In the year 1999, the empire that was built by the Wu-Tang Clan was crumbling. After two years of sub-par solo efforts it seemed like the Clan’s best days were behind them.
The Wu was in need of a new injection of life, a superhero who could bring them back to the essence and simultaneously chart a new course for the future. Waiting in the wings was Dennis Coles, aka Ghostface Killah, who would put the Wu on his back.
On February 8th, 2000 Ghostface Killah unleashed his second solo album, the incomparable Supreme Clientele, a groundbreaking LP that caused a foundational shift in the culture that still reverberates today.
While Ironman was a stellar debut from Ghost, Supreme Clientele cemented his place among the pantheon of legendary MCs. Spanning just over an hour, Supreme is a tour de force in other-wordly lyricism and Blaxploitation-esque themed production. With a magnetic, larger-than-life personality Ghost displayed why he should be considered the soul of the Clan.
Upon its release, Supreme Clientele debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 134,000 copies in its first week. Exactly a month later, it was certified Gold. The album was anchored by two singles, the street anthem “Apollo Kids,” which featured partner Rakewon, and the club favorite “Cherchez La Ghost,” which had a verse from U-God. Also featured on the album were a plethora of cuts that would influence hip-hop for years.
Without question, Supreme Clientele is an all-time hip-hop classic and one of the best albums in the extensive Wu-Tang catalog
In celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the album, we dug around for 10 things you might not have known about Supreme Clientele.
Ghost began working on the album in 1998, but the recording process was interrupted due to the fact that he served a four-month sentence at Rikers Island. He pleaded guilty to a gun charge from 1995 that took place at the Palladium nightclub in New York City. While incarcerated, he still had a weapons charge that was pending but he and The RZA managed to finish the album when he was released.
Noting the intensity of his situation, on “Buck 50” Ghost rapped, “Check out the grays on the side of my waves/I grew those on Rikers Island/Stretched out, balled up in the cage.”
In 2018, an interesting photo began to make its rounds on the internet that featured Ghost, Method Man, and the former FBI director James Comey. The irony was not lost on those who know about the Wu’s history.
In 1999, the W-Tang Clan found themselves being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the Bureau, “the federal law enforcement agency had branded the rap collective as a criminal enterprise and even sought the help of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in building a case against the group.”
The FBI’s file on the Wu claimed that the group was a gang that laundered money through their label, linked them to two homicides, and to moving firearms from Ohio to New York.
After crafting the soundscape of their classic debut Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers and a plethora of high acclaimed solo works, RZA lost between 300-500 beats when his studio flooded.
“As soon as we had finished Enter The Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers, I already had Inspectah Deck’s Uncontrolled Substance] album, Method Man’s Tical album prepared,” The RZA said. “Because back in those days we had floppy disks and I would make all the beats – Method Man’s session, Deck’s session, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx session, and I was ready to go. Here comes the flood that wiped away about 160 floppy disks. Because I didn’t think there’d be a flood. I had [the disks] on the floor, under the keyboard. You don’t think. Wu-Tang [Clan was] out doing some shows in Cleveland, whatever. We came back–water’s up this high, washed that all away. We went back to the drawing board. Cool.”
It was in Africa that Ghostface underwent a cultural and spiritual awakening in the country Benin. His time in the Motherland was inspirational and was the impetus for the vision of Supreme Clientele.
“Fuck all this Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, all this shit,” he told The Source Magazine. “They don’t give a fuck about none of that in Africa. Everything is the same. But over here, everybody wanna be better than the next one. Nah, it’s not like that over there. They might be fucked up moneywise, but trust me, them motherfuckers is happy. Them niggas in harmony because they got each other.”
During his retreat in Benin, Ghost began to pen the early formations of what would become “Nutmeg,” “One,” and “Buck 50.”
Before Mase was putting Diddy on blast for his business practices, he was one of the hottest rappers in the game, fresh off his multi-platinum debut Harlem World. At the height of his popularity, Mase was spotted talking recklessly at one of his concerts about the Ghost.
Not long after the show, Mase and his camp ran into Ghost along with his entourage at a club where the two crews had an altercation and Mason Betha was left with a broken jaw.
Initially, many believed that it was Ghostface who was responsible for fracturing Mase’s jaw. But it was Wu affiliate, I-Cham, who landed the devastating blow as clarified by Ghostface on the Supreme Clientele track “Malcolm” where he spits, “Yo I-Cham punched Mase in his face over some bullshit.”
No wonder on “Through the Wire” Kanye said, “If you could feel how my face felt, you would know how Mase felt.”
“Nutmeg” is one of the best opening tracks in hip-hop. An impeccable song, “Nutmeg” sets the tone for the rest of the LP with its cinematic brilliance. Skillfully sampling Eddie Holman’s “It’s Over”, “Nutmeg” is the creme de la creme of Supreme and is regarded as one of Ghost’s signature tracks.
Amazingly, one of the greatest beats of all-time did not come from a well-known producer but Ghost’s old barber. Ghost said, “When I did Supreme, I was like, ‘I’m coming back,’ especially with beats first. So I went to Juju [from The Beatnuts], my man Haas from Staten Island, RZA, you know, different motherfuckers. I had ‘Nutmeg’ from my barber. That’s my man. My old barber made ‘Nutmeg. That’s a wild song. That shit is one of the illest styles I ever came up with because I had no music to write to at first.”
In his only known major producer credit, Black Moes-Art created an undisputed classic.
After the release of Wu-Tang Forever, the RZA voluntarily stepped back from micro-managing every Wu-Tang project. He even dedicated time to his own solo project, Bobby Digital in Stereo. RZA left all the Wu-Tang albums that dropped in 1999 to his mentees who handled the majority of the production. Although he would produce some tracks, his noticeable absence is one of the major factors in the lukewarm reception of the second round of Wu solo albums. But when it was time for Ghost to record his sophomore effort, RZA took an active role in overseeing the project with Tony Starks and their organic chemistry comes shining through in the music.
Every track that The Abbot produced was a certified banger. “The Grain,” “Buck 50,” “Child’s Play,” and “Stroke of Death” featured a rejuvenated RZA, operating with a laser-beam like focus. RZA and Ghost mixed all tracks together, even the tracks from other producers, giving them the “Wuness” that was missing from other projects that bore the Wu emblem.
RZA’s work as executive producer on Supreme Clientele was the most involvement he had in a Wu project since Wu-Tang Forever.
50 Cent set the hip-hop landscape ablaze with the underground hit “How To Rob.” The Queens MC named many high-profile artists in the song including members of the Wu. He first sent shots at Ol Dirty Bastard saying, “I’d rob ODB but that’d be a waste of time, probably have to clap him run and toss the nine.” Then he came for some more of the Wu brethren. “Catch Rae, Ghost, and RZA for them funny ass rings,” he rapped over the Trackmasters beat.
While 50 said he meant the song as a joke and in hindsight, it was the earliest incarnation of the trolling that would make him famous, Ghost did not see the humor at all. He responded with “Clyde Smith,” a skit, where Ghost threatened to send “500 wolves on you…like I said, 50, you a bird, and niggas gonna see you.”
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed and Ghost and 50 squashed the beef several years later.
The production of Supreme Clientele was transformative from the moment that it hit the shelves. The sounds that Ghost curated on Supreme would deeply influence two up-and-coming producers: Just Blaze and Kanye West.
Recalling the impact of Supreme, Kanye said, “Me and Just love Ghostface so much, that’s (Roc-A-Fella Records executive) Hip-Hop’s favorite rapper and one of my favorite rappers, so we were trying to make all these beats for Ghostface but just so happens we’re at Roc-A-Fella and Jay heard them and rapped on them. We were making all these beats for Ghostface because we get so inspired by his albums… I feel like I got my whole style from Ghostface. Listen to what I’m saying, I need that in print, I feel like I got my whole style from Ghostface.”
Following the formula of Supreme, Just Blaze and Kanye West went on to create the majority of JAY-Z’s classic The Blueprint the next year.
There are some hardcore Wu fans that will rank Ironman over Supreme Clientele. Undoubtedly, Ironman is an impressive debut that has garnered both critical acclaim and commercial success. But if you asked Ghost which of the two is his favorite, he would vote for Supreme. In fact, Ghost actually thinks that his lyrical output was underwhelming on Ironman. An interview Ghost stated, “Everything calmed down, and I sat and re-listened to it [Ironman] and was mad disappointed. Lyrically, it just isn’t there for me; I’m better than that shit.”
On the other hand, Supreme Clientele is where Ghost believes that he finally hit his stride. He argued, “I was in a better place, nah mean? Happier. So that was just the vibe. Whatever I’m doing at that time in my life comes into the studio all the way into the booth with me. There’s some darkness, but it’s not throughout the whole record. It was also the order of the music. Sequencing is important, and a lot of niggas don’t really do it. This record is like a twelve-round fight, dog. If you think it stumbles in the seventh, it’ll come out in the ninth round swingin’. I changed this album around like twelve fucking times, dog. Just to get the mood right and shit.”
Rashad Grove is a writer from NJ whose work has appeared on BET, Billboard, MTV News, Okayplayer, High Snobiety, Medium, Revolt TV, The Source Magazine, and others. You can follow him at @thegroveness for all of his greatness.
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