IT'S JUST A NORMAL Thursday afternoon—normal, except for the fact that Ghostface Killah is totally chewing my shit out! All I did was ask him why RZA was nowhere to be found on Ghost's new album, Fishscale.
"I don't need RZA every time I do an album," he tells me. "I'm tired of telling fucking magazine people this shit, nahmean? Everybody be thinking like," [mimicking me, presumably]. "'Oh, why you didn't use RZA?' It's like—yo, I used him all my life, yo. I'm a grown man. I'm 35 years old, nahmsayin? It's like yo, I'm trying to keep it moving right now... I ain't got nobody holding my hand or nothing... It's like every time I do an album, the whole fucking Wu-Tang's gotta be on it. I want niggas to stop getting it twisted."
Consider me untwisted, then. To tell the truth, I wasn't complaining about RZA's absence; based on the five-song sampler that Def Jam's released, Fishscale is some album-of-the-year hiphop, standing head and shoulders over the entire Ghostface catalog. It's some wet-the-bed and dance-in-the-elevator music, with insanely good beats by Pete Rock and MF Doom, plus guest spots by Ne-Yo and the chef Raekwon himself. Unless the rest of the CD is unfathomably bad, I'm calling Fishscale (the title refers to high-grade Peruvian coke) the best hiphop CD since The College Dropout, easy.
Around 2000, Ghostface developed a broad lead as the strongest member of Wu-Tang—the go-to guy who could be counted on for the most consistent, high-quality product. Supreme Clientele dropped the same year as the Wu's underrated The W, and the one-two punch left fans of Ghost's manic delivery lying on the floor, staring at the lights. His signature style was intact—when he flows, Ghostface sounds like a man who's in pure disbelief of what he's witnessing, while simultaneously pleading for his life. This heartfelt urgency exploded with stylistic confidence as Ghost's solo career took off. Listen to "Ghost Deini," or "Gravel Pit" (or, for that matter, "Charlie Brown" off Fishscale)—it sounds like the flow is coming from somewhere beyond and just bubbling up through Ghost's mouth, as his lips and tongue try to keep up with this channeled outpouring. Suffice it to say, once you hear his delivery, you'll never wonder who it is when you hear him again.
While past records have found Ghost rapping about baked ziti and finger-fucking Pamela Anderson, Fishscale hovers on the subject of cocaine, complete with the sounds of sniffing noses and throats being cleared of gak. In the wake of Wu-Tang member Ol' Dirty Bastard's fatal overdose, this seems bizarre—as a friend suggested, it would be like Dave Grohl naming the first Foo Fighters' CD Shotgun Blast to the Face. Both ODB and recently deceased producer Jay Dee appear on Fishscale, so I asked how their deaths affect how Ghost hears their tracks.
"It don't affect me," he says. "Life and death is like peanut butter and jelly—they just go together."
And there it is—a question about drugs and dead friends answered with a koan about the philosophy of sack lunches. From coke to Jif, dead friends to jelly, this is why we don't mind when Ghost makes an album on a subject as tired as street drugs: It's all about his delivery—always percolating, forever bubbling, never twisted.
To hear audio of Ghostface berating Chas, and clips from Fishscale, check out the Mercury Pod 'n' Vod at portlandmercury.com/podcasts