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Twenty years ago, on June 3, 1997, the Wu finally reformed like Voltron and released Wu-Tang Forever. For four long years, fans of the Shaolin swordsmen had waited for the follow-up to the group’s groundbreaking debut, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

That first album set a new standard for hardcore New York hip hop. The Wu didn’t appear on the scene looking to please A&Rs (especially not mountain climbers who played electric guitar). Instead they came to crack a 40 bottle over the head of the rap industry, burn the body and then sprinkle the ashes inside of a blunt. Wu-Tang Clan made some grittiest, realest rap shit of the 1990s, and they even had the FBI file to go with it.

During those four years between 36 Chambers and Wu-Tang Forever, Wu mastermind the RZA turned Clan members into solo stars, producing a string of albums: Method Man’s Tical, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…, GZA’s Liquid Swords and Ghostface Killah’s Ironman—each one a classic in its own right, that heads are still eating off of. These albums proved that the Wu-Tang Clan was not just a super group, but a collective of some of the most talented MCs to ever touch a mic. All together, they could not be fucked with.

Wu-Tang Forever was a far more sprawling collection than their debut. A double album that clocked in at nearly two hours in length, the project was criticized by some for being too long and unfocused. But its breadth represented the group’s growth during those four years. It also contained some of the best verses in their entire discography. Ghostface is astounding on “Impossible,” GZA is masterful on “As High As Wu-Tang Can Get,” ODB is hilariously filthy on “Dog Shit,” Method Man is focused as fuck on “Visionz” and RZA swings effortlessly from hectoring to contemplative on “A Better Tomorrow.”

Wu-Tang Forever is both timeless in its continued relevance and an illustrative document of its moment. Released just before the era of internet dominance, it even featured “enhanced CD” technology that let fans unlock extra content when they popped their joint into a CD-Rom drive (remember those?) The jewels revealed included a virtual tour of the Wu-Mansion in New Jersey and personal videos from members, including a very rare message from a completely wasted ODB.

We could go off forever on the Wu-Tang’s last group album of the 1990s—and arguably their final album that resembled anything close to cohesion. But let’s take it to the realm of mathematics and break down the data. So watch MASS APPEAL’s “Wu-Tang Forever by the Numbers” up top—and download our infographic below—because, of course, Wu-Tang is for the children. Big shout out to Stayvers.

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