Four years passed and following up on their uncompromising classic debut Enter The Wu-Tang 36 Chambers, the nine rapper clan from Staten Island dropped an ambitious sophomore double LP intent of solidifying their place in Hip Hop's legacy. Clocking in at nearly two hours of music the group give their all for a lengthy record that perhaps suffers from its own ambitions as mediocrity in the beats and rhymes fill the gaps between strokes of sheer brilliance. There is undoubtedly a 36 Chambers worth of gold in here but drowned by a lack of filter the record suffocates itself with.
I'm guilty of letting this record pass me by in the past, obviously "Triumph" is a timeless classic but beyond a couple of spins many years ago I never got into the rest. It wasn't until a recent discussion with a friend that I was encouraged to give it a proper try and so over the past few months Ive taken select moments to run through the two hour experience. What I leaned quickly is the best is loaded on the first disc and the second half unfortunately drifts. If that's listening fatigue, who knows? One things for sure, Ive missed out on some classic, banging Wu-Tang tracks all these years!
Forever is a measured step from its predecessor, not ready to leave the dirty, gritty beats behind it finds itself with a sharper, keen production, with a clarity the band steer clear of exploiting with a dirty, bold production from the RZA who keeps his beats rugged and raw, deploying similar production ideas from before and even some echoed drum loops and hooks heard on 36 Chambers. Raw sampling and forced chemistries illuminate the rhymes as the vocal fidelity stands a front, with each of the nine and guests like Cappadonna given a spotlight to shine as the beats spin on loop.
And shine brightly do they, Forever's most impressive moments come from the dexterous words of the nine and their free association style, in flourishing form, flipping rhymes, metaphors and meanings melded in the wordplay soup that spills with a splash to wet your apatite. When the Wu-Tang go off on one they have you in the palm of their hand, throwing flows like blows one can barely stay on their feet as fists fly by ears, your left trying to keep up. Props have to be given to Inspectah Deck who drops the albums... maybe the groups bests verses on "For Havens Sake" and "Triumph". Get your books and scalpel, dissection is required! "I bomb atomically, Socrates philosophies and hypotheses can't define how I be dropping these mockeries." The Wu-Tang need no accolades, their talent speaks volumes and the two discs are loaded with dense rhymes and flows to chew upon.
The instrumentals are perhaps out shun by the rhymes as their role is best served in forging the atmosphere and tone for the lyrics. It never feels like they overtake focus from whoever is on the mic. Studying the sample arrangement and drum beats exposes a lot of repetition that's again serving whoever is rhyming. The chemistry is right and it feels ironic that the best beats, "Severe Punishment", "Triumph" again, are where the best rhymes end up. RZA's gritty, raw style makes for many sinister, street atmospheres mixed in among socially conscious emotional tracks with a helping of sorrowful pianos, soulful samples and of course the sounds of martial arts, kung-fu flicks reinforcing the theme.
With a wealth of good material the album looses itself mostly on the second disc as the mediocrity becomes majority. If this where a single record it would be all killer no filler, possibly a classic but as the album draws on too many half baked ideas and lack of moderation let reasonable songs drown out the classic material. There are also themes of Wu-Tang education surfacing in the second half which don't tie up conceptually and tend to dissolve into rants. The ODB also drops some disgusting lyrics on "Dog Shit", usually a wild eccentric accent to the rhyming shenanigans of his group this solo performance feels like exactly that comparing its tone to the rest of the record. In 97 Wu-Tang struck back hard with a lot of ambition and I feel like they met that ambition, just not in the volume of a double record.
Favorite Tracks: For Havens Sake, Severe Punishment, A Better Tomorrow, Triumph, The City, Hellz Wind Staff