Nas’ Illmatic vs. Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele. Which Is Better?

Last September, Ambrosia For Heads launched a debate among its readers seeking to answer one of Hip-Hop’s most hotly-contested questions: what is the greatest Rap Album Of All-Time? “Finding The GOAT Album” has considered more than 120 albums from the 80s, 90s and 2000s (40 in each), with options for wild card and write-in candidates. Now that you and your vote have decided the Sweet 16 bracket, things have gotten really interesting.

Nas and Ghostface Killah embody the gritty New York City that raised them. Lovers of both Hip-Hop culture and the underbelly of the streets, Illmatic and Supreme Clientele are brilliant albums that merge original thought, content, and personal perspectives with incredible flows, unforgettable wisdom, and phenomenal production. After G.F.K.’s sophomore album knocked out Life Is Good in the first round, will Nas’ debut even the score? Or will Ghostface advance to the Elite 8 blasting “We Made It”? Only votes cast in the voting tool below will be counted, so use the power of your click (Click one then click “vote”).

illmatic cover

Illmatic by Nas

In only 10 tracks, Nas mounted a masterpiece in his early 1994 debut. The rugged-yet-introspective 20-year old from the Queensbridge Houses had been plugging away at his debut for nearly three years, constantly refining while studying the masters such as Rakim and Kool G Rap. A raspy-voiced, rhythmic MC, Nas also had esteemed sonic assistance from the likes of mentor Large Professor, DJ Premier, Q-Tip, Pete Rock, and even manager MC Serch. With less than 40 minutes of album time, Illmatic was born into the universe as a great showing of early ’90s street New York imagery, an actualized Rap dream, and glimmering moments of the culture’s newest microphone prophet. Nasir Jones was clearly a vessel for the late ’80s-early ’90s’ promise, and an ensemble of greats gave this Columbia Records LP their all to ensure that he would be the next great one.

Illmatic delivers on many levels, despite its relatively small confines. Songs like “Halftime,” “Represent,” and “NY State Of Mind” are rugged extensions of the Nas heard on Main Source’s Breaking Atoms, but as his own band-leader. These are the raw Rap tracks where an MC matched his impeccable timing with evocative wordplay about the cruel world as he saw it. “Life’s A Bitch” would prove how Nas could speak to the minds and attitudes of his people, with greater things to say on simple subjects than most. Quickly, the young man from the 41st Side stood as an ambassador for not just himself, but a culture and a generation. This was also true in the mainstream-tinged “It Ain’t Hard To Tell.” With a Michael Jackson sample, and Extra P’s surgeon-like arrangements, Nas found a hook to put his ill vernacular in a song that could cross over and grab new ears. Like Snoop Dogg across the country, Nas was at the forefront of his ability to bring an entire village to an album. Whether it was the slain Ill Will, the incarcerated Cormega, or kid brother Jungle, Nas made his project world into a diorama—between the compelling flows and mosaic beats. This was not just Hip-Hop, it was street reporting, and a return to undeniable authenticity when MTV music video era Rap was clearly favoring the sensationalized.

Album Number: 1
Released: April 19, 1994
Label: Ruffhouse/Columbia Records
Highest Charting Position (Top 200): #18 (certified gold, January 1996; certified platinum, December 2001)
Song Guests: AZ, Olu Dara, Q-Tip, Pete Rock
Song Producers: (self), Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, L.E.S., Faith Newman


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 which is the better album? Make sure you vote above.

Related: Here Is Your “Finding The GOAT Album” Sweet 16. The Bracket Just Got Real.