayward years in the mid to late ‘00s, doesn’t have off games, and he’s as feisty and fiery as ever, he’s clearly having fun as an almighty figure, “King of New York” and his rapid back and forth with Raekwon on “Let the Record Spin” proving he’s still hungry, even at 45.

12RTDII wallows in the shadow of its stronger older brother. It’s a bloated release where some of the tiniest songs (the sub-two minute “Blackout”) thrive. The last 12 Reasons got a fantastic remix treatment in the The Brown Tape and, if we’re lucky, they will be a version of this sequel with fewer RZA voice overs and more Ghostface excellence.

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