Wu-Tang Forever is the second studio album of American hip hop group Wu-Tang Clan, released June 3, 1997, on Loud/RCA Records in the United States. Pressed as a double album, it was released after a long run of successful solo projects from various members of the group, and serves as the follow-up to their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers). Forever features several guest appearances from Wu-Tang affiliates Cappadonna, Streetlife, 4th Disciple, True Master, and Tekitha. The original run of compact discs featured an “Enhanced CD” which allowed users to walk around the “Wu Mansion” and access additional content.
Despite limited radio/TV airplay, and a lead single that famously clocked at nearly six minutes with no chorus, Wu-Tang Forever debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with 612,000 copies sold in its first week. The album was certified 4 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on October 15, 1997 and has sold over 2 million copies in the United States. As a double disc release it earns a sales point per disc sold. It is the group’s second highest selling album to date. Upon its release, Wu-Tang Forever received favorable reviews from most music critics, while it also earned the group a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rap Album at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards.
Upon its release, Wu-Tang Forever received positive reviews from music critics, who praised RZA’s production work and the group members’ lyricism. Matt Diehl from Entertainment Weekly commented, “Forever continues the group’s artistic grand slam. Like their forebears in Public Enemy, Wu-Tang are musical revolutionaries, unafraid to bring the noise along with their trunk of funk. The RZA allows a few outside producers behind the board this time, but it’s his gritty samples and numbing beats that get the party moving.” Sasha Frere-Jones from Spin called it an album “for hip-hop junkies, rhyme followers who want to hear their favorite sword-swallowers drop unusually good styles over unusually good beats.” Comparing some of the album’s production to that of Wu-Tang member GZA’s Liquid Swords (also produced by RZA), Neil Strauss from The New York Times wrote a favorable review of the album and stated “Wu-Tang Forever is a smooth, clean set of 25 songs and two speeches, with only a few throwaways on the second CD. The Wu-Tang Clan offers something for every kind of rap fan. More important, after a four-year wait, on Wu-Tang Forever the Clan retains its mantle as rap’s standard bearers.” Melody Maker gave Wu-Tang Forever a favorable review as well, stating “It had to be this big. It didn’t have to be this good … Every single track is a detonation of every single pop rule you thought sacrosanct …Forever is one of the greatest hip hop LPs of all time.” Stephen Thomas Erlewine from AllMusic stated:
Where contemporaries like 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. issued double-discs cluttered with filler, Wu-Tang Forever is purposeful and surprisingly lean, illustrating the immense depth of producer RZA and the entire nine-piece crew … The result is an intoxicating display of musical and lyrical virtuosity, one that reveals how bereft of imagination the Wu-Tang’s contemporaries are.
Describing the album’s lyrics as “hauntingly descriptive tales of ghetto hustlers and victims,” Rolling Stone‘s Nathan Brackett stated “The whole of Wu-Tang Forever crackles with a shootout-at-midnight electricity that more than justifies the double-disc indulgence, while the back-and-forth wordfire of Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, etc. confirms the Clan’s singular zing at the mic, and their ghetto-wise might as storytellers.” Cheo Hodari Coker from the Los Angeles Times commented, “The Clan’s beats push the limit between cutting-edge hip-hop and industrial feedback, with jugular-clutching rhymes following their own melodic dictates and insular messages running the gamut from ancient maxims of the art of war to spiritual knowledge, wisdom and understanding from the Islamic Five Percent Nation.” Steve Jones from USA Today wrote, “Hip-hop’s most anticipated album crackles with the nine-member clan’s unique hard-core rhymes and beats. On this two-disc, 112-minute set, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The RZA avoids overproduction, using the beats to propel the lyrics, and keeps the music free of clichéd R&B loops.” Robert Christgau of The Village Voice gave the album a two-star honorable mention rating and called the Wu-Tang Clan “the five per cent nation of Oscar aspirations”. In 2018, the BBC included it in their list of “the acclaimed albums that nobody listens to any more.”
Despite limited radio/TV airplay, and a lead single that famously clocked at nearly six minutes with no chorus, Wu-Tang Forever debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 with 612,000 copies sold in its first week. The album was certified 4× platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) on October 15, 1997 (each disc in the double album counted as separate unit for certification purpose), and has sold over 2 million copies in the United States. It is the group’s highest selling album to date.