Album: Supreme Clientele
Artist: Ghostface Killah
Release Date: January 2000
Label: Razor Sharp/Epic
Producers: The RZA, Mathematics, Inspectah Deck, Six July, Carlos Bess, Black Moes-Art, Juju, Hassan, The Blaquesmiths, Choo The Specializt
Cancun, catch me in the room eating grouper"
- from "Buck 50"
By 2000, the Wu-Tang Clan was on the retreat whether they wanted to admit it or not. After their massive double album, Wu-Tang Forever, sold well, but left fans disappointed, they started to fade from view. Method Man kept a good profile by collaborating with Redman on the excellent Blackout album, but others’ solo joints were tanking as they came out. Jay-Z had dancefloors and street corners locked down. Dr. Dre was pushing a white boy from Detroit. Maybe Wu’s true grit was over, and in Hip-Hop, there’s no coming back. No one told Ghostface Killah though. He upgraded his entire lyrical style, swaggered in wearing a purple fur coat, sporting old school gold instead of bling, looking and sounding like the son of Slick Rick, and detonated the neutron bomb that is Supreme Clientele, vaulting over all his Wu comrades, and pretty much any other MC that cared to step up to the mic. The only problem – now no one had any idea what the fuck Ironman was talking about half the time.
The rap Tony Starks had switched over to a stream of consciousness flow and created an entire language of slang that still, after 7 years, has yet to be fully deciphered. His explosive flow was already fascinating, but Supreme Clientele was the ultimate musical game; would you be the first to figure out, for instance on the blown-speaker fanfare of the first single “Apollo Kids”, what he meant by, “This rap is like ziti, facing me real TV; crash at high-speed, strawberry kiwi”?? Shit, I don't even know if I'm quoting it correctly because online lyric sources suck, but that's what I hear. I’ve heard the argument that he uses words just because they rhyme, but there is something going on in these songs; stories being told in code. Ghost knows what he’s doing. All this means something. Understanding is like the ultimate badge of inclusion, and the slang is thick like this on almost every song. Opener “Nutmeg” is equally complex, weaving what I think is a crime tale, before Tone drops punchlines like “I studied under Bruce Lee…He was on the fourth, I was on the third”, all over a roller coaster Soul loop.
That’s another element of Ghost’s music that slowly reveals itself on the album – his mad love for classic R&B of all eras. His devotion to the music of Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and countless others is now well-documented, but Supreme Clientele was when Ghostface aimed towards being a figure in Hip-Hop like those artists were in 70’s Soul. Ghost will still show the lyrical heater, but he’ll also cry for his mama, treat his girl with respect, and teach the children. He can be a romantic, and so he chooses to rhyme over organic, analog beats, with warm bass and lush strings. “Saturday Nite” cruises on a blaxploitation soundtrack, “One” and “Buck 50” bounce on some nasty funk, and the club hit “Cherchez La Ghost” rides on a minimal disco throb. Even when the beats skew to the dark and haunting, usually courtesy of The RZA, they’re still dug up from that era; only “Mighty Healthy” recalls the original Wu-Tang sound. Best of all, “Child’s Play” is one of his, and Hip-Hop’s, all-time best, a tender reminiscence of school days laid down over what is surely an Al Green loop (...Actually, it's George Jackson, but he was on the same label as Al, so the studio band must be the same). Ghost doesn’t just tell you about it, he takes you back and puts you there:
“Those were the days, made faces in school plays,
paper trays, city-wide tests made half a day.
Shooting puppy water, might hump the pillow, dick an inch taller;
Stapleton bum nigga, I’ll pop her cherry for her.
Fresh Air Fund, hair’s done, alphabets, berets,
Jellies, Bubble Yum, soda tongue, too young to cum.
Then engagement with them candy rings, hey yo, I hit that shit;
Got jealous when she kissed Rob, I broke her Chick-O-Sticks.”
Supreme Clientele also rejuvenates the Clan sound by loosening up and following Method Man’s lead towards having a little more fun; Ghostface does this by including posse cuts that lean more towards freestyles, like they’re back in the shitty apartment with just two turntables and one mic. “Wu Banga 101” is a group effort with so much verbal fire that you’d miss the little Swiss, Sound Of Music type riff that keeps popping up on the track. Meth & his partner-in-crime Redman bring the laughs (“your weed’s got more seeds than O.D.B.”) on “Buck 50”, while RZA returns on “The Grain”, which recalls classic Marley Marl productions, and the hiccupping “Stroke Of Death”, where Ghost knowingly lets slip that “Bitches think that I’m the man again”. See, he knows what he’s doing. All this does mean something – Ghostface is keeping Hip-Hop fresh.
01. “Iron’s Theme (Introduction)”
02. “Nutmeg” [feat. The RZA]
04. “Saturday Nite”
05. “Ghost Deini” [feat. Superb]
06. “Apollo Kids” [feat. Raekwon]
07. “The Grain” [feat. The RZA]
08. “Buck 50” [feat. Method Man, Cappadonna & Redman]
09. “Mighty Healthy”
10. “Woodrow The Base Head” [interlude]
11. “Stay True (Deck’s Beat)” [feat. 60 Second Assassin]
12. “We Made It” [feat. Superb, Chip Banks & Hell Razah]
13. “Stroke Of Death” [feat. Mark Mayayo & The RZA]
14. “Iron’s Theme (Intermission)”
16. “Who Would You Fuck?” [interlude]
17. “Child’s Play”
18. “Cherchez La Ghost” [feat. U-God]
19. “Wu Banga 101” [feat. GZA, Raekwon, Cappadonna & Masta Killa]
20. “Clyde Smith” [interlude feat. Raekwon]
21. “Iron’s Theme (Conclusion)”
"Apollo Kids" [feat. Raekwon] [video]
- BONUS: "Nutmeg" [feat. The RZA] [audio]
- BONUS: "Child's Play" [audio]
- BONUS: "Cherchez La Ghost" [feat. U-God] [video]
- BONUS: Stare in awe at Ghostface's golden eagle gauntlet