RZA Explains Why Ghostface Was Hip-Hop’s Best MC When He Made Supreme Clientele
Twenty years ago this month, Ghostface Killah released his sophomore album, Supreme Clientele. The Razor Sharp/Epic/Sony Records LP has proven to be one of the greatest solo works in the Wu-Tang Clan catalog. Three and a half years removed from Ironman, the album is a benchmark for G.F.K. and the Clan.
“Most importantly, for me, to my ear, Ghostface became the best MC in the world that year,” RZA tells Ambrosia For Heads. “If there was a championship belt, he grabbed it that year.” Ghostface Killah started 2000 on top.
RZA produced 11 of the LP’s 21 Supreme Clientele tracks, including skits and interludes. At the close of the 1990s, The Abbott had joined the other eight Wu members in pursuing solo interests—amid handfuls of business ventures. In those years, RZA had vacated his basement Staten Island studio, The Chamber. It had twice flooded, compromising several solo albums, including Inspectah Deck’s anticipated debut. Now, RZA and the Clan had recently opened 36 Chambers Studios in Midtown Manhattan, overlooking the West Side Highway and Hudson River. With the move, RZA ushered in a crop of new producers—including Allah Mathematics, Tru Master, and 4th Disciple to take his reigns.
Whereas many Wu MCs made their second wave of solo albums following the 1993 swarm without RZA’s strong presence, Ghostface Killah was an exception. The Abbott credits his close friend and brother-in-law with taking the initiative to make that happen. “At that particular point in time [Ghostface Killah] didn’t want to burden me with putting me back in the basement, to be honest.” RZA refers to the former lab, but presumably also the distinct sound that he created with the Ensoniq ASR 10. Between his Bobby Digital project and Ghost Dog, the artist was looking to grow.
“[Ghostface Killah] actually said, ‘I’ma go and collect some beats from the industry; I’ma bring it back to you. You can add your joints. But I don’t wanna wait for you to create.'” RZA admits that not all of the Clan worked this way. “I think Inspectah Deck had that problem of waiting for me—and then ended up not waiting for the full period—and then just jumped in. But Ghost’ wasn’t gonna wait either. He went and collected those gems that he collected from a lot of great other producers in the game—definitely Juju of The Beatnuts and everybody—and they gave him some gems. He brought it back to me.”
Juju produced “One,” while Wu engineer Carlos Bess stepped in for single “Cherchez La Ghost.” The U.M.C.’s Haas G, a fellow Staten Islander, laced “Apollo Kids” (as Hasan). Mathematics hooked up several songs, including the beloved “Mighty Healthy.”
RZA says that even before he added his ingredients, the recipe was impressive. “When he brought it back to me, even in the demo form, his lyrical content, the images he was painting with his lyrics—I told him, I said, ‘Yo. Right now? You’re the best MC. You’re the best MC right now; nobody is giving us this much information, substance, unique visuals, cadence—nobody’s doin’ that.”
The Wu-Tang Clan’s Abbott watched the growth in less than seven years since Dennis Coles’ debut. “To me, that was the greatest joy ever—to watch Ghost’ go from ‘Bring Da Ruckus’ and ‘Protect Ya Neck,’ which [are] great verses—but then watch him expand his self on Cuban Linx…, and then watch him settle in on Ironman, but then come back even sharper on Supreme Clientele. I was amazed by his talent there.”
RZA also remembers an ensemble vibe. He credits Wu affiliates hitting the album with darts. This included Sunz Of Man’s Hell Razah (nka Heaven Razah), Cappadonna, the American Cream Team group, and Solomon Childs. “We had that beautiful studio in Manhattan—36 Chambers Studios. [It had] some of the biggest speakers ever made for a studio to that date. It was just so much fun, just creating in there and blasting our music loud. All the energy that came in—when you think about [American] Cream Team with [Lord Superb] and Banky [B] and them, and you think about all the other Wu affiliates that just popped in to show love on that album.”
Notably, RZA reveals that Tony Starks wished to best his work, not on Ironman, but his co-starring role on The Purple Tape. “Ghost’s goal was to top Cuban Linx… In some circles, he has. In some circles, he hasn’t. That’s what’s beautiful about it.”
RZA is also aware of countless debates surrounding Ghost’s first two albums. “I already know what you’re gonna choose. But in my writer’s room, there’s an ongoing debate—and I don’t join the debate [laughing], but the debate is what’s better: Ironman or Supreme Clientele. The atom will flip in my writer’s room. But I will say that my partner, Alex Tse, who is a co-creator of [Wu-Tang: An American Saga]—he says Supreme Clientele. Hands down. [Laughs] It’s an ongoing debate.”
RZA also spoke with AFH about his new Spoken Word meditation album. He recalled his basement studio along with his newest layout, remembered the late Popa Wu, and discussed meditation.