Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Killah Returns

Ghostface Killah's 2004 release The Pretty Toney Album was missing something. I don't mean that the album itself was missing anything. Actually, it wasn't that bad. However, the cover was certainly missing something…the killah.

For some reason, Ghostface Killah dropped the "Killah" from his name with that album, going just by "Ghostface." Unfortunately, the album didn't sell that well. Ghostface returned the "Killah" to his name for his new release Fishscale and it's his best album since Supreme Clientele.

Fishscale has everything you've come to expect from a Ghostface Killah album. It's got old-school sample-driven beats and stories about his childhood, street life, and women (both good and bad). It has the intricate (and sometimes impenetrable) wordplay that makes you rewind songs to make sure you heard what you thought you did. However, what makes Fishscale stand out from the likes of Bulletproof Wallets and The Pretty Toney Album is the fact that everything is done so well and with little filler.

If you don't count the skits, there are 18 songs to be found on Fishscale. Most of them are pretty good. A catchy, singsongy hook drives the ode to drugs "Kilo" and Ghostface sounds ready for battle on the Rocky-inspired, Just Blaze-produced "The Champ." MF Doom (of Danger Doom and Madvillain fame) provides the appropriately gritty beat for the Wu-Tang reunion cut "9 Milli Bros." Even the late Ol' Dirty Bastard appears on what could be the very last song to feature the entire Wu-Tang Clan. Fellow Wu member and frequent collaborator Raekwon appears on a few tracks including "R.A.G.U.," a Pete Rock-produced song that almost sounds like a lost track from Only Built 4 Cuban Linx.

Ghostface's storytelling abilities are on display throughout this album. He attempts to woo a girl waiting at the bus stop in "Beauty Jackson," one of two songs produced by the late J Dilla. The other, "Whip You With A Strap," has him reminiscing about the whippings he used to receive as a kid. Then, there's "Underwater," a song that starts with Ghostface going through an underwater "pink door with a crystal handle" and weaves images as disparate as Noah's Ark and Spongebob driving a Bentley.

Two of the album's best songs deal with women in radically different ways. The current hit single "Back Like That" has Ghostface breaking up with his woman because she slept with his enemy as revenge for his own infidelity. At the beginning of the song, he tells the woman to give back the things he gave her. The bitterness comes through loud and clear when he tries to get back the ring and it won't come off. "Give me the whole finger, then," he tells his ex. However, Ghostface shows a completely different side on "Momma." The central theme of the song is that men are the reason things are hard for women. In the first verse, he blames his father for his mother's alcoholism because of the way he abused her. In the second verse, he tells a woman how he will be good to her. In the final verse, he says that girls are in trouble without "a strong man in the home."

Overall, Fishscale is a very strong album. Even with 24 total tracks, it never feels slow or padded. Although most of the skits are throwaways, they are so short that it's not worth the effort to skip them. One of them, "Heart Street Directions," is actually kind of funny. While you may skip over a song or two, there isn't a truly bad song in the bunch. The production is incredibly consistent whether it's done by well-known producers like Pete Rock, not-so-well-known producers, or in the case of "Big Girl," the artist himself. Ghostface doesn't exactly break new ground with this album, but the quality more than makes up for that. This is one of the best hip-hop albums released in 2006 so far. Highly recommended.

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