Thirsty Fish - Watergate (2011 LP)

Watergate, the second album from American hip-hop and rap group Thirsty Fish, manages to cross the divide between catchy instrumentals and clever rhymes. Essentially, the antithesis to what every Supreme-toting Tyler admirer considers ‘dope shit’. The trio of Open Mike Eagle, Psychosiz and Dumbfoundead lay down lyrics that resonate with their fun, witty, self-aware subject matter. Opener “Sounds Like Rap” kicks the release off to a flying start with a fast, syncopated synth beat, complementing the heavily chopped-and-changed vocals well.

In the opening minutes, self-referential lyrics about Pro-Tools and conventions of hip-hop characterise the album well; “Ducks Fail” takes jabs at hipsters and their self-professed musical knowledge, “Girls...Or...Like” reverses misogynistic rap conventions in a cute discussion of women, and “The Like Song” shares poignant feelings about love (or, ‘like’).

However, there is a caveat. The sharp technique and clever wordplay are given a vivid soundscape backdrop, but in the same breath, it’s hard to categorise Watergate as a traditional rap album. It would be more adequately described as innovative rapping laid over pop instrumentals. With Watergate, Thirsty Fish haven’t furthered modern rap itself, rather, they’ve shown how rap and pop music can intersect. More parallels could be drawn to the British hip-hop scene than over the Atlantic, with the catchy tunes reminiscent of Roots Manuva's 2008 release Slime and Reason.

These statements may not necessarily be construed as criticisms – and neither should they be. The solid pop production and jazz backing on tracks like “Grind It Out” help make Watergate a fantastically catchy album. Although, critiquing on traditional rap or hip-hop terms, these same elements are to the album’s detriment. The production of the tracks behind admittedly innovative and engaging rhymes sometimes detracts from the album as a whole. Whether obscuring the vocal talents or drawing attention through the often disparate styles, the synths, beats and loops used could have made a more positive impact.

Qualms aside, Watergate is a solid lyrics-based rap album, foregoing the visceral appeal of heavy beats for a more cerebral appreciation of clever rhymes and solid delivery.