Thirsty Fish – Testing the Waters
Bell Rang Records (2008)
Hip-hop / Rap
In May of last year, I was able to catch a Thirsty Fish live show at a small club in West Hollywood. Featuring the core as well as the group’s extended family, I wasn’t disappointed, and even if I had been disappointed, Mike Eagle got me in for free and bought me a beer, so it wouldn’t have all been for naught. While it wasn’t a huge event, I got an idea of just how hard-working these guys are, as well as how much better they are than most of their peers.
After the show, I packed myself into the back of Mike Eagle’s Nissan and hit the town with the crew. While there were no bottles of Cristal, clubs with flying buttresses and chandeliers, or scantily clad hood rats involved (thus dashing to pieces any preconceived notions that I had of how rappers get their party on), I had a pretty good time hanging out at a warehouse party across from the Staples Center, drinking free, unlimited filthy Pabst Blue Ribbon in a can and listening to various ciphers and obscure ’80s New Wave hits. Afterwards we hit up the nearby 24-hour McDonald’s drive-thru, where I tried one of those fantastic, limited-edition and regionally EXCLUSIVE Angus Third Pounders (I believe it was the Bacon & Cheese, though I would later on in that trip enjoy the Mushroom & Swiss much more when I had it in San Diego while visiting That_Bootleg_Guy). I also recall Psychosiz ordering the Apple Dippers and the lady at the window being exceptionally crotchety, perhaps upon realizing that we were a car full of various minorities, and that we were most likely up to no good.
And here we are, almost a year later, and said crew has finally dropped their debut effort. When Mike Eagle made a post on the Super-Secret Writer Forums several weeks back looking for volunteers to review the album, the hamster in my wheel started running and I figured, why not make it a party? The panel for this group review will include myself, Mathan Erhardt and recently-resurrected (albeit in limited capacity) and aforementioned Aaron “That_Bootleg_Guy”, as well as EXCLUSIVE commentary (which you’ll not find anywhere else) from all three Thirsty Fish emcees. Shenanigans!
J. R. Fernandez: What would a hip-hop album be without some sort of intro? The “Fintro”, produced EXCLUSIVELY by Open Mike Eagle, is a donnybrook chock-full of various samples and quotes. And the stripped-down beat ain’t bad, either.
Mathan Erhardt: Cool little intro that sets things off and sets them up. Clever sampling really pricks up the ears.
Aaron “That Bootleg Guy” Cameron: There’s some clever little sound bites mixed in there. I don’t recognize all of them, but there’s definitely a nod to some cheesy ’60s superhero dialogue (Aquaman? Superman?) so I instantly approve.
Psychosiz: Ah… the “Fintro”—produced by Open (Mike Eagle) and sprinkled with non-sequiturs. Pretty much this was all Mike.
Fernandez: And the first track starts out with flutes, as I’m immediately reminded of Donovan. I must say that it’s really refreshing to hear an intelligent track that could also pass as a club track, with its lush, bass-heavy beat.
Mathan: Can I just say how refreshing it is to hear emcees actually dissing a product instead of promoting it? I swear, it feels like an early-’90s Brand Nubian joint in that regard.
That Bootleg Guy: Aaaauuugh! Too short! It’s too short! Well, if that’s the worse thing that can be said, then that’s a plus, I s’pose. One of my favorite beats on the album.
Open Mike Eagle: Nothing starts a record better than happy flutes, I say… Every Thursday is the Project Blowed Open Mic session, hence the “Thursday’s work day” in the hook. Incidentally, while we were recording DFD’s part of the hook, he accidentally knocked a glass over right on the part where it goes “not that bottled bullsh*t”. Early versions of the song had this glass breaking sound that was kinda cool…
Psychosiz: The title is derived from my own experience working graveyard at a video game company. That, coupled with the late hours we put in at the Project Blowed, and the name just floated. The song itself, however, seems to be more of a take on what is expected from us versus what we intend to put forth. It’s still a light-hearted song, but it touches on a couple things—in our feelings towards the music industry: “…On some Vince McMahon shit.. ./ More talking, less wrestling / I’ve got Hart, but Bret can’t win”
DumbFounDead: This song has a real happy vibe to it and this is probably like the first water themed song we wrote together, the beat is real upbeat as well.
Fernandez: So we’ve got “Third Shift”, “Thursday’s Work Day” and the “The Thirst”, as I’m definitely feeling the alliteration love. Seeing as this song as about finding a passion in life, I think it really works that all of the guys sound especially passionate—even Mike with his laid-back delivery. And BIG UPS for the Home Alone sample; not sure if and how they got clearance for that one, but I certainly got a chuckle out of it.
Mathan: I’ve got to say that Eagle’s rhyme really resonated with me. Maybe it was his chill delivery or his personal yet relatable lyrics. Not that everyone else sucked, it’s just that Open Mike’s verse hit me.
That Bootleg Guy: Personally, my favorite track on the whole damn album. It spins like a Thirsty Fish mission statement and an authentic State of the Union address rolled into one. Simultaneously honest, optimistic and cynical. And, that doesn’t even touch on the excellent chemistry throughout.
Open Mike Eagle: People always ask us where the name came from and we got tired of making up an answer on the spot everytime… We decided that an important aspect of “The Thirst” would be our career ambitions and my love of random Home Alone samples.
Psychosiz: “The Thirst” is just that; an explanation of what we thirst for in our day-to-day. It’s an interesting insight into the goals and aspirations of each member of the group. To me, Open Mike embodies the humbleness in each of us, while myself… well, as the song states: “I want my name so big it won’t fit in the teleprompter”.
DumbFounDead: We were really trying to get personal with this one and talk about what we thirst for in life.
Fernandez: I have to mention that Psychosiz is reminding me of LL Cool J in his prime. You might have to look for it, but it’s definitely there. And Mike’s verse is ridiculous, not only showing that WIT HAPPENS, but also that Mike’s got more than one successful type of flow.
Mathan: The beat’s got a kind of Beatnuts vibe. DumbFounDead seems to be channeling the most annoying aspects of both MC Paul Barman and Eminem, which kind of makes the song end on a less than great note.
That Bootleg Guy: Torn on this one. I really like the airy beat and the lyrics are definitely rewindable (“I’ll hunt like Dick Cheney”!), but it kind of runs all over the place. I get their intended target, but the cohesion between verses is a little loose. Methinks this would’ve sounded better with just one MC on all three verses.
Open Mike Eagle: One thing we do really well is take a concept way too far. In this song we get hunting advice from comic book characters and crooked politicians, we kill a couple of cartoon characters and reference Egyptian mythology… and that’s just in my verse.
Psychosiz: “Hunting” leaves sort of a bittersweet taste in my mouth. It is one of the first verses written under the newly established Thirsty Fish moniker and remains one of my favorite verses to this day. I recorded it absolutely flawlessly, but then, we were later forced to re-record the song entirely, on the spot at the mixing studio. Every time I hear it I’m reminded of that. Acey says “These sorts of things happen,” and like most of his advice, he’s right… but, man. That first verse was pristine.
DumbFounDead: This is one of the bangers we have on the album, just lyrically vicious and hunting down them wack emcees.
Fernandez: It’s about time that we starting delving into this oceanic theme, and I think that the dark-yet-funky beat really works well with this composition, as well as the back-and-forth of the Fishies. This track manages to go all over the place while still having great chemistry amid all of the elements.
Mathan: I really dig the haunting piano chords on the beat. This is the song that really showcases the dope chemistry between the emcees.
That Bootleg Guy: Not sure I’m liking this one. The theme is a recurring one here, as the battle lines between the surface dwellers and sea creatures have been clearly delineated elsewhere on this album. And, I’m definitely sure I’m not feeling the hook.
Open Mike Eagle: An ode to the gritty, murky, lyrically dense style-fest hip-hop songs of yesteryear, it’s art rap at its finest. Also, as fishy as we get with this album, this is the only song where we actually rap from the perspective of sea creatures…
Psychosiz: “Oil Spill” is where we began playing around with more innovative recording styles. The entirety of my verse is recorded at varying levels, and in multiple parts. It’s always good to try different things and see what you like. It is also the only fish-themed song on the album that is actually about fish… at least in part.
DumbFounDead: This track is very unique, from the our rhyme patterns to the the way we spit the hook, it’s something different and a head-nodder.
Fernandez: Aceyalone, eh? Nice push on this one, and while I’ve liked the beats on the album so far, this was the first one that really reached out and kicked my ass. And Aceyalone’s verse was a fantastic complement to everything, while not disturbing or downplaying the chemistry among the Fishies. This track should be YOUR Hip-Hop Club Track of the spring; I’ll try and spread the word on the home front, Mike.
Mathan: Dig the jazzy beat. Aceyalone was one of those emcees that I always wanted to get into, but never did. But he really does his thing. He doesn’t son anyone, but he still shines.
That Bootleg Guy: It’s a little scattershot, but the jazzy production is a good foundation for the inspired lyricism. Sometimes it plays like a fun little FAQ for the ladies, at other times it’s a little raunchier, but without ever dropping into the morass of misogyny. And, really, who among us hasn’t “treated her like a lady” and “Swiss cheese’d her every night”?
Open Mike Eagle: A crazy down-syndrome shout-out to the big homie Aceyalone, who blessed us with a cameo on this, the closest I’ll probably ever come to doing a club song. I had a lot of fun writing my verse—I love telling imaginary women about themselves.
Psychosiz: Project Blowed is in the building!!! Aceyalone makes a glowing guest spot cameo over a Kenny Segal track originally given to me for a solo song. We were so invested in the TF project by this time, though, that I believe we were all reaching into the solo archives for tracks. And as always, when Big Ace is the spinner… it’s Domino, bitches.
DumbFounDead: Acey blessed us with a dope verse on this track, we wanted sort of a jazzy feel to get the ladies movin’ and encouraged us to style a bit more on this. the result was a dope collabo between an OG and the new generation heads.
Fernandez: Here’s the obligatory song for the ladies, and being in the music biz, you know that these guys can attest to this. Again, I really liked the beat here, which channels out school funk and soul and has a sweet guitar loop thrown in for good measure.
Mathan: OK, at this point I’ve got to admit that I’m not really connecting with the water motif. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona; I have like zero connection with water. That said, DumbFounDead really impressed me on here. I think he’s the standout on this track.
That Bootleg Guy: Some very clever wordplay here as a new take is offered up on some typical rap subject matter like dating, sex and the club scene. They stretch the bounds of the “fish” analogy to a point, but at just a few clicks over three minutes, this track teeters towards the end, yet stays together.
Open Mike Eagle: A fun song for the ladies we knows… my verse in particular is about self-professed b-girls that flash out every know and then and turn the sexy up. The old shelltoes-to-Ugg-Boots routine…
Psychosiz: “High Tide” is a song close to my heart, in that you can never have enough mermaids. As with most of the verses I compose pertaining to women, the vast majority of the content is drawn from actual experiences: “…and now my name’s on her yacht.”
DumbFounDead: This one was for all the ladies (mermaids) out there. All three of us have mad respect for all the hard working ladies out there and this was an ode to them.
“One Sip” (skit)
Fernandez: This is a nice, candid interaction between these two guys without being too cheesy or gimmicky. And despite being Mexican, I just don’t get the whole Choco-Taco thing. Plus, if it’s really that hot out, the Choco-Taco’s just going to make you thirstier. Stupid Choco-Taco.
Mathan: This skit works because it’s true. But Psychosiz still sucks as a friend.
That Bootleg Guy: Not gonna lie… I listened to this more than a couple of times after I first heard it. The dialogue was real, funny and (wait for it)… really funny. Choco-Taco? Fruitopia? Waterfall certification? Crazy. Then, literally on the third or fourth listen, I finally noticed the entertaining shuffle of a beat. So, I had to hear it again.
Open Mike Eagle: No acting, no scripts… this is what happens when rappers stop being rappers and start being thirsty.
Psychosiz: This skit is a true-to-life representation of the interaction between DumbFounDead and myself. He has the foresight of… of… *sigh* I don’t even have an analogy ready. Usually I just compare stuff to him. He’s the guy that’ll show up in a new blazer, and I’m thinking… “OK, looking sharp.” Then we get outside, and I see the huge bowl of Yoshinoya (extra soy sauce) he’s gonna try and eat while driving to the show. Oh, but it’s okay, ’cause he knows a shortcut down this one street no one takes ’cause it isn’t paved.
DumbFounDead: haha… this skit was something I came up with after hangin’ out with broke-ass homies for years. Cats mooching off drinks and snacks… haha
“Fish Ain’t Biting”
Fernandez: Mathan says it too, but I have to offer up MAD PROPS for the Snatch sample (Brick Top being the best character in that movie along with Mickey). The beat sounds like something from an underground Super Mario hip-hop party with plenty of magic mushrooms. Plus, the addition of Abstract Rude does the track justice, as I’m glad that they didn’t get too crazy with the cameos.
Mathan: I’ve got to say that I don’t really care for the hook on this song at all. But you’ve got to love the Brick Top dialogue. And I realize that Eagle’s flow is my favorite. It’s his confidence with a hint of “this is so easy it’s boring” that really attracts my ear.
That Bootleg Guy: Terrific beat, especially with the unmistakable old-school West Coast “lilt” on the hook. I would seriously throw my vote behind any candidate who rode the “I don’t wanna hear another rapper named ‘Young’ anything” platform. Hillary, take heed.
Open Mike Eagle: My favorite thing about this joint is the time signature. It forced us to write raps that had a wild swing to ’em. It also sounds like an angry pirate romp. It can’t be beat.
Psychosiz: Sometimes less is more. I could have extended the song to get a verse off, but it wasn’t necessary. I wrote the chorus in the car on the way back from a show we had up north, and that was that. I do have a verse for it though… mwahaha. Catch us at a live show.
DumbFounDead: Abstract Rude is one of our main mentors from the Blowed and he killed his verse using many fish references and also categorizing us with other fishes such as Chali 2na and Ngafsh which was an honor! A dope banger as well.
Fernandez: Hrmmm… Mike Eagle and Psychosiz are both originally from the Chicagoland area, just like… yep, you guessed it… the rock band Styx. Coincidence… or CONSPIRACY?!?!! I was really liking the dark and nebulous beat, and for some odd reason, would love to hear this track remixed by El-P just to make it even darker. It would called the “El-P Black Helicopters Rmx”.
Mathan: Finally, a beat that can be described as “dark” or at least “murky.” And just because I’m not connecting with the water motif doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate it. It’s dope to hear a brand new environment flipped in rhymes.
That Bootleg Guy: A haunting take on the whole “reap what you sow” allegory. Lyrically, it’s good enough, but the beat seems a little bland. I don’t know, but something just seems “off” about this one. The energy of the artists seems to be lagging. I get that this isn’t a club cut, but this one is just kind of there.
Open Mike Eagle: This is another of the first songs we made as a crew. Galapagos4 producer Mike Gao gave us this gloomy canvas for us to wax morose over. A little birdy told me that he gave the track to one of the G4 cats that was gonna give the track the exact… same… name…
Psychosiz: “Don’t sleep.” That’s sort of a recurring Thirsty theme. This song and “Pirahnas” (…yup) are two of the darker sounding songs on the album. I threw in a Pirates of Dark Water shout out, since they cancelled the show prior to collecting all 13 Treasures of Rule. That always bothered me… *smirk* It’s weird, because we have mermaids, trendsters, and underage limes that love our music but have no idea what I’m talking about half of the time. I love it.
DumbFounDead: Mike G from Galapagos4 gave us a really eerie beat to work with, so we went with the feel of the beat and created this dark masterpiece!!
Fernandez: Here’s the obligatory track featuring the entire Swim Team, which the guys would have been remiss to leave off the album. It’s a nice vehicle to showcase the extended roster. As for the beat, it’s not bad, but it certainly could have used a little more depth. I would like to see it remixed by Madlib, and called the “Beat Conducta’s Revolution Will Be Outsourced Rmx”; it would contain at least one Bollywood sample. Hey… Stones Throw’s stationed out there in So-Cal. Make that shit happen, guys. Shenanigans!
Mathan: This beat is less than exciting. It’s almost like it was generic enough that anyone could spit on it, thus it became the posse cut beat. This track isn’t my favorite.
That Bootleg Guy: Two Steve Irwin references on the same track? Yeah. This one might be a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, as a hot start kind of ends up meandering to the end. One of my favorite aspects of this album is the rapid-fire, get-in-get-out approach by the group’s individual members. This one overstays its welcome a bit.
Open Mike Eagle: Every raw album needs a posse cut. I’ll tell you a secret: my favorite verse is Dumb’s. Shhh…
Psychosiz: SwimTeam!!! What? What?! I could explain it to you… but I’ll let Rogue Venom, Lyraflip, and Sahtyre do that for me.
DumbFounDead: This is the posse cut featuring our good frends and crewmates Sahtyre, Rogue Venom, and Lyraflip… Just straight murdering cats, chewing the flesh off these emcees (lyrically that is).
Fernandez: Love the volatility and spontaneity of this track, from the switching off of the emcees to the progressive beat (I mean “progressive”, in the literal sense, not the adjective used to describe lame artsy sub-movements). I was almost waiting for someone to yell out, “Shit, if it’s gonna be that kind of party, I’m gonna stick my dick in the mashed potatoes!”
Mathan: I really like this song, the changing beat just sort of demands attention. I even like the hook.
That Bootleg Guy: Another one of my favorite tracks. Brock Lesnar with Jeff Hostetler! Great beat with drumsy and guitarsy flavors. Hey, a Dreadnoks reference! Phenomenal hook, just hilarious (“Hungry like a fat kid”). I dig the whole underlying “hungry, shouting and trying to be heard” theme.
Open Mike Eagle: This is what we do all day long, trading rhyming syllables back and forth until we run outta ideas… If you’ve seen our G4TV clip, you’ll understand… plus, I have no idea how Alkalyne made this beat.
Psychosiz: I don’t sing. By that I mean I don’t even attempt to sing… not ever. So, as an allusion to that, toward the end of “Fat Kid” we play it up. This track was known as “Hungry” early on. (“Hungry” and Thirsty…) but the title was later changed.
DumbFounDead: This one is real interesting; we kept switching off every few bars to keep it live as well as keeping the same rhyme scheme, which isn’t that easy to do when the last cat just rhymed almost everything you possibly can with it. But yea, we just wanted to display our chemistry between each other, and its a real climactic song.
Fernandez: “Get psycho, get open, get dumb!” Love it. And the track is so good that it probably should have appeared as one of the first tracks. Amid all of the chaos, the one thing that stood out to me was the Pendragon reference. Mike Eagle never disappoints.
Mathan: Really strong song—dope sample, and a hook that’s not too long. Everyone really brings their best to this one.
That Bootleg Guy: I’m not feeling the hook… or the beat… or the OJ Simpson/A.C. Cowlings reference, but the T.O. nod helps a little. Not enough, but…
Open Mike Eagle: Golly, I’m tired of writing about my own album. This is akin to public masturbation… except that it goes on too long. This is a dope song, though; its always a winner at shows and it gives me a chance to rap about the Knights of Pendragon in public.
Psychosiz: “Get Wet” is the very first Swim Team anthem, so it will always hold down a spot in the Thirsty Fish Hall of Fame. It is essentially the standard by which several other songs were bumped off of the album entirely. Someone would suggest a song and we would think to ourselves “It’s tight… but can it run wit’ ‘Get Wet’?” All in all, it also serves as the origin of the now-notorious slogan “Get Psycho… Get Open… Get Dumb.” So yeah, “Get Wet” is a monster on all fronts. I pitched the idea in a studio session at Open’s one day and it just gained momentum from there. I’m not even really sure if it’s stopped gaining momentum even now that it’s laced, to be quite honest. It’s just that kind of song.
DumbFounDead: We wanted to pretty much introduce ourselves individually on this track, which is ironic since it’s at the end of the album… haha. But yea, this one is definitely a banger, thanks to Maestroe for this beat, as well as many others he hooked us up with on this album.
Fernandez: Like the “Fintro”, this was produced by Open Mike, though this time we are treated to melange of out-takes from various Swim Team members. I thought it was a good way to end the album.
Mathan: Good outro. I like the bragging, the humor and the beat. It makes me wish that Open Mike had produced some actual songs.
That Bootleg Guy: I hope I’m not reading too much into that “If it’s paid training, I’m willing to try anything” line, but if it means what I think it means, then if frickin’ brilliant. (You’ll need the context of the whole thing, but just trust me on this one, kids.)
Open Mike Eagle: Some self-produced aquatic madness mixed with some studio outtakes from DFD, Psycho and Bastard Artist equals watery sunshine with a vodka twist.
Psychosiz: Bastard Artist runs amok on the outro… ha. DumbFounDead outtakes are always classic, so put them together, and… you’ve got an interesting concoction.
Fernandez: “Snuggleberry Berries” carries that whole Grimm Brothers feel, from the beat to the subject matter, and is included here as a classic BONUS TRACK, being the legendary first song that the Fishies ever recorded together. You can just visualize Aphex-style bears dancing in circles to the song, right before having a picnic. Psychosiz pwn3d everyone on this one, too, with the opening verse and that bilious little invective at the end.
Mathan: Psychosiz killed that first verse. Everyone did their thing, but Psychosiz slayed me. Maybe it’s because the beat kind of sounds like a lullaby and he sets it off as such.
That Bootleg Guy: HEE-larious! One of the more accessible tracks here for the casual, commercial rap fan based on the subject matter alone. Master P and Lil Romeo bashing will never grow old. Of course, the track goes deeper than that. It leans heavily on a nursery rhyme-style storytelling method to outline their disdain for bad rappers, that works, for the most part. Not really feeling the d*ck quips at the end, but otherwise a fun cut.
Open Mike Eagle: Psycho kills this song! From the No-Limit-slaying verse to the half-cocked Gargamel-ish freestyle rant at the end, he destroyed this one… KUDOS!
Psychosiz: “Snuggleberry Bushes”—so titled because of my rant at the end of the track—is the very first track the three of us recorded together. Long before there was a group to speak of, Parts Unknown (Open Mike & myself) recorded this gem over at up-and-coming Korean rapper DumbFounDead’s. Yet, despite being engineered by an unexperienced DFD in his mom’s living room, “Snuggleberry Bushes” remains a timeless classic. This is the same two-track mixdown we left there with that very day. Sure, it’s mastered now, but essentially- this is the birth of the Thirsty Fish… the origin of the Swim Team… the future of Project Blowed… and perhaps the resurgence of hip-hop altogether in a single song. I mean, wow. Who knew?
DumbFounDead: This is the first track we did together. Before the crew even came together, Open Mike and Psychosiz were in a crew together and I was a solo emcee, so one day we collabed on this track, and the chemistry was so obvious that we had to all join forces. This track is like a bedtime story for cats sleepin’ on us.
Fernandez: DoseTres’ illustration on the front of the album cover is amazing, and I think they should look into t-shirt designs or at the very least stickers (the vinyl ones, so I can put it on my car) if they haven’t already. As for the piece as a whole, I think that the main strengths of this album were the chemistry between the emcees (who are all very talented on their own) and the witty lyrics and samples. A few of the beats were a little less than stellar, with some really strong ones, though none of them were completely dispensable, save for “Piranhas”. Even with this, though, the emcees were able to keep all of the tracks afloat with their cunning linguistics.
Mathan: All in all, it was a nice introduction to all involved. I’ve got to admit that I loved the use of Scantrons on the album art. And the actual illustrations are pretty cool, too. It’s an earnest affair that shows a good degree of potential. While the aquatic theme grows old, it’s still nice to hear emcees rhyme about something other than hood life. Man, I really hope the next album’s theme is air.
That Bootleg Guy: On the plus side, I can honestly say that I listened to this album, beginning to end, about a dozen times. The lyricism is occasionally off the charts and I was finding new one-liners well into my eighth or ninth listen. The beats, for the most part, are solid, too. I wouldn’t say everything works, but that’s almost entirely due to the inherent risk of an album this dense. A very good listen, otherwise, and I’m anxious to hear more.
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