My love for hip-hop began inside my friend’s 1988 Peugeot sedan. He had popped in a tape of experimental hip-hop group The Gravediggaz’s debut album entitled Six Feet Deep. I had never heard anything remotely close to the words that hissed from his dusty speakers. It was offensive, creative, perverse, and had completely changed my perspective of music. One of the sonic engineers of that album, Grammy award-winner RZA, also fronted a better known hip-hop group: Wu-Tang Clan. In 1997, the Wu-Tang Clan became the best-selling hip-hop group of all-time by selling more than 600,000 copies of their sophomore effort, Forever, within one week.
One of the group’s “swordsmen” included Ghostface Killah (also known as Ghostface), an artist who would continue the Wu-Tang Clan’s dominance over the music charts with his 2000 effort, Supreme Clientele. Where Six Feet Deep had expanded my understanding of hip-hop’s limits in creativity, Supreme Clientele rocketed me past expectations and left me breathless. And I’m far from alone: Spin named it one of the 20 best albums of 2000, while Vibe named it one of the 10 best of that year. While rhetorically the album is flush with visually stunning verses, it is perhaps the genre-busting elements of the artifact that truly make it remarkable.
Supreme Clientele is full of enterprising references to blaxploitation films, tales of violence, drugs, sexual relationships, off-beat topics, and visceral humor. Ghostface makes mince meat out of the English language, dicing and slicing words together to form new phrases, many of which the meaning is still in contention. Take this section from the first song, “Nutmeg“:
Tidy Bowl, gung-ho pro, Starsky with the gum sole, Hit the rump slow, parole kids, live Rapunzel, but Ton’ stizzy really high, the vivid laser eye guide, Jump in the Harley ride, Clarks I freak a lemon pie.
Ghostface is clearly in command of his word choices, and there are no wasted elements in the above lines. Let’s dissect some of this stanza further to understand the true content, and thus the feeling he’s trying to convey early on in the album. Tidy Bowl (clean), gung-ho pro (in charge of his own recklessness), Starsky with the gum sole (’70s TV show reference), jump in the Harley ride (a reference to a vehicle primarily used by white Americans), Clarks I freak a lemon pie (he likes to wear lemon colored-Clarks, a type of shoe).