Ghostface Killah – Supreme Clientele (2000)
Has been one of my
ten five favorite hip-hop albums since I first discovered it, and I have fond memories of my friend laughing to “Smack all y’all niggas, and niggarettes”, on a hip-hop mix CD that I gave him as we drove home from Yorkdale (can’t remember a single other track that was included); when I sat outside Sidney Smith on a lovely March day in 2012, wearing a white polo, grey jeans, red vans and smoking a cigarette while trying to come to terms with how great a day that was and how great the music in my headphones were; when I buckled to how the specific details in “Child’s Play” invoked a sort of nostalgia in me, despite not understanding all those details (just marvel to how Ghost runs through “Fresh air fun, here’s dunn, alphabets, berets / Jellies, bubble yum, soda tongue, too young to cum…”) that recalls “Little George” by Mark Doty. I’ve been mentally writing a review for this for that long, each time deleting everything because it was overly declarative and/or comparative. Saying things like this is better than Fishscale is easy for me to defend (the skinny: the raps are better, even if the beats aren’t as colourful or varied), but saying things like this is better than Kid A (as far as the year 2000 is concerned) or Wu-Tang’s debut (as far as Wu-Tang-related stuff is concerned) or anything MF DOOM has put out might get me thrown in jail. But shit, that’s how I feel. Length aside (fuck “Clyde Smith” and its sequel), is there anything wrong with the album? No. Each beat has something memorable to distinguish it (ie. the catchy string line of “We Made It”; the piano loop that follows the vocal thing on “Wu Banga 101”; how “One” uses the same trick but reversed and somehow uniquely memorable; the dirt-kicking rev of “Apollo Kids”); even the short ones like “Saturday Nite” (simply banging) and “Stay True” (a guitar as keyboard? The other way around?”) distinguish themselves. And every rap is as layered as you’d expect a Ghostface Killah rap from 2000 to be. It gets to the point where I question if the length was a problem to begin with, but rather just having that much more to love. A few details, worth drooling forever over: how the odd soul sample of “Nutmeg” hides a bass knock; how the piano loop clears away the noise on “Child’s Play”, an under-stated psychedelic experience; how Carlos Bess’ lyrical drum loop adds a second dimension to the choruses of “Cherzchez LaGhost” (the catchiest song on the album, which does the R&B thing better than anything on Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City), to say nothing of the bass-line in the verses. Stunningly vibrant music. The oddest part of the album? How RZA of all people might have the best verse here, managing to out-Ghostface in terms of details: the beeper going off; the internal rhymes; sneaking in a shout-out to his love for loose leaf cigarettes (see also: his verse on “Maria” from Wu-Tang Forever) and capping off with this: “Stomach flat as a pancake for her man’s sake / Used to fuck her when she menstruate, but it made her hyperventilate.” What a way to close a song; what a way to start an album. I realise this still doesn’t do how great this album is justice, but I’m at the point where I’ve come to terms that I’ll never be able to. Better than Kid A! Much better!
Ghostface Killah – Fishscale (2006)
Has been one of my twenty favorite hip-hop albums since I first discovered it, and while I have no specific fond memories to any of these, I do know that the opening block of tracks have found their way into constant rotation at the gym because of how hard they go: Ghostface Killah masterfully filling out the empty spaces from the otherwise bursting “Shakey Dog”; the effortless catchy “Kilo” (which does a chorus better than Ne-Yo on the pop rap “Back Like That,” leveraging the chant of what sounds like a couple of kids doing drug-related mathematics); the bracing guitar roar of “The Champ” (I find myself always having to turn it a bit down…anyone else?). The whole album follows suit in a revolving door of A-grade and varied production; I’ve been mentally writing a review for this for a long time but haven’t bothered because I can’t think of any way to really go about it other than a beat-by-beat review, which is a massive undertaking for an album with this many beats worth praising. Almost every beat (save the last two) has something memorable to distinguish it: the way Pete Rock samples the “It’s a family affair” chorus on “Dogs of War” (from Sly & the Family Stone’s “Family Affair”) but cuts it off before the last word, creating a hook that’s just as memorable and still just as unsettling (meta too, given that GhostFace Killah’s son appears on the song); the hand-off between the keyboard riff and the single string note burst on “9 Milli Bros” (even finding a few leftover lines from Ol Dirty Bastard, “BROOKLYN ZOO!”). Even a quickie like “Crack Spot” contains so much within its 2 minutes: a saxophone playing at the back of a drifting yacht into the night-time; a sped-up soul sample as a hook. Two beats from J Dilla’s Donuts appear here: the smoky “Beauty Jackson” and the indelible “Whip You With a Strap”, with its perfect vibrato. They were perfect to begin with, and hearing Ghost over top of them just brings them to another level. (Sidebar about the rapping: I’ve read internet complaints from someone about Ghostface Killah not being believable… The fuck? One of the greatest storytellers in music, rap or otherwise because of the details. Example: “Big round onions on a T-bone steak, my stomach growling / Yo I want some” in the smack-middle of bust on “Shakey Dog” is emblematic.) A few details, worth drooling forever over: how Ghostface Killah holds “She must be a special lady” and runs through “And a very exciting girl” on the psychedelic “Jellyfish” (the use of noise recalling “Child’s Play”); how some of the sounds of MF DOOM’s “Underwater” places you exactly how the title says. A reminder: 2006 had Game Theory, Donuts and Hell Hath No Fury – I’d take this one over any of those. I realise this still doesn’t do how great this album is justice, but I’m at the point where I’ve come to terms that I’ll never be able to. Also better than Kid A! Fuck yeah!