Fishscale

Ghostface Killah

Def Jam, 2006

http://ghostfacemusic.com

REVIEW BY: Sean McCarthy

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/29/2006

It wasn’t until the mid ’90s where even rap’s most vocal critics began relenting that this “rap thing” wasn’t a fad -– it was here to stay. Like soul, R&B, heavy metal and punk, rap and hip-hop had become full-fledged genres. While it’s elitist to think of one genre as better than others, an argument can be made about judging genres on the standard of how it treats its elders.

Buddy Guy, Al Green and Bob Dylan, all elder statesmen of their genres, have released some of the best blues, soul and rock albums of the past five years, proving there’s room for young blood and seasoned vets in their respective genres. However, when you take a look at punk, you see its elders move on to different genres or branch out into multimedia and book readings (see Henry Rollins and Patti Smith). As for rap and hip-hop, it’s hard to imagine The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy of today releasing a work that would rank up with my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Check Your Head or Fear Of A Black Planet.

The game’s even harder for hardcore rap. The latest albums from Busta Rhymes and DMX debuted strong, but sank like a brick from horrible word of mouth. The thought of releasing a commercial and artistically-viable work in hardcore rap at the elder age of 35 most likely came across Ghostface Killah’s mind a few times as he made Fishscale: one of the running skits is a Burgess Meredith sound-a-like chiding Ghostface “You ain’t been hungry since Supreme Clientele!” like Mickey would chastise Rocky Balboa.

Without taking anything away from Eminem, it is Ghostface Killah who should be in the running for the title of “rap’s greatest storyteller.” With Fishscale, Ghostface creates a quasi-concept album about one of the Wu-Tang-Clan’s favorite topics: cocaine. Like Trainspotting, the album gives you the euphoric highs in equal doses with cautionary portraits like “Big Girl” and “Kilo.”

Like a Brian De Palma movie, Fishscale is overstuffed. Far too often, the skits hinder the album’s impact. For those that are willing to put up with some of the album’s excesses, or those who will simply press fast-forward are repeatedly rewarded for giving Fishscale a full listen. Wu-Tang-Clan fans are especially rewarded with the glorious pass-the-mike reunion of “9 Mill Bros.”

Fishscale is by no means a landmark album in hip-hop. With the exception of the level of lyrical detail that ranks up there with great crime fiction, there’s nothing on Fishscale that most listeners of hip-hop haven’t heard before. The album merely is a superb sample of what Ghostface does best. Here’s hoping Ghostface will prove critics wrong again when he unleashes another classic well into his 40s.

Rating: A-

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© 2006 Sean McCarthy and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Def Jam, and is used for informational purposes only.