When interviewing artists, I always ask them about their musical influences, as who inspired them to write and fall in love with hip-hop is extremely telling about themselves as artists. I began noticing a pattern; everyone named Ghostface Killah. It’s impossible to love hip-hop and not respect Ghost, but to be named by every single rapper I talked to regardless of their location and age got me thinking. Ghostface is often left out of the normal conversations surrounding the hip-hop greats and that would be a big mistake.
Eight years ago, Ghostface Killah released his fifth studio album: Fishscale. Named for the finest quality of cocaine, Ghost perfects the storytelling drug rap flow that he and Raekwon pioneered in the early 90s. Twenty-four tracks deep with production by J Dilla, MF Doom, Pete Rock and Just Blaze and guest appearances by the entire Wu-Tang Clan, Ne-Yo and Biggie, Fishscale is undeniably classic caliber.
“Shakey Dog” begins the album and the beat captivates you immediately. By ’06, Killah had long before confirmed his ability to flow over samples and “Shakey Dog” showcases that mastery as Ghost finesses over Johnny Johnson’ and His Bandwagon’s “Love is Blue.” Telling the story of an attempted robbery of Cuban drug dealers with his friend Frank, the imagery is incredible. “These fuckin’ maricons on the couch watching Sanford And Son, Passin’ they rum, fried plantains and rice. Big round onions on a T-bone steak, my stomach growling.” Ghost’s screenplay like flow is at its best on Fishscale.
The Chef is featured all over this album and with “Kilo” the duo demonstrate their in depth knowledge of the drug game. Without a hint of glorification, Ghost differentiates between the small time hustlers versus those dealing with Kilo’s of cocaine and as he eloquently articulates, “whoever got the kilos got the candy man!”
The whole Wu-Tang Clan reunites for “9 Milli Bros” and the gritty New York sound that the clan popularized is so authentic over MF Doom’s “Fenugreek.” The intro takes thirty-five seconds easily as each member, with their distinct timbre, take a turn on the mic in a roll call like format.
Although the standout tracks are when Ghost rides solo. “The Champ” is Killah’s assertion of his reign in hip-hop. Ghost’s rhymes are confident and filled with fire, which is a perfect match for the Just Blaze boxing themed track. Complete with the bell that distinguishes boxing rounds, and a commentator voice proclaiming Ghostface’s title, the production only assists the visual that Ghost paints with his words, which is the true championship of his career.
The numerous skits interspersed are incredible inserts and break up the lengthy album. “Bad Mouth Kid (Skit)“ precedes “Whip You With a Strap” and the skit tells the story of Ghost trying to get a little kid to behave in his car. The latter track is a reflection of Ghostface’s memories of being beaten as a child. Rather than blaming his mom for the abuse, Ghost admits to how much of a difficult child he was and is critical of the lack of punishments kids receive nowadays. The hook “Take me across her lap, beat me with a strap” is as iconic as the J Dilla production and provides a more humble flow compared to the first half of the album.
“Three Bricks” closes Fishscale and it’s as dark as it is thrilling to hear Big’s voice again, especially alongside another stellar storyteller in hip hop. Over “Niggas Bleed” and “Somebody’s Gotta Die,” this track is directly from The Duets cutting board and features the story of Tony, Frank and Lex also known as Ghostface, The Notorious B.I.G. and Raekwon. Rapping their stick up in such detail as only these three can, the “we run the city” line in the intro is one hundred percent accurate.
Ghostface created a masterpiece with Fishscale and provides inspiration for some of the greatest rappers that followed. When mentioning the important albums of all time, Fishscale deserves to be included.