Few rappers have the pedigree and resume of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. The Staten Island rhymer is not only one of the best emcees within the vaunted Wu collective, but also hip-hop in general. He can claim at least two classic solo albums and one group album, and his lyricism has helped influence superstars like Kanye West.
Based on those accomplishments alone, Ghost is a legend; however, he also has more niche triumphs within hip-hop, including his impressive knack for rapping about food. While it’s arguable whether he spit the the all-time best food-rap lyric, he is perhaps the genre’s most intriguing and enigmatic master.
He transcends both the money-focused gourmand boasts of a Notorious B.I.G., as well as the simplistic food metaphors of a Young Jeezy. Instead, he paints with a broader palate when referencing grub on wax, utilizing food raps in three distinct forms: as absurdist, post-modern braggadocio; as a means to progress his obsession with fish; and as a way to showcase the malleability of language through his command of slang.
We dove into Tony Starks’ deep discography to discover the gems that set him apart from the rest of the culinary-inspired emcees. From the unbridled insanity of “Nutmeg,” to the levels of meaning embedded within “The Heist,” we break down some of Ghost’s greatest epicurean lyrics.
Even the casual Ghostface listener can appreciate his silver-tongued non-sequiturs—no one does nonsense like Ghost. This talent is particularly salient when he incorporates food into his rhymes. Case in point: the first track off 2000’s Supreme Clientele, “Nutmeg.”
Nothing within the track makes sense. Ghost raps, “Porch for the biggest beer, season giraffe ribs / Rotisserie ropes, hickory cinnamon scented glaze,” and “Hit Poughkeepsie / Crispy chicken verbs throw up a stone richie.” While Wu aficionados will look high and low for some sort of meaning, Ghost admitted to Mass Appeal that the whole point of these bars was simply to make words rhyme:
Despite the lack of literal meaning, the real magic comes from how food is used to create zany, impressionistic images within the rhymes. Ghost forces the listener to imagine what seasoned giraffe ribs would actually look like (really big, presumably), as well as ropes made of rotisserie chicken (burnished with a golden hue?).
These images could be a creative way for Ghost to flex his finances (he’s beyond just rapping that he owns places that crank out lemon-pepper wings), but it’s also entirely possible that he references odd and whimsical foods just for the hell of it. The latter is what makes this following set of bars from “Buck 50″ extraordinary: “Supercalifragalisticexpialidocious, Dociousaliexpifragalisticcalisuper / Cancun, catch me in the room, eating grouper.” Which brings us to Ghost’s next trend-setting use of food raps…
An obsession with fish
No other rapper has mentioned fish so frequently and knowledgeably as Ghost. The entirety of these references could create a sort of taxonomic guide for would-be ichthyologists. In his career, Ghost has rapped about everything from halibut on “Black Jesus” (“Starks-ologist, fried fish halibut”), to the aforementioned grouper.
The obvious take is that Ghost is taking a classic hip-hop trope—from Rakim to Diddy, rappers have long boasted of their seafood feasts—and stretching it to its absurdist limits. But again, those specific examples might have been deployed primarily with rhyming in mind. However, when Ghostface uses the general word fish, he embeds deeper meanings.
Take his song “Fish” off 1996’s Ironman.
The majority of the track finds Ghost and fellow Wu-Tang Clan members Raekwon and Cappadonna rapping for the sake of it, but between boasts of smacking pawns and “smoking like Hillshire Farms,” another message comes into focus: Our skills will obliterate you. If you take this threat and pair it with the introduction—which speaks on crime families—then you can see that “fish” is meant to mean that all of Ghost’s opponents will be “sleeping with the fishes,” as the Sicilians (and Sal Tessio in The Godfather) would say.
So, Ghost enjoys eating fish, rapping about fish, and crafting grand metaphors around fish. That’s next-level.
A Ghostface food rap is not always what it seems
Sometimes, there’s an actual point embedded in Ghostface’s esoteric slang. Often when he’s waxing poetic about dealing drugs, Ghost will play with the euphemistic potential of food references. On the track “One” from Supreme Clientele, Ghost jumps right into a double-meanings.
The line “we want eight ravioli bags, two thirsty villains yelling bellyaches” is absurd on the surface; however, the line itself speaks to the fact that Ghost is attempting to buy drugs since he has two fiends dying for a fix. The fact that he used “ravioli bags” as a stand-in speaks to the unhindered poetic license that Ghost utilizes. Plus, it just sounds way cooler than dime bags.
When all of these strains of food rap find their way into one signature Ghost verse, you end up with something like his memorable appearance on Busta Rhymes’ “The Heist.”
Skated outta Jacob’s wit the Fruit Loop jewels
Holdin a navy blue uzi
Krush Groovin waves off the atlas
Coolin, that’s how we make movies
Basketball gun brawlers, bounce
Black down ‘bill-a-head banks, Malibu colorful shanks
That’s the way we live, Staten Island kid
Old dog in it, the thug vaccine wit no pork in it
Vivid imagination paper chasin
Dufflebag swollen, we holdin
Drink chocolate milk before we roll in
It’s like that ya’ll, we gangstas
Stickin all you Bay Ridge Benzes
I’m out to get erect, terrific shit be the diamond district
Tiffany’s, pretty Valentine brick is on the second floor balcony
Gems is magnificent, diamonds is cryin
“Busta Rhymes take me, nevermind them!”
Take a look at the three bolded bars. The sum total of this verse describes a jewelry heist that involves Ghostface, but those individualized elements reflect his knack for storytelling. The first line’s an incredibly vivid description of the bling he’s snatched; the second line is archetypical Ghost code, which you could spend days decoding; and that third line, “drink chocolate milk before we roll in,” could literally mean chocolate milk or, perhaps, a brown spirit like Hennessy, which Genius notes.
It’s a testament to Ghost’s brilliance that his food raps allow for this level of analysis. Even if many of these rhymes come off as gibberish (and even if he concedes that sometimes they are), the sum is always greater than the parts. His references are so detailed and layered that they require several listens to fully decipher, and they pull you deep into his technicolor universe.