Ghostface Killah, Fishscales

By Jordan Selbo

Forget this review—real heads have probably already copped the new joint. Either you’ve already caught on to the wonder of Ghostface (a dozen years deep), or you’re still eating Lucky Charms cereal, rubbing the sleep out your eyes. Forget the sharks who hated on the smooth Starks funk of Bulletproof Wallets (wood in the hood but still close to my heart)—Ghost has been my man since he stepped out of the 36 chambers of death and shot the first lyric dart on “Bring Da Ruckus,” forcing us to “catch the blast from a hype verse.” The man who’s dropped five (!) bangers over the last 10 years. Add it up, son. That’s a classic joint every two calendars. Fuck Jay-Z and Nas. King of New York? Look no further than the Wallabee Champ himself. Or did everyone forget that with RZA off in Hollywood, Dirt McGirt imprisoned and Meth trippin’ through deodorant commercials, this is the man who single-handedly rescued the Wu-Tang legacy (and hip hop as a whole) from irrelevancy at the start of the decade with Supreme Clientele? Through a decade of myriad trends and styles, he’s always stayed himself—the man might blow up but he won’t go pop. God bless the child.

Just in case the kiddies are still tripping off his last joint’s grown-man love shit—thinking the Killah is going soft—he opens Fishscales hungrier than ever on the opening salvo “The Return of Clyde Smith,” which conveys a simple but honest viewpoint: Ghost is one grown-ass man. Then he backs it up with the first three songs of the album, with the type of champion-style bodyblow lyrics and crunchy beats that hardcore Wu fans have come to expect from the Ironman. Calling those same Wu-heads: peep track six, as it features all the original members (even Dirt McGirt, R.I.P.). Does the collabo live up to my nostalgia for seventh-grade and “Proteck Ya Neck”? Not really. But is it a better track by Doom trampled on by all nine members of the original C.R.E.A.M. team? No doubt. Put it on loud and reminisce on when Cuban Linx… came out and everyone was up on WTC.

The rest of the album revolves loosely around the type of Mafioso big talk and drug running adventures that made Rae and Ghost’s first joints so alluring. It keeps the quality at ridiculous standards as the boards are handled by everyone from Pete Rock to MF Doom to the late J Dilla. You’ll barely even notice that the RZA’a handiwork is completely absent. The power of Starks remains in his persona as the perfect gangster, a man at once supremely grandiose and refreshingly jokey (sample lyric: “don’t eat ketchup on my fries/ hitting baseball spliffs/ backseat, with my legs all stiff/ push the fucking seat up”). If Ghost was a Frankenstein rap creation, he’d be ’88 Lakim Shabazz’s righteous braggadocio mixed with ’91 Cube’s cold hood logic and G. Rap’s criminology, increasingly sprinkled with soul sympathies bordering on fetishism. Add it up and you see that this man has been holding down Hip Hop since you was learning how to ride a bike. So when Ghost brags early on that he’s “been doing this shit since Nas dropped the Nasty,” you tend to believe him. Like whoa.

As with any tried-and-true Ghost joint, Fishscales provides plenty of hardcore Wu mathematics, intoxicating stream-of-consciousness lyrical flows, deft and cinematic storytelling abilities, as well as the gangsta of love pillow talk from 2004’s Pretty Tony—obviously dude’s got more styles than the MOA. And yea, the album may have one (or four) too many skits, the guest eMCees rarely step up to Ghost’s level and the recycled-sounding Rae/Biggie duet tacked onto the end seems totally extraneous. But it’s still the Killah, and I’m still gonna bump this until the snow starts falling again. An eMCee’s album in every sense, Fishscales promises to be the standard of 2006 hip hop—real heads will wear it out while the masses once again sleep and wait for another Outkast album to drop.

Final verdict: 3.5 joints (out of 4).