The period between the release of Enter the Wu-Tang and Wu-Tang Clan's second album is considered to be "the greatest winning streak in rap history." The RZA was the first to follow up on the success of Enter the Wu-Tang with a side project, founding the Gravediggaz with Prince Paul and Frukwan (both of Stetsasonic) and Poetic. The Gravediggaz released 6 Feet Deep (known as NiggaMortis in Europe) in August 1994, which became one of the best known works to emerge from hip hop's small sub-genre of horrorcore.
It had always been planned for Method Man to be the first breakout star from the group's line-up, with the b-side of the first single being his now-classic eponymous solo track. In November 1994 his solo album Tical was released. It was entirely produced by The RZA, who for the most part continued with the grimy, raw textures he explored on 36 Chambers. The RZA's hands-on approach to Tical extended beyond his merely creating the beats to devising song concepts and structures. The album also won a Grammy for the song "All I Need". This approach would continue throughout the first round of solo projects from the Clan members. Ol' Dirty Bastard found success in early 1995 with Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version, which saw the 36 Chambers sound become even rawer and rougher-edged.
Late 1995 saw the release of the group's two most significant and well-received solo projects. Raekwon the Chef's Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... was a diverse, theatrical criminological epic that saw The RZA move away from the raw, stripped-down beats of the early albums and towards a richer, cinematic sound more reliant on strings and classic soul samples. Lavish living and the crime underworld are referenced throughout, with the mystique of the Wu-Tang Clan deepened by the adoption of crime boss aliases and the crew name Wu-Gambinos. The album introduced a flurry of slang words to the rap lexicon, and many artists have gone on to imitate its materialism. It featured Nas, who was the first non-Clan MC to appear on a Wu-related album. GZA's Liquid Swords had a similar focus on inner-city criminology akin to Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, but it was far darker, both in GZA's grim lyrics and in the ominous, foreboding production that saw The RZA experimenting more with keyboards than ever before. The two 1995 solo albums remain widely regarded as two of the finest hip hop albums of the nineties.
Ghostface Killah released his own debut, Ironman, in 1996. It struck a balance between the sinister keyboard-laden textures of Liquid Swords and the sentimental soul samples of ...Cuban Linx, while Ghost-face himself explored new territory as a lyricist. It was critically acclaimed and is still widely considered one of the best Wu-Tang solo albums. Although the 1994-1996 albums were released as solo albums, The RZA's presence behind the boards and the large number of guest appearances from other Clan members (Raekwon and Ghostface's albums only had two or three actual solo tracks each and both included many tracks that included other Clan members) means they are usually considered as to be all-round group efforts.
With their solo careers firmly established, the Wu-Tang Clan reassembled to release the highly-anticipated Grammy-nominated multiplatinum double album Wu-Tang Forever in June 1997, debuting at number one on the Billboard Charts. This event was featured in a CNN roundup for the extraordinary sales the group achieved without a mainstream sound or commercial appeal. The album's first single, "Triumph," was over five minutes long, featured nine verses (one from each member plus Cappadonna), and no hook or a repeated phrase. The sound of the album built significantly on the previous three solo albums, with The RZA using more keyboards and string samples, as well as, for the first time, assigning some of the album's production to his protégés True Master and 4th Disciple. The group's lyrics differed significantly from those of 36 Chambers, with many verses written in a dense stream-of-consciousness form heavily influenced by the teachings of the Five Percent Nation. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album has sold over 8.3 million copies to date worldwide.
Wu-Tang Forever also marked the end of The RZA's "five year plan". After ...Forever's success, The RZA ceased to oversee all aspects of Wu-Tang product as he had done previously, delegating much of his existing role to associates such as Oli "Power" Grant and his brother Mitchell "Divine" Diggs. This move was designed to expand Wu-Tang's reach in the industry and take advantage of financial opportunities for the group. In keeping with this move, an array of Wu-Tang products (both musical and otherwise) were to be released over the next two years.
Following Wu-Tang Forever, the focus of the Wu-Tang empire largely shifted to the promoting of emerging affiliated artists (referred to by the fanbase as "Wu-Family"). The group's close associate Cappadonna followed the group project with March 1998's The Pillage. Soon after, Killah Priest (as with Cappadonna, a close associate of the Clan, though not an official member) released Heavy Mental to great critical acclaim. Affiliated groups Sunz of Man (of which Killah Priest was a member) and Killarmy (which included The RZA's younger brother) also released well-received albums, followed by Wu-Tang Killa Bees: The Swarm - a compilation album showcasing these and more Wu-affiliated artists, and including new solo tracks from the group members themselves. The Swarm sold well and was certified gold.