In the fall of 1997, after the release of his debut, Ironman, and Wu-Tang’s sophomore album, Wu-Tang Forever, Ghostface Killah and RZA went on a trip to the West African nation of Benin.
The Wu rapper’s health had been declining since over a year ago from a severe case of type-2 diabetes and he wanted to seek out alternative treatments. “I was pissing all day, losing weight, dry mouthed and dizzy with blurred vision,” Ghost later recalled.
It was in Benin, with no beats to listen to, no running water, sleeping on dirt floors, that Ghost would beginning writing the rhymes for “Nutmeg,” “One,” and “Buck 50,” songs that would later appear on his sophomore album, Supreme Clientele. MF Doom would later tell Ghost that this rapping style would be hugely influential on him.
“Fuck all this Tommy Hilfiger, Polo,” he later told the Source. “They don’t give a fuck about none of that in Africa. 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 muthafuckas is happy. They got each other.”
Ghost later explained in an interview with Vulture how the trip to Africa profoundly impacted his writing, and resulted in the stream-of-consciousness rapping that would define the album.
Ghostface Killah: When I was rhyming on “Nutmeg” and “One” on Supreme Clientele, I made a style that I couldn’t even tell what it was. I just wanted to use some words that sounded good with each other and everybody’s trying to decipher what I mean when, really, I don’t even know what it means because I had no beat. But something said, ”Make a record. Write a verse real quick just putting words together, whether they mean something or not. Just put them together.” That’s what I did with “Nutmeg” and “One.” But it was “Nutmeg” that set it off.Ghostface Killah on the Most Memorable Moments of His Incomparable Career | Vulture
After coming back to finish off the album, Ghost dropped Supreme Clientele in February 2000. Supported by the singles “Mighty Healthy,” “Apollo Kids” and “Cherchez La Ghost,” the album debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200 chart, selling 134,000 copies in the first week. The project also went gold within a month of its release, being one of two of Ghost’s album to achieve that status (the other one being Ironman, which went platinum).
But more important than commercial success, Supreme Clientele will forever be remembered as, not only Ghost’s best album, but one of the greatest Wu-Tang albums of all time, as well as a defining rap record of the 2000s. “Supreme is me, as far as my mind and everything, at that time,” Ghost told Okayplayer. “And I wouldn’t change really nothing about it, really. Like, the light was over me.”
In a 2020 interview with Rolling Stone, Ghost’s close collaborator and partner-in-crime, Raekwon, named Supreme Clientele his favourite album of all time, and recalled the making of the project.
Raekwon: I watched him go to work on this album. He did a lot of it in Miami. Ghost takes his verses like going to class; like college. He really takes his time. He doesn’t rush. He tells me all [the] time, because he knows me as being a fast writer, and he’s a slower writer. Me, I catch a vibe real quick, and it’s almost like the rhyme is there before I even write it down. But Ghost, he’s more articulate. He carries books. He writes six lines, then he leaves it alone and goes to make a sandwich. He’ll come back, and if his vibe ain’t right, he’ll wait another day. It becomes a craft. Everybody respects it. That’s how much he pays attention to his bars and what he’s spitting out.Raekwon Breaks Down His 10 Favorite Albums of All Time | Rolling Stone