Advanced: Wu Tang Forever
Producers: (Wu Tang in-house) Rza, 4th Disciple, True Master, Inspectah Deck
Key Engineers: Carlos Bess and Rza
Released: June 6 1997
Wu Tang Forever is a very important album in terms of hip hop production, mainly because it marked the change from analog methods to digital methods. The album also featured many advanced recording and production techniques which were unknown to hip hop at the time.
Rza was known for a minimalistic sound as we heard on Enter The 36 Chambers, which had a very cinematic feel ,as was the case with Liquid Swords and Only Built for Cuban Linx. The majority of Wu Tang beats were produced by Rza and were often soul samples and beat breaks.
The recording of Wu Tang Forever was nothing less than complex. Chief Wu Tang Drummer and Engineer, Carlos Bess described having to “set up a drum kit and record myself playing beats to a two-inch deck running Ampex 499, then mixed down to a DAT, which would become loops for RZA to combine with his own beats, others would become the backbone of new songs”.
This helped the drums have that extra punch that we hear on tracks such as As High As Wu Tang Gets, Deadly Melody and Little Ghetto Boys. They sound very much like live drumming because the drums were sampled live.
Rza made Carlos and the assistant engineer take 80 reels of two inch tapes back to the hotel in L.A every night. This way they could ensure nobody would steal the beats, as he had began to suspect possible break-ins to the studio.
Rza had taught his proteges how to use Novation. Novation was advanced music software of the day because the software would allow producers to create deep, rolling basslines and sub bass once it was played through a MIDI keyboard. The bass on this album is truly amazing. Rza had 3 keyboard modules linked up in his apartment. You can hear synthesizers throughout the album on tracks such as Severe Punishment, Duck Seazon and Bells of War.
Less samples were used than on previous Wu Tang releases as Rza was looking for a more orchestral sound. But instead of looping several bars, samples were chopped into small guitar and piano riffs instead. 4th Disciple sampled Beethoven on one track as elements of Opera and Classical music were introduced to Hip Hop. Rza had created a digital band or orchestra. These were heard on Reunited, Impossible and Second Coming.
As far as I know, Wu Tang Forever helped to popularize the usage of sped up, high pitched soul samples. I can recall Tearz on Enter The 36 Chambers but this album made sure that it would be a prominent feature of hip hop for years to come. Triumph,For Heavens Sake, Heaterz and Cash Still Rules all featured this technique. Part of this was summed up by Carlos Bess as he once described the album revolving around the element of speed.
“That’s the secret with those records — don’t listen back to every take, trust your sense of what the vibe was when it went down, don’t get comfortable in the seat because shit’s going to change any minute, don’t get meticulous over one track. If it gets done fast, it’s gonna work. Even the mixes would get done in a few hours. The only time we ever waited around was when they were writing lyrics.”