Monday, November 25, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #244 - Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)

            Lately I’ve been getting caught up in the Hulu show Wu-Tang: An American Saga. Even though it’s kind of a shitty show, it’s reminded me that revisiting my love of the Wu-Tang Clan is something I need to do occasionally. I’m certain I’m not alone in my assessment that when the Wu-Tang Clan came to prominence, they were a cut above the rest in terms of the hip-hop of the ‘90s. They quickly became one of my favorites and it didn’t take long for me to start tracking down every solo album by every solo rapper even tangentially related to the Wu.
            Among the masterpieces to grace the world at the turn of the new millennium was Supreme Clientele, the second solo record by the inimitable Ghostface Killah. Released at a time when most Wu-Tang members had either already ventured off onto their own solo paths or were about to, de facto leader RZA could not oversee production on all of them, and it often showed. He did, however, opt to man the boards (and contribute some rhymes) for Supreme Clientele, enlisting the help of a small team of other RZA disciples. Incorporating the sexiest of obscure R&B samples (the cover photo of Ghost crooning into a retro microphone makes it even look like it could be a 1970s Jerry Butler record or something) into the sleaziest of beats and loops, to produce a result that is pure Staten Island sound: pure Wu-Tang. Ghost’s lyrics provide vivid narrative structures emboldened by deep personal introspection while laced with abstract, ostensibly nonsensical poetic liberties. Many of the lyrics on Supreme Clientele were written while Ghost was on a several month-long trip to Africa, incorporating much of his experience with the culture there (and his subsequent disdain for American consumerism) into his words. And the flow doesn’t stop with just Ghost. In fact, not only is he joined by RZA but other fellow Wu members Cappadonna, GZA, Masta Killa and Raekwon pop in and out to take a verse or two, making it just about as close to Wu-Tang-Proper as it gets.
            The thing about Supreme Clientele is that it’s quite notoriously one of the most-loved, if not the most-loved of the non-Wu-Tang Wu-Tang projects. At least one of the highest charting ones, if I’m not mistaken. And deservedly so. It’s not only a step up creatively from its predecessor, Ghost’s powerful debut Ironman (which is also great), but production-wise too. Supreme Clientele is stamped front to back with that unmistakable RZA sound which, by 2000, just wasn’t as ubiquitous as it once was. In the 19 years since this record came out, the world of hip-hop has only gotten more incredible and complex and the landscape is constantly changing. There are countless talented emcees and DJs out there and with Soundcloud and Bandcamp and the like, it’s easier than ever for some of the lesser-known talented acts to be heard. Even Ghostface himself has gone on to release material that far surpasses that of Supreme Clientele. In fact, 2006’s Fishscale is high in the running for best hip-hop record ever, in my opinion. But this… this is the one. This is, I think, the reference point that people will point to when talking about solo Wu-Tang albums. When this record came out, I could not get enough of it. And now, listening back to it as much as I did in preparation to write this, it still sounds as fresh and exciting as it did when I first bought it.
            Honestly, I wouldn’t ordinarily choose to write about a record that’s already received as much critical and commercial praise as Supreme Clientele has received. I mean, theoretically it’s already had so much smoke blown up its ass over the years that I couldn’t possibly have anything to add that would be useful. And anyway, the point of these reviews is to “turn you on” to something you may have otherwise missed. It’s just that I truly believe that this record still needs to be talked about because it’s a god damn masterpiece. Whether you’re new school or old school, there’s something on Supreme Clientele for every hip-hop fan.
            - Jonathan Eagle

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