I’ll say it: Tony Starks is the best thing to come of the Wu-Tang Clan. Ever.
Probably the least celebrated of the legendary hip-hop collective (at least above ground), Ghostface Killah has quietly put together an impressive discography of his anarchic delivery. When we last visited the Staten Island native, he was spitting venom over uber-large soul samples on the The Pretty Toney Album. With a Shortlist nom and some incredibly fawning attention from the press, it seemed all but inevitable that Starks had reached his artistic pinnacle. Toney firmly entrenched Starks as an icon in the eyes of intellectual hip-hop fans, a spot he embraced by joining forces on tracks with a few other heavyweight notables—whether Kweli or Doom, et al, over the last two years Ghostface Killah upstaged everyone he worked with.
Fishscale adopts the narrative style of pal and collaborator MF Doom (who produces a few tracks on the album) by loosely stringing a tale of the drug trade by song and interlude alike. The tracks themselves find Ghostface backed by a who’s who of emcees and producers—his most name-heavy release to date. Despite the absence of the GZA, who had previously been a producer on each of Ghostface’s albums, Starks seems unfazed. Why not? Doom, Pete Rock, and Jay Dilla (R.I.P.) are nothing to sneeze at, either.
These tracks retain the raw production of Ghostface’s previous work, which admirably accomplishes the task of making each song sound live—turn up the volume and you can practically feel Starks spitting on you. His delivery is my favorite Ghost mannerism—whether it is over Dilla’s slow, doe-eyed “Whip You With A Strap,” or the glam-rock Just Blaze production on “The Champ,” Starks never changes delivery. He’s constantly breathless and frantic, sharing a similar audible insanity with compatriot ODB. Lyrically, Ghost has always been great at melding violence, hope, and humor (when he croons a quick line in the first verse of “Jellyfish,” it’s almost laughable and loveable at the same time) in a single couplet—with all of these emotions fusing with his delivery and constantly-evolving production, the result is a schizophrenic bomb of explosive energy.
It’s easy to delve headfirst into Starks’ work from an analytical sense and still find tons to be impressed over, but one only need listen to the first line of “9 Milli Bros.,” the Wu-Tang reunion track, to fall in love with Ghostface. “Ya’ll be nice to the crackheads!!!” he screams completely out of cadence, and it’s incredibly addictive. Fans of punk would appreciate Ghost’s dismissal of consonance, and anyone with a pulse should feel the energy oozing from each crevice of Fishscale.