For fans of: The Wu and their offshoots, MF DOOM, J Dilla, Pete Rock, Kool Keith, and New York hip-hop from back in the proverbial day.
I really did not want to check out this album. For one thing, I fucking hate cocaine. Really. I hate how it has this image of being a party drug, when really it turns people into boring assholes who just want to hang out in someone’s kitchen all night snorting and talking rapid-fire gibberish. I just….ugh. No.
Also, before I listened to Fishscale, I was not feeling Ghostface. His nasally, weirdo flow got on my nerves, and try as I might, I just could not get into him on Raekwon’s "Only Built for Cuban Linx." So I had no intentions of listening to this until someone gave me a copy to check out, and goddamn, I’m converted.
First off, the dude can rap. He really can. Listening to Ghostface spit made me realize just how many half-assed rappers put out records. He’s quick, he’s effortless, he’s an amazing storyteller, he comes up with crazy slang, and he is fucking out there. He’s got the Bellevue freakiness of Kool Keith, and yet still has that grimey New York gangsta vibe to him. He may have a dedicated legion of white indie-kid followers, but Ghost is still 100% from the streets of Shaolin. We just appreciate talent when we hear it, is all.
I haven’t checked out his last two records, so I don’t know how Fishscale compares to them. I can say that it is not unlike Supreme Clientele, and is not nearly as dark and menacing as Ironman. It shares Supreme Clientele’s more soulful production, slightly lighter vibe, and incessant skits. Not that it is about birds and flowers and shit; as the album title suggests, on Fishscale Ghost returns to rhyming about dealing and doing cocaine (for those like myself who are ignorant in the ways of Charlie, fishscale is a particularly pure type of cocaine). However, this is miles away from Juelz Santana, Fifty Cent, or even "Built For Cuban Linx". Ghost approaches dealing as a veteran, fully aware of how fucked up it is. On "Big Girl", he starts out partying with two cokeheads he just sold to, and ends up advising them to get off the blow, go back to school and make something of themselves. On "Shakey Dog" he describes a deal gone wrong sort of like an updated "NY State of Mind". Throughout it all he is both bragging and commenting on how wrong it all is.
Not all of the songs are about drugs; "Whip You With A Strap" is a plea for parents to beat their kids more; "Momma" is a heartfelt tribute to his mother; and "Underwater" is just out there. There are also some brilliant guest appearances, particularly on the "Be Easy" with Ice Cube, and "9 Milli Brothers", which has all of the Wu-Tang (even ODB) rhyming over a very Wu-worthy beat. The only real downers on the album were some of the skits, which get obnoxious after a while, and the last song, a "duet" with the Notorious B.I.G. that didn't make it onto his newest album. Still, there is enough great stuff on this album to make a few slip ups forgivable. After all,what hip-hop album doesn't have filler?
The one real bummer about this album is it hasn't sold nearly as well as Def Jam wanted it to. I don't think it's even near gold at this point, and they are practically giving it away - you can find copies selling new for less than ten bucks. Personally, I don't think selling 250,000 albums is bad at all, and maybe it's unrealistic for every artist to expect to go platinum, especially given how fickle and trend-oriented listeners are. I think hip-hop is starting to suffer from it's blockbuster mentality in the same way the movie industry is - artists are concentrating more on appealing to as wide an audience as possible, rather than on making good music, and we end up with records that sell based on singles, but will be absolutely useless five years down the line.
"Fishscale" is a brilliant record by one of rap's unsung heroes. Please do yourself and Mr. Coles a favor and buy a copy or two.
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