Music

Ghostface Killah: Fishscale

Dan Nishimoto

Ghostface Killah is all grown up now. And he's got some stories to tell.


Ghostface Killah

Fishscale

Label: Def Jam
US Release Date: 2006-03-28
UK Release Date: 2006-04-04
iTunes affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

A couple months ago, a Wu-Tang Clan freestyle from 1993 resurfaced amidst the treasure trove known as the internet. Over period grime and breaks, members took turns showing and proving what made their group so impressive early on; their common sense of head-bending wordplay and aggressive delivery made them the most cohesive collective since Golden Age crews like the Cold Crush Brothers. Although the five captured in the recording gelled well together, only a few were clearly ready for primetime -- sensible that Method Man and RZA book-ended the session. On the flip side, the least distinct was the one who referenced himself the most: Ghostface Killah. Though filling his verse with images both brutal and askew, like "Nigga make moves like a baby crawl" and "I be housin' the track; bob and weave", he sounded married to the beat and marched through his lines with a stolid cadence. Listening to this session today, where even Inspectah Deck's turn turns memorable for a flub, I am hard pressed to hear the star potential of the artist normally known as Dennis Coles.

Yet, in 2006 the W lives on principally through Pretty Toney. Who brings the grit to an R&B hit? Not, Meth, but Ghost. Who works the underground circuit? GZA, kinda, but not like Ghost. And who still finds life in those ol' synthetic, trampish, skull snappin' breaks? You guessed it. Unlike his compatriots who became instant vintage, Ghostface has slowly raised his work from a coiling simmer to a bubbling boil. While his one-two opening combo of Ironman and Supreme Clientele remain hard to beat, he has since toned his persona and sculpted his style "down to a science." In '93, Coles had to emphatically repeat his name. In '06, he just needs one word: "Theodore."

So, consider Ghostface's fifth album Fishscale (kids, ask Tyrone Biggums what this means) the latest upgrade -- a further refinement. He continues to yarn familiar trap tales, which may seem blasé with all the young'ns clamoring for a cut. However, Ghost's are a reminder that you can have your crack rap and not be so simple about it. He indulges in twisted drug tales and twisting life lessons over choice soul loops, constantly inverting meaning and bending context to his will -- who else can turn a children's record on the metric system into a neo-Scarface routine... and still keep it punchy and catchy? A modern summation of being Stylistic, Fishscale is pungent with the presence of Ghostface, more so than any fish being pushed.

Fishscale owes a large part of its success to Ghostface's vivid storytelling. Building on his knack for distinct imagery that crosses pop culture with measured violence -- like "I'm James Bond in the Octagon / With two razors" -- he walks easily through drug deals gone awry ("Shakey Dog") and memories of corporal punishment ("Whip You with a Strap"). His ease with and choice of detail makes the mundane TCB, Raekwon tag-team of "R.A.G.U" such a joy to listen to. Admittedly, Ghost's foray into the wonderful world of narrative occasionally runs astray, notably on excessive skits (seven cuts on a 24-track album) like the juvenile "Heart Street Directions". However, as dense as the album becomes with so many vignettes in roughly an hour, Fishscale is one of the emcee's most cohesive recorded statements.

Of course, perhaps what keeps the fans flocking to Pretty Toney more than his growth chart is his foundation in the past. With an eye in his back, he often emphasizes the distance between the present and the time of his stories, tinting his work with nostalgia apt for the grown'n thuggish. Ghost made this point literally on his previous album's single "Holla", which revealed the emcee going to town over a wholesale slab of The Delfonics' "La La (Means I Love You)". Here, "Big Girl" revisits "Holla" as Ghost toasts both Honey and Viola from the block and Honey and Viola cutting product over The Stylistics' "You're a Big Girl Now". Such, is the charm of Ghostface: whether he is busy redefining Mr. T's glory ("The Champ") or adding a chapter to his crew's story (the Wu-Tang reunion on "9 Milli Brothers"), he has been committed to what he came up with and continues to grow with it. For that I have to differ slightly from Elliott Wilson's recent observation that Ghostface is "truly a soul baby": now, he's a true soul man.

8

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image