Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele Turns 15 Years Old & Remains Mighty Healthy

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Fifteen years ago today (January 25, 2000), Ghostface Killah hit the 21st century off with a would-be classic album, in his sophomore, Supreme Clientele. The sophomore release from the Staten Island, New Yorker and Wu-Tang Clan co-founder remains in strong debate as G.F.K.’s finest work. The Epic/Razor Sharp Records effort would quickly grab a gold plaque, and has been reissued multiple times due to constant marketplace demands.

More than three years removed from solo debut Ironman, Supreme Clientele arrived at a time when Wu-Tang members’ solo releases were evolving. The group was at work on third collective LP, The W—which would close out year 2000, but Raekwon’s Immobilarity, Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance, U-God’s Golden Arms Redemption, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Nigga Please, RZA’s Bobby Digital In Stereo, Method Man & Redman’s Blackout!, and GZA’s Beneath The Surface—all commercially strong albums, that by and large, felt distant from the grimy Wu-Tang releases of the early and mid 1990s.

As fate would have it, Ghost’s sophomore—more than any Clansmen, matched his debut. Uncustomary at the time, RZA allocated a strong production effort to his brother-in-law’s LP, which was released through RZA’s short-lived Razor Sharp imprint at Epic. Eleven of the 21 tracks featured RZA on the boards, while the other production personnel managed to build around The Abbott’s cohesive sound. The artists came from unlikely places, with Shaolin pioneer, The U.M.C.’s Haas G making a pulsating Blaxploitation soundscape for “Apollo Kids,” to The Beatnuts’ JuJu freaking a needle-drop technique on another single, “One.” Puff Daddy’s Hitmen unsung hero Carlos “6 July” Broady, Wu’s dedicated engineer Carlos Bess, crew DJ Allah Mathematics, and even Deck took on tracks—heavy on samples, dirty drums, and the kind of jarring textures that nodded to The Bomb Squad and Marley Marl at once, still feeling dusted in the RZA chamber (who, with G.F.K., reportedly remixed and touched up the other contributions).

Guests were also more about potency than profile. 2000 was a time when everybody even remotely associated with the Wu and/or its members was landing deals. Ghostface showed the depth of talent, including Sunz Of Man’s 60 Second Assassin, Hell Razah, as well as Lord Superb (American Cream Team), Solomon Childs, and early Theodore Unit incarnation T.M.F. Ghost’s longtime assist-man Cappadonna made the Ironman encore, with Redman serving as the lone high-profile guest, but an honorary Wu-Tang Clan affiliate as such.

On the microphone, part of Ghost’s rugged style was a simple takeaway from his reality. The once concealed-MC served a six month sentence on Riker’s Island during the recording of the LP, following a 1995 club incident—with another weapons charge looming. Like his slain friend 2Pac, Ghost channeled the angst and frustration of a man who was in and out of society, and brought that menacing, fearless nature to his LP. Although confident and brut, Supreme Clientele is much less of a Gangsta Rap offering than other G.F.K. albums. In press leading up to the LP, Dennis Coles admitted that a lot of this stemmed from a trip he and RZA took to the continent of Africa. There, ‘Face penned much of the album’s rhymes, which in turn informed a strong sense of heritage, race, and pride heard on the disc.

The unique qualities of this album are what make it so seminal. The Wu-Tang Clan broached the new millennium with a quick and stern reminder that they had grown mentally, but maintained the grimy aesthetic. Ghostface Killah quieted the skeptics, and proved that while he had radio and video support, mainstream was irrelevant to album-making. With a record like second single, “Cherchez La Ghost,” Ironman Tony Starks took a chart-topping Disco hit (“Cherchez La Femme” by Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band), and smashed it with unconventional deliveries and style. This was a tongue-in-cheek rendition of what was happening in the mainstream by Puff Daddy, Wyclef Jean, and Jermaine Dupri. As he does on the microphone, Ghostface made fun of the rest of the industry, and did it has way.

The LP also included heralded album cuts like “Mighty Healthy,” employing over five samples woven together to create a back-to-the-future song that may be the closest high-quality rendition to the style G.F.K. was rocking in the late 1980s shows. “One” become a DJ favorite, with its catchy sample-chorus, and built-in battle-routine theme. “Wu Banga 101” fed the Heads eagerly awaiting for a Wu-Tang Clan album, with no confirmation in sight. G.F.K.’s low-profile album cuts meant as much as the singles, a quality from Ironman, and a quality that Starks would carry throughout much of his career.

Marching its way to platinum, with a sequel purportedly in the works, Supreme Clientele reigns supreme—especially in the face of 2000s Hip-Hop, from not just the Wu-Tang Clan, but spanning the Rap globe.

Fifteen years later, is Supreme Clientele the finest Ghostface Killah album?

Related: Ghostface Killah Compares Himself To Martin Scorsese. Here’s Why (Food For Thought Interview)