Fishscale is the fifth studio album by American rapper and Wu-Tang Clan member Ghostface Killah, released March 28, 2006 on Def Jam in the United States. The album features guest appearances from every member of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as Ghostface Killah's Theodore Unit. It also features production from several acclaimed producers, such as MF Doom, Pete Rock, J Dilla, and Just Blaze, among others. The album follows an organized crime theme, and is named after a term for uncut cocaine, fishscale.
Fishscale sold nearly 110,000 units in its first week of release, and debuted at number four on the Billboard 200, and number two on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, making it the highest charting Ghostface Killah album since his 1996 debut, Ironman. The singles "Back Like That," and "Be Easy" entered the U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, with the former peaking at the 14th position. Upon its release, Fishscale received universal acclaim, with critics praising the album's cohesiveness, lyricism, and production. As of November 2009, the album had sold 332,000 copies.
In January 2006, a sampler was released containing full versions of "Be Easy," "Back Like That," and "Kilo," as well as shortened versions of "Big Girl" and "Charlie Brown". It also included an alternate version of "The Champ". "Charlie Brown," which was produced by MF DOOM, contained a sample from Caetano Veloso's "Alfomega" that did not ultimately receive clearance, and the song did not appear on the final album. Similarly, "The Champ" was not cleared and an altered version found its way on to the album.
J Dilla created his two productions for Ghostface, but also used them on his instrumental album Donuts; MF DOOM's productions are taken from his Special Herbs series of albums.
Upon its release, Fishscale received universal acclaim from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 88, based on 32 reviews.Robert Christgau of The Village Voice called it a crack-trade "trend record that ranks with any Biggie or Wu CD". He found Ghostface Killah's stories to be as "vivid, brutal, and thought-out as any noir" and felt that the music features "a powerfully souled and sampled Clan-type groove" and a "screeching intensity" similar to Public Enemy's 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Raymond Fiore said that "he may not be reinventing himself with Fishscale, but as a must-hear street storyteller, Ghostface Killah's still at the top of his game." Matt Barone from XXL wrote that, "with a few forced collaborations being its only flaw, Fishscale is Ghost’s most addictive dosage post Supreme Clientele. Packed with vivid street tales, comic relief and straight spittin’, the album continues his standard of excellence."
Steve Jones from USA Today wrote that "Ghostface takes a timeworn hip-hop theme — dealing cocaine, and creates a riveting listening experience. He doesn't so much deliver rhymes as narrate graphically detailed scenes, rife with violence, passion and a little humor."Allmusic writer Andy Kellman wrote in his review "...Ghost responds by pouring all that he has, both lyrically and vocally, into every track on the album. The scenarios he recounts are as detailed and off-the-wall as ever, elaborate screenplays laid out with a vocal style that's ceaselessly fluid and never abrasive." In Q, Ted Kessler wrote, "Rappers rarely improve with age, but Wu-Tang Clan veteran Ghostface is the exception… Whether Ghostface's explaining how to cook crack on 'Kilo', how he likes his hair cut on 'Barbershop', or how he came to swim with 'SpongeBob in a Bentley Coupe' on 'Underwater', he remains rap's finest storyteller." In his review for The A.V. Club, Nathan Rabin wrote:
"In contrast to his aggressive delivery on The Pretty Toney Album, Ghostface is far more relaxed, confident, and eclectic here. One of rap's most cinematic and sophisticated storytellers, he fills his pulp narratives with so much novelistic detail that it's impossible to catch everything on the first listen. Thankfully, the kaleidoscopic, soul-drenched production by Doom, Pete Rock, Jay Dee, Just Blaze, and others make repeat listens seem tempting, even downright irresistible. Sure, Fishscale has its share of pointless skits. But that's what the fast-forward button is for, just as the play button seems to have been designed specifically to let people listen to Fishscale over and over again."
Fishscale was ranked as one of the best albums of the year by many famous publishers. It also appeared on several lists for best albums of the decade, with Stylus Magazine ranking it number eleven.Uncut ranked it number 62 on their 150 Best Albums of the 2000s, while Pitchfork Media ranked it number 75 on their Top 200 Albums of the 2000s, stating "History will remember Fishscale as Ghostface's Magical Mystery Tour: an artist convinced of his own genius empties every chamber on a batshit, pseudo-conceptual headtrip." In 2009, Rhapsody ranked the album at number nine on its "Hip-Hop’s Best Albums of the Decade" list.