Wu-Tang Clan - Wu-Tang Forever (Cover Artwork)

Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Forever (1997)

Loud / RCA / BMG

Reunited, double LP, we're all excited
Struck a match to the underground, industry ignited
from metaphorical parables to fertilize the Earth

This is how the Clan began their follow-up to one of the most highly-influential albums not only in the history of hip-hop music, but the history of music period. Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) remains an exceptionally popular album; kids who weren't even born when it came out in 1993 are listening to it today in 2008. With the critical and popular success of 36 Chambers and the solo albums that followed, one might expect that the Clan would go more commercial.

Quite the opposite, actually. The first single off the double LP, "Triumph" was over five minutes long, featured nine verses (one for each member), and contained no hook or chorus. Straight hardcore hip-hop, yet the song succeeded in getting radio play and contributing ultimately to eight million record sales. In the so-called "Jiggy-era" of hip hop in 1997, this was quite an accomplishment

RZA's beats on this album (along with his protégés 4th Disciple and True Master) are more raw than its predecessor. Songs such as "Duck Seazon," "Visionz" and "Cash Still Rules" contained nothing more than simple, stripped-down beats with intelligent rhymes and intuitive lyrics. The beats sound less like 36 Chambers and more like an extension of the critically-acclaimed solo albums by Raekwon, GZA, and Ghostface. RZA's unique use of samples on this album would later be copied by producers such as Kanye West, who has given RZA credit for his style today.

Ol' Dirty Bastard is noticeably absent on many of the tracks, only contributing two verses and a couple intros. As much as ODB's character added to the group, this ultimately does not take away from the album due to the superb performances of GZA, Raekwon and Method Man. Raekwon in particular proves that his Only 4 Cuban Linx album was no fluke -- out of all the Clan members, he has the smoothest flow, with GZA a close second.

Forever also distinguishes itself from the group's debut through its lyrics. The group often articulates their "Five Percent Nation" beliefs and take on more serious and mature content than simply "Wu-Tang Clan ain't nuthin' to fuck wit." In the Intro song to the second disc, RZA disses other rappers (one must assume that Puff Daddy was one of the targets) for weak lyrics/beats. "A lot of niggas tryin' to take hip hop and make that shit R&B: rap and bullshit...this is hip-hop right here, this is lyrics."

Unfortunately, it should have been a single album. At 27 tracks, lasting a total of nearly two hours, there is some filler here. Not a lot of filler, but about five or six songs should not have made the final cut. The intro to the first disc is worthless -- it runs six and a half minutes and is nothing more than the Wu-Tang espousing their Five Percent beliefs through spoken word. These reservations notwithstanding, however, Forever was a worthy followup to the classic 36 Chambers. Several of the songs on this album such as "Severe Punishment" and "As High as Wu-Tang Get" are easily on par with their debut LP.

If you only have 36 Chambers, then pick this one up immediately. If you don't have any Wu-Tang albums, start with their debut and then buy this one.