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Ghostface Killah, ‘Fishscale’ (Def Jam)

Rap about crack cocaine hit big last year, with Young Jeezy and Juelz Santana flooding the streets and the charts. So when Ghostface Killah announced he was releasing an album christened after fishscale, a pure form of Peruvian flake cocaine, trepidation struck. Sure, the Wu-Tang Clan vet detailed a drug empire on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… 11 years ago, but since then, his solo albums have veered toward stream-of-consciousness verbal hijinks. Coke seemed too rote a topic for a rapper who never had to bend his will to mainstream tastes.

But this is also Ghost’s first album since his beloved Wu brother Ol’ Dirty Bastard died from a cocaine-related overdose in 2004, and perhaps in tribute, Ghost has made the definitive blow opus. Toning down his oddball style and ramping up his storytelling, he drops a pusher’s odyssey as developed and cinematic as any Scorsese joint. Each track depicts a different mise-en-scène in the life of a kilo kingpin who “bags your boo,” busts up an apartment, witnesses an OD, gets a haircut, and goes bazonkers. Ghost mandates soul samples, and his producers (Pete Rock, Cool n Dre, MF Doom) are generally up to the task, especially on Doom’s “Underwater,” a Super Mario Bros.–sounding dream sequence about deep-sea diving and spiritual exploration.

Peppered with declarations of Ghost’s own fallibility, the album is a cautionary tale, an argument against the Life as certainly as it paints it. On “Big Girl,” Ghost karaoke-style raps over the Stylistics’ effervescent “You’re a Big Girl Now,” offering advice to an ensemble of young lady cokeheads. Even while pushing them snow, he drops soliloquies on what their futures could be. Most touchingly, on a crack-pipe track evoking ODB’s OD, he pleads, “Goodness, gracious, Tony, gosh/ Put away the frosted flakes / You’re killing us / The residue from the last batch / We all went straight.” Where there is coke, there is conscience, and now more than ever, Ghost is for the kids.

See also: Clipse, We Got It 4 Cheap, Vol. 2 (, 2005)