The only thing more classically “Ghost” (read: perpetually intriguing, frequently counterintuitive, and occasionally non-sensical) than Def Jam releasing the second Ghostface album of the year was the brilliant (read: ridiculous) decision to title the follow-up to early-2006’s coke-cooking, soul-sampling rhymefest Fishscale… I pull your terry-cloth robe not… More Fish. Who other than Ghost would literalize a metaphor beyond all comprehension (Ghost as coke-slinger to Ghost as cod-monger)? While not exactly a proper solo successor to Fishscale, More Fish combines with its predecessor to suggest that the man once caught in Cancun eatin’ grouper is now serving up a significantly less exotic plate to a blissfully unaware listening public.
Contemporary critical Ghost-discourse is suffering from what I like to call the “Grammy syndrome”: the tendency to praise an artist’s present work in terms more suitable to his/her early work, as a means both of acknowledging long-unappreciated greatness (late pass!) and of writing about what the critic finds interesting rather than what’s relevant. Recent reviews of the Fish suite have presented the albums as if they’re a seamless extension of Ghost’s early work, suggesting that the sort of crazy linguistic turns found in his more recent songs is “vintage Ghost.”
To the collected listening public: I say: are you actually listening to this stuff? Or are just reveling in your image of Ghost, circa-Supreme Clientele? The fact of the matter is – and Ghost himself has gone on record saying as much – his style has changed considerably since the turn of the millennium. I’ll spare you the intricate details and close readings needed to establish this thesis (be on the lookout for a new On Style feature, “Excursus on Listening to Ghostface Killah”), but here’s the quick and dirty version: Ghost 2.0 is more “linear,” he gets to the point, rather than circling around it in weird semantic loops.
Inasmuch as More Fish – and Fishscale for that matter – features a more straightforward Ghost, it’s better seen as a follow-up to his collaborative projects with the Theodore Unit (718, Put it on the Line), rather than a sequel to Ironman, Supreme Clientele, or even Bulletproof Wallets. Sort of a surrogate, “secular” Wu, the Unit – led by the razor-spitting Trife Da God – has historically given Ghost an outlet to produce less avant-garde, heavily mixtape-y work. Whether battling his way through the funky, bass-driven “Ghost is Back,” graphically illustrating torture (“Guns ‘N Razors”), or screaming threats over grinding, industrial chaos (“Blue Armor”), Ghost is driving at his points more directly than ever.
The lone, undiluted strain of Ghost 1.0 can be found on the truly bizarre “Alex (Stolen Script),” a “Winston-smoking,” “Hardy Boys”-esque crime narrative revolving around publishing rights to a film vaguely resembling the Grammy-winning bio-pic Ray. “Stolen Script” features an opportune encounter between the ex-convict Alex (a former felon with auteur aspirations – “Now we can move on / And shoot this live shit / With mad options / Paramount and Dreamworks we shop it / Or Mandalay and New Line cop it / I go and get ten mil and blow it on the independent market”) and Ray Charles in Hollywood. The plot’s far too byzantine to make much sense, but its key moment involves the famed blind pianist reading a contract written in Braille. More than a hint of The Wasteland leeks through this eerie, lo-fi piece. Shantih shantih shantih, Mr. Ghost-deini.
Throughout this shaggy compilation, Trife plays Ghost’s right-hand man; and while he seems to have only one-gear – “all out” – his flicking, daggered deliveries and complex patterns work well in counterpoint to Ghost’s manic flows. Trife and Ghost’s son, Sun God (who sounds like a young version of Solomon Childs), collaborate to hunt-down a Colombian drug-kingpin on the taut, propulsive “Miguel Sanchez.” Meanwhile, father and son spit back-to-back on “Street Opera,” driven by a short, menacing vocal sample. As for Shawn Wigs, well, let’s just say he doesn’t deserve two solo tracks, and leave it at that.
In the end, More Fish doesn’t find Ghost in “classic” form; it doesn’t even find him in “top” form… it finds him in “different” form, one that’s been taking shape right in front of us for several years. And while I prefer Ghost 1.0 – hip-hop’s only true aesthete – the raggedy, unsequenceable More Fish is still an enjoyable listen. Word to my Wonderwoman Bracelet. Or, in Ghost 2.0, “True.”