If ever an album intended to make a bold statement, this was the one. It had been over four years since the Wu-Tang Clan shocked the world with the pure uncut raw of “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” In the interim the Wu had produced and released successful solo albums by GZA, Method Man, Ghostface Killah and Raekwon the Chef – but this wasn’t enough to die-hard fans. Heads wanted to know if the Wu could combine again to recreate the magic of their stellar debut.
The Wu’s response was to release a DOUBLE album. While most rappers who try releasing two discs at once usually end up with half hits and half filler (which pared down to ONE disc would be dope) the Wu gambled their nine man crew had enough dopeness between them all to go around. In fact, if you were lucky enough to cop the UK version of this release it came with TWENTY-NINE tracks – stateside the second disc only had 16 cuts, not 18.
A word of advice to the neophyte though – skip over the first six minutes and seventeen seconds of disc one. While the “Wu-Revolution” might be mildly interesting on a first listen, the babblings of Poppa Wu and Uncle Pete belong on a cable access show about self-empowerment; RZA’s beat on this one is nothing to write home about either. At 6:18 the album really begins – a kung-fu movie sample of the kind the Wu made legendary on their first edition:
“I have given it much thought
It seems, disaster must come – at best, only postponed
Shaolin Kung-Fu, to survive must now be taught
to more, young men – we must expand, get more pupils
So that, the knowledge will spread”
The teaching begins with “Reunited” – a track which almost defies description in dopeness. What better re-introduction to the Wu could there be than having the GZA spit fire over haunting violings? “Just consider the unparalleled advantage/of a natural disaster that’s impossible to manage.” While you’re still bending your head around this metaphor Ol’ Dirty Bastard comes in with the “moonshine drunken monk” style and blows the door off the hinges; after that, verses by RZA and Method Man are just icing on the cake.
RZA hits the nail on the head afterward on “For Heavens Sake” with a seriously demented chorus sample and a background noise that can ONLY be describes as “killer bees on the swarm.” The effect not only gives you goosebumps, it even makes the normally laughable Cappadonna come off tight on the microphone. “Cash Still Rules/Scary Hours” is aight, but having the title make reference to “C.R.E.A.M.” was probably a mistake. It’s still dope enough to carry verses by Raekwon and Meth, and the effect of Ghostface continuing to rap even as the beat drops out at the end was a nice touch – permanently burning the phrase “He still pussy, he sell his dust up on the lower East” into your brain.
“Visionz” is a much more ominous and deadly sounding Wu-Tang production. Combining together a heavy bass drop and some low register piano keys that go 1-2, 1-1-2, 1-2, 2-2 the creation is both simple and powerful. Each rapper shines in this short three minute track, but Masta Killa steals the show with his “you must take Allah for fool” verbal mathematics. This gem is followed up by the demented “As High As Wu-Tang Get” – a clearly drunken Ol’ Dirty Bastard singing the hook while Meth and GZA drop razor sharp flows; the latter in particular spitting some truly classic gems:
“Yo, too many songs, weak rhymes that’s mad long
Make it brief son – half short and twice strong
No doubt, it took time searchin; eventually, it was prime urgent
for you to examine the rhyme merchant
Laced MC’s with styles when they rhyme drunk
On a label hunt, until twenty-thou’ out the trunk..”
The next track may be too dark even for some die-hard Wu-Tang fans; although personally “Severe Punishment” is my favorite track on the whole of disc one. All of the Wu MC’s shine, but U-God’s introductory verse in particular recalls the dopeness of “Da Mystery of Chessboxin'” while GZA follows up with a FURIOUS assault where he dismisses weaker rappers with the words “Shit is COPPER, it ain’t worth the mic stands/used by backup singers in Atlantic City bands.” Ouch! Don’t be surprised if days later you find yourself randomly quoting the samples with a psychotic gleam in your eye – “I’m going to chop off your arm; so ARE YOU READY?”
Unfortunately the next two tracks fail to carry this buzz forward. Neither “Older Gods” or “Maria” is wack per se, in fact the beats are dope Wu-Tang productions – but none of the verses are memorable. Cappadonna in particular just diseases the latter song with his awkward, off-beat and banal lyrics – even a demented Ol’ Dirty and some slurred science by RZA can’t rescue the song afterwards. This is just an interlude to the final tracks of disc one, starting with the surprisingly moving song “A Better Tomorrow.” The somber raps about the pains of living almost make one want to disagre with the chorus “You can’t party your life away/drink your life away/ smoke your life away/fuck your life away” – the vices which take away the sharp edges of existance, but the remainder of it explains – dream your life away/scheme your life away/cause your seeds grow up the same way.” Like Ol’ Dirty said at the Grammy awards, the Wu really IS for the children. Followed up by a modern day tribute to T La Rock on “It’s Yourz” over a very catchy drum clap track and synth line, you’re left feeling that the first forty-five minutes would ALMOST make a good stand-alone LP.
While the second disc is longer and therefore tends to be a little more uneven, dropping it altogether and depriving rap heads of the gems on it would have been a HUGE mistake. This includes the album’s aptly named lead single “Triumph” – a song which again contains laughably bad raps by Cappadonna that fortunately are drowned out by having nearly EVERY Wu rapper shine as bright as the sun. The only dissapointment about this song is GZA’s much too short verse right before Masta Killa’s attack where “the dumb are mostly intrigued by the drum.”
On the following track “Impossible” RZA gets some of his best verses on the whole album – raps that will even please sci-fi and anime fans with the lines “Consume planets like Unicron; blasting photon bombs from the arm like Galvatron.” Tekitha’s vocals will send an arctic blast down your spine as she croons “For you to defeat, the God, IMPOSSIBLE! You can never defeat, the God, IMPOSSIBLE!” Unfortunately some cool points have to be deducted on the next song “Little Ghetto Boys” for basically resurrecting the same formula Dr. Dre used for the song of nearly identical title on “The Chronic.” Ironically, Cappadonna spits one of his few impressive verses on the whole album on this poorly conceived song.
This is where the second disc really starts to lag, in a bad way. The flat and unintriguing musical sound of “Deadly Melody” does nothing for any of the rappers on it and ruins what could have been a great cameo appearance by Street Life. “The City” is actually worse – it will give you bad flashbacks of any video game that had a insipid and uninspiring theme song whose beat and melody dragged on and on as you fought through each level. The track “Projects” is welcome musical relief from damage the prior two did your ear canal – a single piano chord and crying synths that are powerful in their simplicity. The only downside of this track is that Ghostface Killah has a verse that is so disgustingly misogynystic it makes me wince. To some this is just Ghostface “keeping it real” but it seems directly contradictory to the very mathematics of the Wu about respecting black women as Queens. A bitch may be a bitch, but I don’t think ANY woman would deserve the words “use vinegar, to tighten up your ginger.” I personally want a butch lesbian to slap him SILLY for that bullshit.
Thankfully the album picks up steam from this track MUSICALLY and carries it forward. “Bells of War” is a curious track of which half or more is devoted to spoken interludes – one in particular about boxing – but the music is type tight plus. What follows though is a Wu masterpiece – “The M.G.M.” Besides being a tight narrative of a night at the fights kicked back and forth between Ghostface and Raekwon, the construction of the song is near perfect: a layer of harmony vocals, a layer of crowd noise, the bassline and music, sounds from the match, all mixed together like a perfect cocktail. Don’t sleep on it, even though it’s only two minutes and forty seconds. Afterwards is the deranged “Dog Shit” by Ol’ Dirty Bastard – decent enough musically but mostly notable for the fact it’s a solo performance from the Wu’s top lunatic. “Duck Seazon” is much more methodically menacing – allowing Raekwon and RZA in particular to spit pure venom:
“You want a pound crab? Nah, let his hand swing
I oughta punch a hole in his palm with these pointy-ass rings
No more said, knew your chump ass was dead
when I saw the four-four reflectin, off your shiny forehead
It’s Wu-Tang NIGGA, ain’t nuttin changed NIGGA
Still ‘Shame on a Nigga’, who try to run game”
The next track can’t help but get you amped – “Hellz Wind Staff” is an uptempo, energetic, pure vocal blast punctuated between verses with kung-fu fighting sounds. Other than the cryptic Ghostface line “Next album, ‘Blood on Chef Apron'” (which either never existed or was renamed “Immobilarity”) the song is nearly five minutes of the best of the Wu-Tang; including a Street Life appearance which makes up for the lack of shine he got on track five. When you follow this with the lushly symphonic “Heaterz” you’ll be riding on a pure musical Wu high of bangers for 25 minutes straight.
“Black Shampoo” is kind of strange. There’s nothing wrong with U-God having a solo track, nor having the music for it be on some ‘quiet storm’ type shit, nor having him rap about massages and foot rubs; in fact even though the thoughts in the song may sound like free association they actually set a romantic scene for him and his boo. Still, the overall effect tends to leave the average listener perplexed if listening to the album sequentially – you go from straight hardcore to “love love slam, edible underwear champagne bubble bath.” The song needs better context to make sense.
At this point for the stateside buyers, the album is pretty much winding down. Tekitha sings the “Second Coming” and basically serves warning to all pitiful rappers that the Wu has come to destroy their careers – or as she says, “And I don’t think the world can take it/cause it took so long to make it/and the hip-hop game will never be the saaaaaaame!” This is followed by a spoken “Closing” dialogue from Raekwon about just WHO the double album was made for; finished by the ominous sound of a helicopter swooping overhead.
UK buyers and import heads are in for an extra treat though – a six minute long solo opus by the RZA called “Sunshower” that has that trademark debut Wu-Tang LP sound. It’s got the weird warbling synths, the opening of the track actually seems to have been spliced on the reel, and Rakeem raps on and on over a sparse and plunky beat. Unfortunately the other bonus track is an unnecessary remix of “Projects” that fails to improve on the original, and still has the same nasty misogynistic verse from Ghost. “Sunshower” is probably worth finding on MP3 if your copy of the album doesn’t have it, but don’t sweat the non-inclusion of the “Projects” remix too much.
At sixty-five plus minutes either way, the second disc is a very long set – especially compared to the forty-five of the first. The two discs could have been split up a little better; and the filler on the second set is much less tolerable than it is on the first. Still, this was a tremendous effort from the Wu considering their long time spent away recording solo material instead of working as a group. GZA was dead accurate when he rapped on “Reunited” that the double LP had the world excited. While no album could be said to hold up to the concentrated and uncut dopeness of their debut, this DOUBLE album held up against anything else in the Wu catalogue and mostly exceeded the public’s skeptical expectations. At about 80% dopeness and 20% filler, “Wu-Tang Forever” was easily the best two disc/ two tape album hip-hop saw for almost the entire 90’s, with the exception of Notorious B.I.G.’s “Life After Death.” It was a welcome fix for everybody craving another Wu-Tang hit; and anybody who likes the Wu and doesn’t own it has a problem to rectify by going to their nearest record store SOON.