Dennis Coles (born May 9, 1970), better known by his stage name Ghostface Killah, is an American rapper and member of the Wu-Tang Clan. After the group achieved breakthrough success in the aftermath of Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the members went on to pursue solo careers to varying levels of success. Ghostface Killah debuted his solo-career with Ironman in 1996, which was well received by music critics. He has continued his success over the following years with critically acclaimed albums such as Supreme Clientele (2000) and Fishscale (2006). His stage name was taken from one of the characters in the 1979 kung fu film Mystery of Chessboxing. He is the founder of his own label Starks Enterprises.
Ghostface Killah is critically acclaimed for his loud, fast-paced flow, and his emotional stream-of-consciousness narratives containing cryptic slang and non-sequiturs. In 2006, MTV included him on their honorable mention list of The Greatest MCs of All Time, while the editors of About.com placed him on their list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time (1987–2007), calling him "one of the most imaginative storytellers of our time." Q magazine called him "rap's finest storyteller." Pitchfork Media stated that, "Ghostface has unparalleled storytelling instincts; he might be the best, most colorful storyteller rap has ever seen." NPR called him "a compulsive storyteller", and asserted, "His fiction is painterly."
A roommate of Wu-Tang founder RZA, Ghostface helped bring together the other seven members. In 1995, Ghostface guest-starred extensively on fellow Clan member Raekwon's debut album, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx..., appearing on almost every song and receiving nearly equal billing. He also contributed songs to the Sunset Park and Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood soundtracks, which would be included on his first solo LP, Ironman, in 1996. The album, which debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200, had a more pronounced soul influence (particularly 1970s soul) than previous Wu-Tang releases, and Ghostface's future albums would continue to feature this stylistic trait.
In 2000, he released his second studio album Supreme Clientele. The album was well received by critics and peaked #7 on the Billboard 200. It included "Apollo Kids", a popular single which featured Raekwon and had a sample of "Cool Breeze" by Solomon Burke. "Cherchez LaGhost", another single off the album, became a minor club hit. Supreme Clientele would be a turning point in RZA's influence on his sound, as only six songs are produced by the RZA, compared to Ironman, its predecessor where every song but one is produced by him. Though he contributed fewer beats to the project, RZA personally oversaw the mixing and production of the album as a whole, contributing to Supreme Clientele's unified sound.
Ghostface wasted little time in recording his next album, the heavily R&B-influenced Bulletproof Wallets, released a year after Supreme Clientele. Its feature single, "Never Be the Same Again", featured Carl Thomas and Raekwon. He had another minor club hit with "Flowers", which featured guest vocals from fellow Wu-Tang members Method Man and Raekwon, and a popular single "Ghost Showers" which featured Madame Majestic, who also sung on the popular Wu-Tang track "Gravel Pit".
In 2003, Ghostface signed with Def Jam Records. After temporarily dropping "Killah" from his stage name, Ghostface released The Pretty Toney Album in April 2004. The album, while containing two RZA productions, featured none of the Clan; instead, it featured collaborations with Missy Elliott, D-Block and Jacki-O. The singles "Tush" and "Run", the collaborations with Missy and Jadakiss respectively, achieved moderate success in the clubs and charts, and the album was featured on numerous "best of the year" lists, including number nine on Pitchfork Media's. Ghostface also appeared on the track "On My Knees" by UK R&B group The 411, which became a hit in the UK and Australia, and released an album titled 718 (after the Staten Island area code) with a group of his protégés, the Theodore Unit. Ghostface also appeared on "He Comes" by De La Soul, on The Grind Date. In November 2005, Ghostface and Theodore Unit's breakout star Trife Da God released a joint project, Put It On The Line.
In 2006, Ghostface teamed up with underground artist MF Doom for a still unreleased album entitled Swift & Changeable. MF Doom also produced several songs for Ghostface's 2006 album Fishscale, which was once again attributed to "Ghostface Killah". The album debuted strongly, in the #4 position on the U.S. Billboard 200 and at #2 on the R&B charts, the rapper's most auspicious chart showing since the heyday of the Wu-Tang Clan and the release of his solo debut. The album also nearly unanimously received positive reviews. Ghostface embarked on a limited-date tour of US venues in support of the album, performing several of his concerts together with most members of the Wu-Tang Clan. On December 4, 2007, Ghostface released his seventh solo studio album, The Big Doe Rehab.
In a May 2008 interview, Ghostface Killah stated that he would make an R&B-inspired album in the vein of tracks he had done before with artists such as Ne-Yo and Jodeci. That album would become his eighth studio album Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City to good reviews. It featured singles such as "Baby" and "Do Over". In March 2009, Ghostface also recorded a song called "Message from Ghostface" dedicated to women who were abused in relationships after the Rihanna/Chris Brown controversy.
Raekwon, in a May 2009 interview with Rolling Stone indicated that Ghostface Killah is preparing to release a new album. In response to a question asking if the Wu-Tang Clan are going to release a follow up to 8 Diagrams, Raekwon stated "Everybody's doing different things right now — you got Meth [Method Man] coming out with an album, you got Ghostface coming out with an album, some guys working on their projects, some guys getting into the film world, everybody is multi-tasking right now." Ghostface appeared on a total of 8 songs on Raekwon's highly anticipated release of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II.
Shortly after the release of Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Pt. II, Def Jam contracted Raekwon to work with their label artists Method Man and Ghostface Killah on an album later titled Wu-Massacre. Production began in November 2009. Wu-Massacre was released March 30, 2010 to generally positive reviews from most music critics with some mixed criticism due to the album's rushed feel clocking in at a mere 30 minutes of music. With heavy promotion, it sold 37,900 units in its first week. It has sold 64,000 units as of May 12, 2010. It features production from Scram Jones, Mathematics, and the RZA who produced the album's lead single, "Our Dreams". Recently he confirmed that he will be releasing 2 studio albums with the first one out near December called Apollo Kids & releasing a sequel to his 2000 album Supreme Clientele. In 2011, Ghostface Killah featured on UK artist Josh Osho's debut single 'Redemption Days'.
Post Def Jam
Ghostface released a collaborative album with D-Block member Sheek Louch called Wu Block. The album was released on November 27, 2012, on E1 Music and debuted at number 73 on the US Billboard 200 chart, with first-week sales of 8,600 copies in the United States. It fell to #152 in its second week selling 4,200 more copies.
In an interview with Complex Magazine on November 17, 2012, Ghostface Killah confirmed that he has left Def Jam, making Apollo Kids his last album on the label. In the same interview he also stated that Blue & Cream, the sequel to his critically acclaimed album Supreme Clientele, is 80-85 percent done. On April 16, 2013, Ghostface released his tenth album Twelve Reasons to Die which was produced by Adrian Younge and executive produced by RZA. The album was released in various formats such as CD, vinyl and cassette under RZA's Soul Temple Records. The deluxe digital and CD versions also come with a comic book.
He would later announce that the sequel to Supreme Clientele would be released between July and September 2013 and that his collaborative album with MF Doom would be released around Halloween 2013 though neither projects materialized. In January 2014, he appeared on the VH1 series Couples Therapy with his girlfriend Kelsey Nykole. Later that year Ghostface announced he would be releasing his eleventh album titled 36 Seasons in December 2014. He collaborated with Canadian jazz band BADBADNOTGOOD on an album titled Sour Soul which was released in 2015.
Ghostface has a string of UK and European tour dates scheduled in 2016 but no word on an upcoming album has been announced.
In July 2011, Coles was sued by Jack Urbont for copyright violation stemming from the "improper use" of the 1960s "Iron Man" theme song, which Urbont claimed as his own. Urbont also took issue with Coles' appropriation of the Iron Man brand name. Coles was granted a summary judgement on the lawsuit in April 2015, which stated that Marvel Entertainment, owners of the Iron Man character and brand, owned the "Iron Man" theme song, not Urbont.
In August 2011, Coles filed a lawsuit against Universal Music for unpaid royalties.
Ghostface Killah, like most members of the Wu-Tang clan, rapped under several personae, each with their own name, mythology and influences. Some recurring aliases:
- Ghostface Killah (occasionally spelled Ghostface Killer, Ghost Face Killah, or abbreviated GFK)
- Ghostface (shortened stage name during The Pretty Toney Album era)
- Ironman, Tony Starks, or just Starks
- Ghostface has frequently assumed the names of both Ironman and Tony Starks, a reference to the Marvel Comics character Iron Man and his true identity, billionaire industrialist Tony Stark (note the variant spellings). He released a 1996 album titled Ironman. His song, "Slept On Tony With Dirt," appears in the 2008 film, and he even appears in a deleted scene on the DVD.
- Starky Love
- Pretty Toney, P Tone
- Studio albums
- Ironman (1996)
- Supreme Clientele (2000)
- Bulletproof Wallets (2001)
- The Pretty Toney Album (2004)
- Fishscale (2006)
- More Fish (2006)
- The Big Doe Rehab (2007)
- Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City (2009)
- Apollo Kids (2010)
- Twelve Reasons to Die (2013)
- 36 Seasons (2014)
- Twelve Reasons to Die II (2015)
- Supreme Clientele 2 (2018)
- Collaboration albums
- Put it on the Line (with Trife Diesel) (2005)
- Wu-Massacre (with Method Man and Raekwon) (2010)
- Wu Block (with Sheek Louch) (2012)
- Sour Soul (with BADBADNOTGOOD) (2015)
- Swift & Changeable (with MF Doom as DOOMStarks) (TBA)
- The Powers of Attraction (with Tragedy Khadafi & Killah Priest) (TBA)
- Belly (1998) cameo appearance
- Black and White (1999) as himself
- Hunter Dawson (2002) as himself
- Fade to Black (2004) as himself
- Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story (2007) as himself
- Iron Man (2008) as a Dubaian sheik; also appearing in a music video aired on Tony Starks private jet. (Cut in post-production, his cameo can be found in the DVD's deleted scenes section.)
- When in Rome (2010) as Guggenheim DJ
TV series appearances
- 30 Rock (2006) as himself (episodes "Jack-Tor" and "The Source Awards")
- Human Giant (2007) as himself (episodes "Mind Explosion" and "Mosh Pit!")
- The Boondocks (2007) as himself (episode "Stinkmeaner Strikes Back")
- Rushing Jason (2008) as Big Poppa
- Mob Wives (VH1 Series) (2011) as Himself
- Couples Therapy (2014) as himself