Nas’ Life Is Good vs. Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele. Which Is Better?
One year ago, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: who is the greatest MC of all time? “Finding The GOAT MC” lasted between September 2014 and May 2015, engaging millions of readers and ultimately producing its winner, as determined by hundreds of thousands of voters. Now, “Finding The GOAT” returns to ask a new question: what is the greatest of all time Hip-Hop album?
“Finding The GOAT Album” will consider 120 albums from three individual eras (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. You and your vote will decide which album goes forward, and which one leaves the conversation. While there will no doubt be conversation between family and friends (virtual and real), only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click.
Nas and Ghostface Killah are two contemporaries who have 20-plus-year careers built around lyrics, style, and originality. Life Is Good and Supreme Clientele find each MC at career turning points. For Nas, this album was a benchmark return to thematic autobiography, as Ghostface put away the crime exploits for bar-bravado on his sophomore solo set. That may be where the similarities end for these #1 and gold-certified LPs, respectively. But both MCs were able to build extensive careers through making their stretched catalogs distinct between projects, and these are two of the most celebrated works from each. As Nas’ Illmatic is already confirmed in the Top 32, will Ghost’ get a solo inclusion at all? Prior to the wild card, G.F.K. takes on stiff competition from his Interstate 78 peer. Your vote declares which of these albums is best (click one then click “vote”).
Life Is Good by Nas
In the second half of the 2000s, Nas albums became galleries for concept. 2006’s statement album famously pronounced Hip Hop Is Dead. 2008’s Untitled was an examination of the word “nigger” (as it was intended to be titled) and race-relations in a so-called “post-racial” America. 2010’s Distant Relatives (with Damian Marley) merged Hip-Hop and Reggae/Dancehall back to their pan-African origins in an album about bloodlines and artistic kinship. By 2012 however, Nas literally brought it home in an album that dealt with divorce and reflections of life at 38 years old. Life Is Good was rightly appropriated to Hip-Hop’s version of Marvin Gaye’s Here, My Dear. The LP is more than audio alimony from Nasir Jones to Kelis. On a larger scale, he proved that 10 solo albums deep (11, if The Lost Tapes are counted), he could be honest, interesting, and as insightful as he was as a chipped-tooth kid on the 41st side of Vernon plugging away at Illmatic.
Without compromising his past in the streets or the sheets, Nas’ Life Is Good embraced growth. Hit “Daughters” was the first record of its kind, with an MC taking the (“better place to raise our daughters”) line he spit more than 15 years ago on “If I Ruled The World,” and making it a mass statement. Songs like “A Queens Story” and “You Wouldn’t Understand” delivered Nas not as a hometown hero, but as a survivor who embraced his rugged roots. “Reach Out,” with a Mary J. Blige blend-tape themed track, found the same insight and street-approved wisdom that made Nas a giant in the ’90s. In an album that so richly celebrated the journey, Nas reunited with mentor Large Professor, as well as local mixtape luminary Hot Day. Just as Ice Cube had outgrown the 1990s typecasting in film, Nas could make a revealing album that did not need to prove his toughness or prowess. The highlights, for many listeners, were the evocative commentaries of break-up and divorce. “Bye Baby” used highly-personal specifics to broadly share what happens to many romantic relationships growing out of step. In doing so, Nas may have achieved the upper-hand in his tug-of-war, and actually benefited from the lucid songwriting. “Cherry Wine” is another song about love-gone-wrong. Amy Winehouse’s jazzy vocals and the instrumentation of the Salaam Remi-produced song made the takeaway something to which all could relate. For an MC closely associated with his youth in the ’90s, Nas reached a new zenith for mature Hip-Hop albums. A #1 on the charts, the Grammy-nominated effort brilliantly displayed how an artist could forge ahead with new perspectives, still bringing his past along for the tour.
Album Number: 11 (solo)
Released: July 13, 2012
Label: Def Jam Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #1
Song Guests: Large Professor, Rick Ross, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige, Miguel, Anthony Hamilton, Swizz Beatz, Victoria Monet, John Adams, Richard Adlam, DJ Hot Day, Chloe Flower, Kaye Fox, Salaam Remi, Maestro Harrell, Vincent Henry, DJ Red Alert, James Poyser, Kevin Randolph, Noah “40” Shebib, Hal Ritson, Hannah Sidibe, Steve Wyreman,
Song Producers: (self), No I.D., Salaam Remi, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League (Erik “Rook” Ortiz, Kevin “Colione” Crowe & Kenny “Barto” Bartolomei), Swizz Beatz, DJ Hot Day, Rodney Jerkins, Heavy D, Buckwild, Da Internz (Marcos “Kosine On Da Beat” Palacios & Ernest “Tuo” Clark), Noah “40” Shebib
Supreme Clientele by Ghostface Killah
While the 1990s elicit great debate surrounding the greatest Wu-Tang Clan member solo works, Ghostface Killah threw a dart straight for the bull’s eye in Y2K. Supreme Clientele closely followed 1996’s Ironman with the swagger of a fighter already wearing the belt. G.F.K. had already gone platinum, and accrued a cult following within Hip-Hop. Years after throwing his weight around with the likes of The Notorious B.I.G., Ghost’ made his sophomore album like a man with nothing to fear. “Ghost Deini” and “Apollo Kids” were ring-entrances, as a robed Ghost’ welcomed all challengers, lyrically and in the streets. As the sound of commercially-viable Rap had embraced fabric softener, messages like “Stay True” and “Buck 50” bloodied the gums of smile-at-the-camera posers. As the Rap playlist favored overt-samples, Pop-tinged choruses, and lots of R&B, Tony Starks’ penchant for the unconventional resonated brilliantly. Even playing by the rules of the game, a record like “Cherchez La Ghost” did so on rugged Shaolin terms—announcing that he’s too nasty for females, and no third verse at all.
Like with Ironman, G.F.K. and his producers found a way to carefully inject 1980s Hip-Hop qualities. While S.C. was ’70s Soul-infused, the drum arrangements on “Mighty Healthy,” “The Grain,” and “One” were derived from Paul C., 45 King, and Marley Marl days. Although the mix and mastering of Supreme Clientele felt worthy of the Sony Records jacket, the would-be gold LP had the quality of a four-track recorder, and 12-second sampler. Dennis Coles stepped into the new millennium with grand visions of creativity, imagery, and coded slang, but he brought with him elements from his childhood that he refused to let go. More importantly, the LP’s lyrics are a step beyond the criminology heard on the debut. Largely inspired by a trip to Africa taken by Ghost’ and RZA, the album deals greatly with knowledge of self, heritage, and pride. Although G.F.K. was still menacing on the mic and in his details, the Gangsta Rap feel of the debut gave way to a more abstract texture. Supreme Clientele is the album that would catapult Ghostface Killah’s persona, and style through the next 15 years. He was the star of his own quirky show, and somebody who could be tongue-in-cheek, whimsical, and raunchy, but always to be taken 100% seriously.
Album Number: 2 (solo)
Released: February 8, 2000
Label: Razor Sharp/Epic/Sony Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #7 (certified gold, March 2000)
Song Guests: RZA, GZA, Raekwon, Method Man, U-God, Masta Killa, Cappadonna, Redman, Hell Razah, Solomon Childs, Lord Superb, Madam Majestic, 60 Second Assassin, T.M.F. (Trife Da God, Tommy Whispers & Kryme Life), Chip Banks, Dennis Coffey, The Dramatics, Rudy Robinson, David Brandon, Carl Robinson
Song Producers: (self), RZA, Inspectah Deck, Juju, Allah Mathematics, Carlos “6 July” Broady, Haas G, Choo the Specializt, Black Moes-Art, The Blaquesmiths
So what’s the better album? Make sure you vote above.