Wu Projects (round two)
While this round was very commercially successful, it was not as critically acclaimed as the first. The second round of solo albums from the Clansmen saw second efforts from the four members who had already released albums as well as debuts from all the remaining members except Masta Killa. In the space of two years, The RZA's Bobby Digital In Stereo, Method Man's Tical 2000: Judgement Day and Blackout! (with Redman), GZA's Beneath the Surface, Ol' Dirty Bastard's Nigga Please, U-God's Golden Arms Redemption, Raekwon's Immobilarity, Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele and Inspectah Deck's Uncontrolled Substance were all released (seven of them being released in the space of seven months between June 1999 and January 2000). The RZA also composed the score for the film Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, directed by Jim Jarmusch, while he and other Wu-Tang members contributed music to a companion "music inspired by the film" album. Wu-Tang branded clothing and video games were marketed as well. The Wu Wear clothing line in particular was massively influential on hip hop culture; initially started as merely a way to make money from the demand for bootleg Wu-Tang shirts, it evolved into an extensive collection of designer garments. Soon, other hip hop artists were making similar ventures and by the mid 2000s a clothing line was almost a prerequisite for hip hop super stardom, with clothing lines launched by Ludacris, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Busta Rhymes, Nelly and more.
The avalanche of Wu-Tang product between 1997 and 2000 is considered by some critics to have resulted in an oversaturation that was responsible for Wu-Tang's drop in popularity, or at least in critical regard, during that time. Reviews such as Melody Maker's write-up on Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele in January 2000 which began "Another month, another Wu-Tang side project" revealed critics' exhaustion at the Clan's prodigious output. The overall reception for the second round of Clan member solo albums was decidedly mixed if largely positive, and they did not live up to their pre-...Forever forebears critically; however, the Wu was selling more albums than ever.
Occasional albums would still receive critical acclaim (Ghostface Killah's Supreme Clientele for one, which is regarded as one of the best solo efforts from the Clan) while Method Man and ODB remained popular in their own right as solo artists, and Wu-Tang remained as a well known force, but they had seemingly lost the ability to excite the music world in the way they had throughout the mid 90s.
The W and Iron Flag
The group reconvened once again to make The W, though without Ol' Dirty Bastard, who was at the time incarcerated in California for violating the terms of his probation. Though incarcerated, ODB managed to make it onto the track "Conditioner" which also featured Snoop Dogg. ODB's vocals were recorded via the telephones used for inmates to talk with visitors. The W was mostly well-received by critics particularly for The RZA's production, and also gave the group a hit single with the up-tempo "Gravel Pit", part of a trilogy of videos where the group would visit different eras with a time travelling elevator, which also included "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)" and the internet exclusive (due to excessive gun violence) "Careful (Click, Click)", which were then followed by "I Can't Go to Sleep" featuring Isaac Hayes. The album would go on to reach double platinum status.
Shortly before the release of The W, ODB escaped custody while being transported from a rehab centre to a Los Angeles court and was considered a fugitive. At a record release party for The W, ODB, his face hidden by an orange parka, was not recognized until introduced to the crowd. With police officers present outside, ODB performed briefly and then fled, fearing capture. Six days later ODB caused a commotion signing autographs in a McDonald's in South Philadelphia. Unaware of who was causing the ruckus, the manager called the police. When the cops arrived, ODB mistook them for fans until they drew their guns. ODB fled the restaurant but was stopped while trying to start his vehicle. After presenting a fake ID, he admitted who he really was and was arrested.
In 2001, Wu-Tang Clan released their fourth album, Iron Flag, to luke-warm reception. It contained hit single Uzi (Pinky Ring) and guest appearances by artists such as Public Enemy's Flavor Flav. Its production was not completely handled by The RZA and had a less gritty sound than previous Wu-Tang albums.
Wu Projects (round three)
RZA's release of Digital Bullet (as Bobby Digital) in 2001 marked the beginning of a small wave of solo releases in between The W and Iron Flag which also included Ghostface Killah's Bulletproof Wallets and Cappadonna's The Yin and the Yang. GZA's release of Legend of the Liquid Sword in late 2002 marked yet another wave that continued for the next two years. The wave included Cappadonna's The Struggle, Method Man's Tical 0: The Prequel, Raekwon's The Lex Diamond Story, Ghostface Killah's The Pretty Toney Album, Inspectah Deck's The Movement, and Masta Killa's No Said Date. It was perhaps the least successful wave yet, with only No Said Date and The Pretty Toney Album gaining any significant attention. Ghostface's album continued the trend of his releases each selling less than the one before it despite mostly good reviews. Masta Killa's album was well received by both the hardcore fanbase and critics for its attempt to return to the classic Wu sound, though as an independent release, it expectedly did not catch on commercially.
Method Man's album sold very well despite both negative reception from both critics and fans. Even Method Man himself went on to bash the album, stating that the situation (management transition) going on at the time with Def Jam caused the poor outcome.