Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Forever

Wu-Tang Clan’s first album (Enter the Wu-Tang) was so successful—and so successful on the group’s own terms—that by the time they made their second they could’ve done pretty much whatever they wanted. It wasn’t just the scale of Wu-Tang Forever that felt decadent, it was the sense of 10 talented and very different artists letting themselves burrow further into their own styles and idiosyncrasies—whether it was the way Ghostface’s wordplay could make a conventional street narrative shimmer to the point of feeling almost supernatural (“Impossible”) or the way RZA’s weird layers of grainy samples and amateurishly played synthesizers sounded both like outsider art and the vanguard of blockbuster rap (“Triumph”). He’d famously promised the rest of the group that if they gave him five years, he’d make them legends, and Wu-Tang Forever is when his promise came true. You can trace the influence on modern hip-hop if you want. The way “Triumph” anticipated the so-called chipmunk soul of producers Just Blaze and early Kanye West, the sprawl of big posse albums like The Diplomats’ Diplomatic Immunity, the RZA-style way an artist like Tyler, The Creator took music and ideas that felt totally uncommercial and made it work in the mainstream. But the reality is that there was nobody like Wu-Tang either before or since, and their weird stew of crime tales (“The M.G.M.”), surreal battle raps (behold U-God on “Bells of War”), and Afrocentric philosophy (“Wu-Revolution”) gave a broader picture of how rap could sound and feel more than any other artist at the time. Yeah, it could be a little messy and long-winded—but if you didn’t have an entire U-God track about the healing powers of a good massage (“Black Shampoo”), it wouldn’t be the Wu-Tang Clan. This is what it looks like from the top of the world.

Disc 1

Disc 2

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