City Paper is not for tourists
Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele might as well be two records: one with rotten lyrics by Ghostface, another presenting a masterfully produced soundscape by the head Wu-Tang Clansman, the RZA. Though other producers pitch in for some of the tracks, the RZA ultimately seizes control over the boards; his touch shows up all over the album. Clientele does not rank with the very best of the Wu-Tang releases, however, but it is an authentic product—one that exposes recent solo efforts by Wu-Tangers GZA, U-God, Inspectah Deck, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, and Raekwon as the work of underachieving doppelgangers.
Verbalitis (a disease that causes rappers to babble incoherently into the mike) has attacked the Wu-Tang Clan with deadly efficiency. Most recent Wu-Tang songs—with the notable exception of those by Method Man and Inspectah Deck—have been lyrically murky. Whether in ODB’s obfuscating rants, Raekwon’s illogical similes, or Masta Killah’s glacial flow, almost nothing can be discerned from Wu-Tang’s words. Even in its glory days, the group had coherence problems. But back then, a rapper like Ghostface balanced his indecipherable banter with moments of cogency. Who can forget his contribution to cuts like “Ice Cream”? It was the moments of clarity that made Wu-Tang a supreme crop of lyricists: Ghostface’s salute to black maternity, “All That I Got Is You,” Raekwon’s modern slave narrative, “C.R.E.A.M.,” or the GZA’s layered boasts on “Liquid Swords,” which helped establish Wu-Tang as one of the ultimate rap groups.
Although non sequiturs have run amok through the Clan members’ lyrics over the past few years, Clientele sets a new standard for lyrical irrelevance. Following in the path of DMX, Drag-On, and even Puff Daddy, Ghostface has clearly deduced that words are wholly irrelevant to making hiphop. At virtually no point on the album is Ghostface comprehensible. On “Nutmeg,” Ghost begins the babbling with the first bar: “Scientific, my hand kissed it, robotic, let’s think optimistic/You probably missed it, watch me dolly dick it.” On “Stay True,” the string of nonsense continues: “Jungle in the club, we play Colombo/Frosty the snowman, frozen as the milky way/Ice on the floor, El Producto in the sleeve/In the seam of his mink, he said, ‘Don’t drink.’” Illogic reaches its apex with the otherwise lovely “Wu Banga 101”: “Skip to the intro, rap through po/Smashed a fresh ball of wax caesar/Flashy penthouse that overlooks the vista/Wally Moc have tie, swim in chunks.”
The only time Ghostface joins the rest of the world is when he discusses the opposite sex, but when he does, you find yourself wishing you didn’t know what he was talking about. The lyricist seems never to have met a woman unworthy of a five-letter moniker. On Clientele, Ghostface & Co. sling misogyny everywhere. The hook to “One” borders on an endorsement for gang rape: “To my real bitches take your drawers off/To all my high niggas, snatch her skirt off/Just in case she wanna play, get up in that bitch face and tell her Ghost said, ‘Take your clothes off!’”
Clientele does provide moments of lyrical lucidity, none of them authored by Ghostface. On “Wu Banga 101,” the GZA recaptures his old brilliance and delivers some of the smoothest lyrics that have come out of the Clan in years: “Whether heard in herb spots, jukebox or malt shops/Uncut live, drop 85, with one shot…[I] walk a road of great length you find too long to measure/My Clan will make me rhyme like D. Banner under pressure.” On “Buck 50,” Method Man also manages to add some coherence. But, in typical fashion, he’s outclassed by surprise guest Redman: “Wet behind the ear, you not prepared/For the project flow with extra stairs.”
The RZA’s handiwork ultimately makes Clientele the most sonically dynamic Wu-Tang album in three years. Because the record label decided to list credits for only 14 of Clientele’s 21 cuts, it’s hard to tell how many tracks the RZA actually produced, but he did serve as the co-executive producer and co-arranger for the album. Dissonant and sonically diverse, the work of the RZA and his disciples stitches together all manner of samples to form a fabric of lovely noise: Random vocal chants, soulful wails, cartoon theme songs, and movie lines all pop up in the soundscape. And on cuts like “Mighty Healthy,” “One,” and “Wu Banga 101,” Clientele’s drums hit like a Tyson uppercut. Premiere may be dirtier, and Dr. Dre may be more musical, but no producer more consistently surprises you than the RZA.
And no MC more consistently befuddles you than Ghostface Killah. Consequently, Clientele is a good album in spite of its abominable lyrics. It probably would have been a great album if one of Wu Tang’s more capable lyricists (GZA, Inspectah Deck, Method Man) had rhymed over the tracks. But the MCing is a nonfactor, because there really isn’t any MCing. There’s just Ghostface doing an impression of a ghetto John Ashberry—and the RZA reaching deep to save an album from itself. CP