Fishscale was touted by many as the best hip-hop album of 2006 and Apollo Kids is certainly no different, doubtless throwing a large spanner in the works for many a carefully thought out ‘albums of the year’ list (at least in the hip hop category). Ghost hit forty this year, but you wouldn’t be able to tell from his music, which is still as raw, energetic and full of swagger as ever.

There are no skits and intros/outros are kept to a minimum so that the intensity is never allowed to drop, leaving a really compact, tight album. Granted it is not particularly adventurous – the feel is closer to the Wu-Tang albums of the 90s than other critically acclaimed contemporary efforts from artists such as Kanye West and Mos Def – but Ghost sticks to what he knows and does it very well, and the album succeeds because of it.

The production comes from an assortment of relatively unheard of producers but is very strong throughout. Most of the tracks have quite a marked, heavy beat which complements Ghost’s rapping style and helps drive the album forward, but within this framework there is a great diversity of styles. A particular highlight is the second track, ‘Superstar’, which sounds like it could have been taken straight out of a Blaxploitation film soundtrack, while ‘Purified Thoughts’ and ‘Handcuffin’ them Hoes’ exhibit the lilting rhythms and polyphonic synths characteristic of the more modern style of production. And as always, the album’s chock full of cracking soul samples, from funky bass riffs to wailing vocals.

As you’d expect from one of Wu-Tang’s most acclaimed rappers, the words certainly do justice to the beats. Ghost is always on the right side of aggressive, serving up punchy, quick fire rhymes full of witty boasts and slams. His refreshingly abstract style livens up the sometimes-hackneyed themes of ghetto storytelling and gangster posturing. The many contributors deserve equal praise. The Game returns to his best with a throaty, menacing verse, and Blackthought nearly steals the show on ‘In Tha Park’. But it’s Ghost’s Wu-Tang Clansmen that make this good album great. Raekwon, Method Man and affiliates Cappadonna and Redman all weigh in at the end with what are in my mind the three best tracks, bursting with same energy and clout as the best club-focused songs on Forever.