Two projects are celebrating twenty years of life at about this point this week. A Wu wordsmith's sophomore offering of "Supreme Clientele" and Amel Larrieux's solo debut "Infinite Possibilities". Both projects followed each other by a week and don't only share the building that provided the promotional muscle but are close in terms of it's soulfulness ... just utilized from much different avenues.
Both artists hail from very different parts of New York, Amel from the Village of Greenwich and Ghost of Stapleton projects deep within the trenches and temples of Shaolin.
In Ghost's case, Clientele follows his 1996's well celebrated debut "Ironman", establishing itself as a necessity at the time for the Wu brand after a string of less than stellar solo releases following "Wu-Tang Forever" two and a half years prior and a mostly "quiet" 1999.
Ghost would pivot himself as arguably the one consistent Wu member in the following years with the most solo works of the clan, as well as the best Wu related tracks of at least three or more members ("Buck 50" + "Wu Banga 101", later the rare one with all nine members, "9 Milli Bros" in 2006).
One of the notable differences between the two works is production. RZA produced all but one track on Ironman, recorded and mixed all of the tracks as well, par for the course for Wu works at the time. Now fast forward three plus years and RZA only has credits for three tracks, as well as two guest verses.
"Stay True", produced by fellow clan member informally known as the Rebel INS. By this time, Deck has had his fair share of production credits (starting with "Visionz" off "Wu-Tang Forever" and Meth's "Spazzola" from "Tical 2000"), while this beat is a repurposed "Elevation" from Deck's "Uncontrolled Substance" of a year prior. This latest rendition is a single verse and hook all provided by Wu extended family member 60 Second Assassin.
"One" and "Might Healthy", we have Ghost operating at peak dart throwing. The former produced by Juju of the Beatnuts, beautifully samples The Emotions' "You Roam When You Don't Get It At Home".
Mathematics came through with the heat on "Mighty Healthy". The same Mathematics that designed the now ubiquitous "W" logo brings us a Wu sound we'd grown accustomed to from years past with an update for the 2000s. On an album with so many great moments, this particular pair showcases the absolute best and most in the pocket of Ghost during this period.
"Snap out of Candyland kids, the old rumor is Blacks become immune to shit we never did like eat dead birds, trusting pharmacies over herbs."
One of the most prominent and revelatory lines on 'Clientele'. The word pharmacy has an etymology in the Greek pharmakeia: preparer, use or administration of drugs. It should be noted that Ghost practices the Islamic faith, many of his lines before and after have made reference to the philosophy of the crescent moon and star. This just so happens to draw a proverbial line in the sand of who would consciously continue following the forced trends that was likely conspired and administered by not so well intentioned secret orders decades ago.
Amel was coming off a four and a half year break after the first and only album from Groove Theory and a few other guest features in the years following. To say that the public was robbed of a follow up album is a tremendous understatement but creative differences broke the group up before the public could experience a new peak from the duo.
A perfect blend of the RnB and Hip Hop realms conducted by her former bandmate and producer Bryce Wilson, "Infinite Possibilities" just on the title alone gave promise to a different identity from the Groove Theory project. And in a brief 45 minutes, it did not disappoint.
It would not be fair to compare both works but they do complement each other very well, the former being a palette cleanser, while the latter successfully expands and connects much deeper to a soul level. The first notable change is from the direction of the opposite end of the vocal booth that is Amel's husband Laru stepping in as co-writer/producer. Laru already had multiple songwriter credits on Groove Theory, so this was a smooth transition into the stage solo for Amel.
"I know you're down but when you're gonna get up" "People try to pull the wool over your eyes, I don't know why they want to profit from your demise"
"Get Up" is a quintessential track for the grey period that was the bookend of the 90s up to the new era that was ushered in on September of 2001. I consider that 20 month period to be an unoffical extension of the 20th century as the new century/decades artistic output would establish it's own identity before the sudden curtain call.
"Down" is a time portal back uptown to Harlem of the 1940s, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gilespie are on the same bill, Bop in full swing...so to speak. Feels like another early reference point 3000 could have pulled for his "Love Below" project a couple of years later.
"Searching' For My Soul", a spellbinding groove. Yet it is another existential theme for the deeper divers that leaves the listener with far more questions than they have answers. Chances are they opted to do as Amel stated at the end of the second verse: opting to turn off the news programs with their non stop fear pumping campaigns and well designed mind control tactics.
"I n I" is a mystics wet dream in audio form embedded with eastern influences. Amel here deals face to face with aspects of Maya, an ancient eastern concept of beauty and glamour which can voluntarily trap a materialist to the physical world and not realize themselves spiritually. Considering the subject matter of her contemporaries that tends to stick with love and/or drama based narratives, this stands alone as a breath of fresh air for those looking for something deeper.
In closing, considering her task of having to follow up a work of Groove Theory's (more specifically, "Tell Me") magnitude, Amel's solo debut achieved creating a body of work not aiming to chase that ever looming ghost of having to be as great as your last hit or mass appeal. Amel's love and appreciation for the process of creating music and giving her audience a little extra something to marinate on after the closing notes is evident all throughout her work.
Reflecting back to the time period around the release of these works from Ghost: "Ironman" being more personal, "darker" as Ghost once described and during the peak of the the Wu output, whereas Clientele is his shot at the crown during a time when his contemporaries Jay-Z, Nas & DMX were collectively jousting for that proverbial and subjective spot. By the turn of the century, he rightfully earned them "top shotta" rights.