October 7, 2008

Ghostface Killah - Fishscale (March 28, 2006)



After a couple of albums with his own merry band of weed carriers, the Theodore Unit, Ghostface Killah met his contractual obligation with Def Jam Records (and its new president, Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter) by recording Fishscale, his fifth solo album. Upon its release, Fishscale was met with the critical acclaim and poor sales that characterize your standard Ghostface Killah press kit.

Fishscale took the soulful elements of The Pretty Toney Album and placed them in more of a hip hop context, including beats from underground favorites such as Pete Rock, J Dilla, and MF Doom. In fact, Fishscale is the first mainstream rap album I can recall that used beats lifted directly from instrumental albums that J Dilla and MF Doom had previously released (J Dilla's Donuts and MF Doom's Special Herbs series, specifically), but if anybody could do justice to the tracks, it would be Dennis Coles. He paired up once again with partner in crime Raekwon the Chef for numerous tracks, and the chemistry remained intact. He even managed to bring most of the Wu-Tang Clan together on a track, with above-average results. Not bad for an album that modeled itself after the "coke rap" fad of the day (the word "fishscale" is slang for uncut product).

In its first week, Fishscale apparently sold over one hundred thousand copies, and debuted pretty high on the Billboard charts. However, nobody that I know actually owns a copy, thanks to the fact that T.I.'s King came out on the same day and greatly outsold Pretty Toney's latest opus. Considering how close Jay-Z and T.I. are, should we consider this to be a conspiracy? Possibly, but that would be stretching the truth a bit.

I prefer to believe that Ghostface Killah's chances at a platinum-selling album were squashed the moment that he was signed to Def Jam in the first place, thanks to the interference of aliens, the Bush administration, and Ghost's proximity to U-God for the duration of his career.

Anyway.


1. THE RETURN OF CLYDE SMITH (SKIT)
Although the liner notes claim the voice in this introductory skit belongs to someone named Halloween, I choose to believe that the role of Clyde Smith is being played by Ghost himself, and not Raekwon, as it was in the original, Curtis Jackson-baiting version that appeared on Supreme Clientele. While I appreciate the fact that the film Vanilla Sky is mentioned, this intro is really fucking useless.

2. SHAKEY DOG
This shit rocks. Ghostface has always had a way with words, weaving tales in a manner where the images jump out at you, and Lewis Parker's production takes this story over the top. I cannot stress enough how good this song is.

3. KILO (FEAT RAEKWON)
Although the hook is on some Schoolhouse Rock! shit, this song avoids becoming corny, thanks to the back-and-forth between Ghost and Rae, one of the best tag teams in hip hop history. Also, the idea of rhyming using nothing but the names of colors is oddly compelling.

4. THE CHAMP
One of the best beats that Just Blaze will ever produce (and this was his second or third version of the beat, thanks to the sample wars). This may as well be Ghostface's theme music, intended for use during any special occasion in which Ghostface Killah makes an appearance, such as the opening of a restaurant, going to the bank, or leaving a bathroom stall. The first three songs on Fishscale rank among the most entertaining one-two-three punches ever on a rap album.

5. MAJOR OPERATION (SKIT)
...

6. 9 MILLI BROS. (FEAT WU-TANG CLAN & CAPPADONNA)
This song is billed as featuring the entire Wu-Tang Clan, but The Rza's introductory words were jacked from his own "Fast Cars" from Birth Of A Prince, which coincidentally also featured Ghost. Ol' Dirty McGirty's four bars are also just as ridiculous, as it consists of only two lines and then Big Baby Osirus shouting "Brooklyn zoo!" twice. Inspectah Deck reportedly had a head cold at the time of the recording, and as a result, he sounds like a completely different rapper. And God knows why Cappadonna needed to appear on this. Still, hearing most of the Wu-Tang Clan on a single track invokes a level of excitement that cannot be matched easily by any other crew, and MF Doom's "Fenugreek" instrumental is put to good use.

7. BEAUTY JACKSON
A one-verse wonder from Ghost that sounds alright, but rhyming over J Dilla's "Hi." shifts the tone the previous four songs worked so hard to achieve, and that's a problem.

8. HEART STREET DIRECTIONS (SKIT)
...

9. COLUMBUS EXCHANGE (SKIT) / CRACK SPOT
The skit is yet another dialogue snippet from the Iron Man cartoons, so it only lasts, like, maybe eight seconds. I found myself bored with the actual song, though.

10. R.A.G.U. (FEAT RAEKWON)
Maybe one of these days we'll finally be blessed with the R.A.G.U. (Rae And Ghost United) collaborative album that's been promised to us since the dawn of time. (Not bloody likely.) Ghost just doesn't have this type of chemistry with, say, U-God. Okay, I admit that was a poor example. Even U-God doesn't have any chemistry with U-God. But I believe you get my point.

11. BAD MOUTH KID (SKIT)
...

12. WHIP YOU WITH A STRAP
That has got to be one of the most bizarre (and visually innovative) song titles I have ever read. Over J Dilla's "One for Ghost", a beat that the late producer ostensibly made for Ghostface Killah, Ghost relates his childhood experience with parental discipline, which is definitely not something you expect to hear in your rap songs. However, Dennis Coles was never one to shy away from topics such as these, so it's much appreciated.

13. BACK LIKE THAT (FEAT NE-YO)
As far as I know, this was the only real single that Def Jam used to promote Fishscale. Given that this song sounds nothing like the rest of the album, I believe it to have been a poor choice, but it doesn't really matter, since nobody purchased Fishscale anyway. The song itself is okay (it helps that Ne-Yo is oddly vulgar during his hook), but these label-sanctioned forced collaborations are starting to wear thin.

14. BE EASY (FEAT TRIFE DA GOD)
The first track that leaked to the Interweb was this Pete Rock-laced monster. The flow is sick, so much so that I'm pretty sure I just contracted the flu virus. Ghost's line "I'm like the boogeyman, n---a, I'll get ya!" always gets me.

15. CLIPSE OF DOOM (FEAT TRIFE DA GOD)
Although, for the most part, I like MF Doom's beats, I've noticed that they all tend to sound alike. Does anybody else feel this way? Anyway, Trife, Ghost's right hand man, only handles the hook on here (just like he did on the previous song), allowing Ghost to dumb out completely on his verses, some of which become downright abstract and esoteric in nature.

16. JELLYFISH (FEAT CAPPADONNA, SHAWN WIGS, & TRIFE DA GOD)
If Fishscale were a film, and I was the director-slash-editor, I would cut this track for pacing reasons. It fails to add to the proceedings, it doesn't further the story along, and MF Doom's "Sumac Berries" beat sounds so similar to the last track that it just feels like a rehash. Also, Cappadonna's verse is pretty bad.

17. DOGS OF WAR (FEAT RAEKWON, TRIFE DA GOD, CAPPADONNA, & SUN GOD)
Raekwon joins with the Theodore Unit briefly for a Pete Rock-produced banger that utilizes Sly & The Family Stone's "Family Affair" in a bizarre and unique manner, and I mean that in a good way. Also, Cappadonna's verse is pretty bad.

18. BARBERSHOP
Another one-verse wonder, albeit one that begins with Ghostface on the receiving end of a bad haircut, which is goofy in and of itself, and ends with the barbershop getting held up. That last part would make sense if it led into the next track, but we never hear of it again.

19. MS. SWEETWATER (SKIT)
...

20. BIG GIRL
Meh.

21. UNDERWATER
The final Doom herbal supplement (this time "Orange Blossoms") features Ghostface telling a strange tale about living underwater and meeting up with Spongebob Squarepants. I don't believe that even Kool Keith would rhyme about this shit, unless, of course, he were trying to mate with an octopus or something.

22. THE IRONMAN TAKEOVER (SKIT)
...

23. MOMMA (FEAT MEGAN ROCHELL)
Please refer to my comments on "Back Like That", specifically those in reference to label-sanctioned forced collaborations.

The following is listed as a bonus track.

24. THREE BRICKS (FEAT THE NOTORIOUS B.I.G. & RAEKWON)
This song was originally intended for Biggie's posthumous album Duets: The Final Chapter, a haphazard cut-and-paste job by Puff Daddy, but was eventually removed from the sequence, although it was still available as an additional song in some outlets (such as Target, I believe). "Three Bricks" appears here as a bonus track simply so Ghost and Rae's efforts don't go unnoticed, since Cool & Dre's horrible production work doesn't deserve any attention. Also, Biggie's verse is completely swiped from his "N----s Bleed". So, yeah, this song is fucking terrible, and should have been left on the cutting room floor. Oh well.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Although Fishscale is far from a perfect album, it is a return to form for the Wu-Tang Clan as a crew of solo artists. Ghostface Killah easily reaches heights that are topped only by his best album, Supreme Clientele, and there are too many bangers on here to mention. The number of great tracks is only barely outweighed by the combined effort of the terrible songs and the halfway-decent cuts. All in all, a very strong effort, and the best Wu-Tang Clan-related project in a long while.

BUY OR BURN? Ghostface Killah has made an album that you kind of need to buy. No, seriously: I read somewhere that it was a law or something. You're certainly not going to be disappointed, so you may as well put your money on the table.

BEST TRACKS: "Be Easy"; "Shakey Dog"; "Kilo"; "The Champ"; "9 Milli Bros."; "R.A.G.U."; "Dogs Of War"; "Clipse Of Doom"

I also include the picture below because it was the original album cover leaked to the Interweb for Fishscale, and I feel that it is just a better cover in all aspects.




-Max

RELATED POSTS:
Read up on all of the Wu-Tang Clan posts by clicking here.

17 comments:

  1. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessOctober 07, 2008

    The Champ is a wonderful song and very much a Ghostface anthem. However, the song best suited for play after Ghostface leaves a bathroom stall is Keisha's House (skit) from The Pretty Toney Album. I'll comment on the entire review in a little while but I had to shut down that bullshit immediately.

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  2. R.A.G.U and The Champ are the only songs I remember from this album.

    SirBiatch

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  3. That cover wasn't the original cover, rather just a promo cover.

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  4. I totaly agree with you Max... This time your review was on point and the reason for this is that "Fishscale" is a good album, which leaves a spicy taste in your mouth.

    P.S.: "Three Bricks" is terrible, a song with no reason. The definition of a filler.

    -Kay-

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  5. That cover was also recycled for Hidden Darts, which is another album of b-sides, freestyles etc and allows the Ghost fan to own another copy of late night arrival, the drummer etc.

    Anyway, almost completely agree with this review and still can't believe the lead/only single was Back Like that. Depressing shit.

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  6. i liked this one a lot, so i agree : buy this people ... btw Max, I bought it back in the day so now you know at least one person who purchased it lol !

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  7. You know, when I look at the back cover and I see "The Carter Administration" it makes me want to puke. It reminds me of a time when Def Jam stifled it's strongest artists in exchange for solidifying one artist's (who happened to be President at the time) so-called greatness. Since when did Mr. Carter put out something that was as raw and vivid as Fishscale? 2006 was a depressing year in hip hop for me.

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  8. U God gon' beat that ass when he catch you in the streets...can't say i'd blame him...hedz should prolly start a pool and start taking bets...my money's on molten arms

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  9. yeah, ghost is one of my favorites, a lot of simple minded cats just cant keep up with him so he doesnt sell a lot, but he's one of the best no doubt

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  10. 'Jellyfish' has a GREAT beat.

    I thought you would have dug the synth action, with your New-Wave tendencies.

    Check it again.

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  11. i bought fishscale max!

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  12. yeah i bought this too, my fav line "im james bond in the octagon with two razors" whatever the hell that means, hated the last song big, it made no sense since the rae and ghost beefed with biggie while he was alive, it seemed a little fake to make posthumous song with him

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  13. Fishscale to me is a classic album everything meshes right. You've reviewed everyother ghost album so when are you going to review More Fish?

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  14. Your habit of ignoring skits really burns here. There's a lot of tone setting and humour in the skits, for example, 'Bad Mouth Kid' provides a very funny prelude to 'Whip With You a Strap'.

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  15. I bought this! I LOVE FishScale probably more than it deserves although Three Bricks sounds like some creepy 70s sci-fi theme tune and Biggie's appearance is just a recycled cash-in. But, I digress. Oh, and love the blog! :D

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  16. I know this is really late but the skits are not from the Iron Man cartoons but are original creations as Ghostface is referred to as "Tony Starks" in the skits.

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