Ghostface Killah and The Art of Storytelling Pt. 10304

Still the quintessential solo masterpiece from the man AKA Tony Starks, AKA The Wally Champ, AKA Starsky Love, Supreme Clientele turns 20

Ghostface Killah Supreme Clientele, Def Jam 2000

With sincerest apologies to Ironman, from 1996 – the fiery funk of “Daytona 500,” the sumptuous, profane “Wildflower” – it is not Supreme Clientele.

Nowhere on Ironman does Ghostface Killah rap “supercalifragilistic-expialidocious”, then rap that ridiculous, impossible word backwards, as if by doing so he could plausibly will a lifetime pass to Disney properties into being.  Nowhere on Ironman does the MC who calls himself “Tony Starks” pack an entire childhood romance into three minutes and thirty-tree seconds (the sweet, melancholic “Child’s Play”). Nowhere on Ironman does he spit this inexhaustibly, this combatively, this hungrily, as though he’s yet to prove his worth, as though via sheer force of indomitable hip-hop will he could keep all the lights burning on Staten Island for a week straight. Hell, Ironman doesn’t even open and then conclude with the schmaltzy theme from the 1966 Iron Man cartoon show. (His scenes were cut from 2008’s MCU-igniting Iron Man, about which, bummer.) Ghostface’s sophomore album, which recently turned 20 years old, exists upon – and, arguably, above – that rarified tier of solo Wu-Tang albums recorded and released in the wake of 1993’s landmark Enter the 36 Chambers: Method Man’s Tical, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, GZA’s Liquid Swords, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx. The rapper born Dennis Coles rhymes here as though he’s actively birthing the form, and debut Ironman, as great as it is, can’t quite compare.

Ghostface Killah Supreme Clientele: The Instrumentals, Def Jam 2000

It doesn’t hurt that the production is five-star, with Inspectah Deck, Mathematics, Hassan, JuJu from The Beatnuts and others joining Wu-Tang major domo/Supreme Clientele executive producer RZA to lay down strong, sumptuous carpets of sound: soul-swirled “One,” skeletal, snare-happy “The Grain,” the triumphant, string-stung “We Made It.” Much is made of Wu’s fascination with comic-book mythology, but this album is sonically cinematic, an already rich tableau its host elevates with a ceaseless flow of non-sequiturs, gags, lingo, and brags. “Dancing with Blanche and them bitches, flicking deuce pictures/Kick down the ace of spades, snatch Jack riches/Olsive compulsive lies flyers with my name on it/Dick made the cover now count, how many veins on it,” Ghost rhymes on “Nutmeg.” This intensity inclines on “Apollo Kids,” acquires a sparring felicity with “Mighty Healthy” and “Ghostdini,” turns jazzbo loopy for “Malcolm.” Not that he needed their help, but the presence of rap royalty doesn’t hurt, either: Method Man chipping in a tough opening verse for “Buck 50,” RZA serving up eye-widening Bobby Digital-esque imagery on the back end of “Nutmeg,” Raekwon, Redman, and Superb popping up here and there.

Supreme Clientele is also chock full of voices piping under and over the mix, an enthused hypeman’s slurry that bleeds into no-fucks-given skits that makes this most joyous, generous of records resemble another communal ritual: a block party, maybe the best one you were never formally invited to attend. Do yourselves a favor and show up anyway.


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Raymond Cummings

Raymond Cummings is the author of books including Assembling the Lord, Crucial Sprawl, Open for Business, Notes on Idol, and Vigilante Fluxus. His writing has appeared in SPIN, The Wire magazine, The Village Voice, Splice Today, and the Baltimore City Paper. Whorl Without End, his latest collection of poetry, was independently published in January 2020.

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