Ghostface Killah’s official debut album Ironman meant many things to many people, but probably none more than hip-hop fans from Staten Island. Twenty years ago the most outter of the boroughs was benefiting from a tilt in the rap world’s axis that suddenly found them at the equator, or at least close enough to feel the temperature rise considerably on the island of Shaolin. Three years removed from the Clan’s 1993 debut, Enter the 36 Chambers, Ghost had emerged as a fan favorite thanks to his performance on “Only Built For Cuban Linx,” which was only a Raekwon solo album in name if we’re being honest. So we didn’t blink twice when the first single, “Daytona 500,” was lead off by his co-d The Chef. But the Staten Island victory lap was punctuated by a soul snatching intro from hometown heroes Force MDs and their lead vocalist, The late TCD Lundy. It was a proud moment for Staten Island as a whole and for one native son in particular, Guy Routte.
Routte, an artist manager and radio host, hails from the West Brighton section of Staten Island and had been friends with the Force MDs since he was a kid. The teenaged Routte got his first taste of the music business when he’d go on the road with the group during his summers off from school.
“They just made me know it was real and introduced me to the business and supported me when I was an artist,” says Routte, who is now the CEO of WAR Media, a management company that includes Pharaohe Monch, Mickey Factz and DeNaun Porter among their clients. After touring with Force MDs Guy went on to become an artist in his own right as part of the group Aftershock. Their 1993 track “Slave To The Vibe” was just remade by Billon for Bridget Jones’s Baby film).
Guy would leave recording behind in that same year to become a manager and Shyheim the Rugged Child was his first client. Guy added Force MDS and The Good Fellas as clients and co-managed The Family Stand.
“For me it was a big deal to manage The Force MDs because they’re who got me in the business.”
So what did Ironman mean to this OG Staten Island Ferry Boat cat? We rang Guy up to offer a little Retro-Respect for the 20th Anniversary of Ghostface’s Ironman.
The first time he met Ghostface…
I met him with RNS and Pop The Brown Hornet in Stapleton and he was Sun God [then]. I think he was about 16 or 17. They were recording, probably at RNS’s crib or Wiggs’s basement. Dope Emcee, cool dude. It was a group of folks so it wasn’t like we were hanging individually. It was Wiggs (my old biz partner), Pop, I’m sure KD and June Lover from GP must have been there, too and Shyheim. So it was really in passing.
His relationship with the Wu-Tang
My relationship with Wu was great. RZA did “Young Godz” on Shyheim’s album and RZA’s little brother and them were on the song. I went to the studio a couple times while they were working on this album but didn’t know what they were working on. You go to a Wu session and everybody is there. You don’t know what’s being done. I just knew the “Daytona” record had just got done and I went down there with Khalil from Force to talk to RZA about it. It was dope.
We put out Sha’s second album The Lost Generation a few months before Iron Man in ’96. I was actually around when they recorded “Daytona 500.” They were recording at a studio on Staten Island that was literally down the block from my house on Bay St. I used to use that studio a lot for the stuff I used to do with Little Louie Vega. They had the studio locked down with Ghost, Rae and RZA. After The Force did “Daytona” RZA wanted to sign them to Razor Sharp. So I had to go down there to talk to RZA about what kind of deal it would be etc. The Force MDs were the birth of what we did on Staten Island so that was a big hat tip to the OGs. The energy in the room was amazing. Everybody was outside writing. It was like 3 in the morning. Ghost and Rae were at the board. There was total focus. It was an amazing time. It was the first time feeling like ‘Wow, they really made it now.’ This was a business now. Cats were really in here doing business. They knew how to make records at this point and it was very Wu.
Hearing “All That I Got Is You” was the blow away to me. Anybody that grew up in the projects of Staten Island kind of understood that story whether you lived it or knew somebody that lived it. It’s still a big deal to get Mary J. Blige on your record but Mary was doing her THING. She was on Jay-Z’s album so to have Mary on a single showed commitment from the label. “Daytona” and “Winter Warz” were already out so folks out here were talking about [this record]. “You heard that joint with Mary?” The detail was so incredible. I don’t know Ghost’s family so I don’t know if he changed names, but it felt SO real; Roaches in the cereal box, gotta go to the neighbors to ask for food, John John peed the bed. It broke your heart but it made you so glad this brother made it.
For those of us on the inside we knew who Ghost was, but people on the outside didn’t know he could command like that or how prolific a storyteller he was. Cuban Linx felt like it was his album, too. I always looked at them as a group in a weird way. Even on the cover for Ironman Ghost, Cappa and Rae are there. Rae even starts the album off. They understood that Ghost is the master of the ceremony but they operated like a group. “Daytona” was the first thing they put out and these cats were ferocious. It solidified what they did on Cuban Links to me. That wasn’t a fluke. I remember hearing Iron Man and wondering if there would be another Wu album. [Because] They could just tour as Rae and Ghost.
The finished product..
I went out and bought it. I bought it at Tower Records. Me and Shyheim were driving through the city and we were like “Ghost is out today let’s go get it.” So I listened to it with Sha driving back to Staten Island. I remember feeling like damn, these motherfuckas did it again. I remember being really excited also because Ghost was becoming my favorite MC out of the crew. He wasn’t my fav on 36 Chambers, I was really a Method Man and a Deck guy at that point. GZA of course. Then I heard Cuban and was like Ghost and Rae are [dope]. So this was Ghost’s real coming out party and he didn’t disappoint.
“Winter Warz” was Capadonna’s true coming out. Still one of the best breakout verses I’ve ever heard.
“Camay” was a great follow up to “Ice Cream” in a way. There was nothing on there that I hated, and there were a LOT of records. I LOVE “Wildflower” as foul as it was. At the time it was so angry. I always thought that Ghost could get away with stuff nobody else could because he was so in your face. I was taught a way to structure albums, where you put the singles and these guys didn’t follow any of those rules. It’s what made them stand out though. I wouldn’t have somebody else open your album, but they go by what they feel and they’re usually right. And they were right on this one. Ironman was special.
It was a really special time for me to have my borough really, genuinely, finally being recognized. It was really dope.