Forever Wu

Wu-Tang Forever, Loud/RCA (1997)

June 1997. Wrapping up my freshman year of high school, riding high on a summer vibe. All I needed was the perfect soundtrack for the two-month break. What I ended up getting was hip-hop in the purest form: Wu-Tang Forever. This was a major event album, at least it was in my life and among my circle of skate rat hip-hop head friends. Wu-Tang was on heavy rotation throughout our junior high experience. They had been dropping solo albums, like a trail of breadcrumbs, from Enter the Wu-Tang…leading up to the release of Wu-Tang Forever, a four-year run of brilliant albums that pushed the boundaries of creativity in hip-hop. You want to see a receipt. Peep this:

Wu-Tang Clan, Enter the Wu-Tang: (36 Chambers) (1993)
Method Man, Tical (1994)
Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version (1995)
Raekwon, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… (1995)
GZA, Liquid Swords (1995)
Ghostface Killah, Ironman (1996)
Wu-Tang Clan, Wu-Tang Forever (1997)

Damn. I see a list of seven classic Golden Era hip-hop albums, and they’re all pieces on the Wu-Tang chessboard, advancing their narrative and the game plan: world domination.

A lot of our classmates back in the day at Pacific Junior High weren’t into this hardcore rap. They weren’t as sophisticated, obviously, and preferred the saccharin sounds of radio friendly Puff Daddy jams and Jermaine Dupri remixes. That shiny suit rap music. Wu-Tang Forever was pushback against all that, what RZA dubbed “Dr. Seuss, Mother Goose, simple-minded” rappers getting the radio play, representing the culture at large to pop media. It was something different for the sake of reminding people what the art of MCing sounded like. It was also a moment of departure for the Wu, in some ways necessitated by fate (and bad plumbing). RZA had to draw up plan B after losing hundreds of tracks in multiple floods, and he met the moment with a sound that was different from the already unique style he produced on their debut. He stripped down his production to emphasize the rappers’ voices and their lyrics.

This moment of departure wasn’t just about their sound. The tightly wound group of brother in arms and rap generals would no longer hold as firm after Wu-Tang Forever dropped. Careers took off, money was thrown around, pride got in the way, folks went to prison, that affected things. Future group efforts would prove to suffer from the same obvious lack of cohesion and focus that started to surface on Wu-Tang Forever, but, despite the creative obstacles, the RZA, the GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon the Chef, U-God, Ghostface Killah, and the Method Man (and Cappadona, too!) managed to craft an imperfect masterpiece.

“Show me you’re from the 90s without telling me you’re from the 90s.” Photo by Nick M. W.

Wu-Tang Forever was a series of lessons. Most of the lessons came in the form of Five Percenter teachings, my favorite of them being “Older Gods”. Some were science lessons, like the organic chemistry Raekwon and Ghostface showed on “The M.G.M.”. They taught lessons on wordplay, like Ghostface’s verse on “Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours…”, and on writing, with another legendary verse from Ghost on “Impossible”. It was all the education we needed for the summer, so we passed on summer school and hit the streets on our skateboards, with the boombox on tilt, rocking Wu-Tang Forever.

This album was also a springboard for a couple of Wu members. I mentioned Ghostface’s “Impossible” verse, which the RZA called the best Wu-Tang verse of the bunch. Ghostface was prepping us for what was to come a few years later with Supreme Clientele, which is my favorite Wu-Tang solo album. Wu-Tang Forever also launched Inspectah Deck’s career. He suffered the most from RZA’s house flooding the first time. Deck’s solo album was supposed to be released among the bunch that dropped between the two group albums, but the tracks were destroyed in the flood, and RZA didn’t get around to finishing it until the end of the 90s.

My biggest critique of this album is that it could have been trimmed down to one lengthy LP. There are five or six tracks, an intro with Poppa Wu, and an outro with Raekwon that could have been chopped, but I’m far from a professional record producer. Even with its length and filler tracks, this was another monumental hip-hop double album that dropped within a year of two other hip-hop classics: All Eyez On Me and Life After Death. Wu-Tang Forever belongs with those albums in the upper echelon.

Favorite Tracks

Three per album. Double album. Six tracks. Go!

“Cash Rules/Sneaky Hours”

Scary hours, no money out, smash the Guinness Stout.

Wu-Tang Forever was GFK’s Ironman encore. He flexed nasty wordplay that dripped with steez, but this album was also 4th Disciples’ moment to shine. His production work made for some of my favorite tracks on both discs, starting with this one.

“Older Gods”

Let the shot spark soon as the pit-bull barks. Tire scars from skid marks leaves from jams in school parks.

Rhymes about Five Percenter knowledge, flash fiction narratives about park jams, boatloads of cash from illegal work, from the three best rappers in the group. This is another 4th Disciple produced track.

“It’s Yourz”

Million dollar rap crews fold, check the sick shit, explicit. I crystalize the rhyme so you can sniff it.

Inspectah Deck drops an 8-bar verse appetizer on this banger that sets the table for the lyrical murder he commits on “Triumph”.

“Triumph”

I bomb atomically. Socrates philosophies and hypotheses can’t define how I be dropping these mockeries.

“Lyrically perform armed robbery, flee with the lottery, possibly they spotted me.” Yeah, rap that shit. This is the most bombastic jam of the Golden Era. Nine rappers drop verses over five and a half minutes of rapping without a damn sniff of a verse. And it was a hit.

“The Projects”

007 marks the secret agent, that macks well and gets smart through entertainment.

A track that gives off “Can’t It All Be So Simple” vibes, reflecting on living and surviving the New York projects, laced with one of RZA’s best beats on the album.

“The M.G.M.”

Yo, up in the M.GM. coked up, psych!

One of the greatest MC duos in rap (sounds like I have another list to write), Ghost and Rae allow us to once again be a fly on the wall on this outstanding track while the two gods politic and people watch at the Julio Cesar Chavez/Pernell Whitaker fight, some real 90s shit.

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