The album debuted at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, selling 143,561 copies in its first week. It earned gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America and produced three singles that achieved moderate chart success. Upon its release, Worldwide Underground received generally positive reviews from music critics. The album has sold 609,000 copies in the United States.
Worldwide Underground debuted at number three on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart in the week of October 4, 2003, selling 143,561 copies in its first week. Ultimately spending 11 weeks on the Billboard 200, it also entered at number two on Billboard's Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums and spent 30 weeks on the chart. By December 2003, the album had sold 394,000 copies domestically. Its first single, "Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip Hop)", peaked at number nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The second single "Danger" reached number 82 on the Hot 100 and number 27 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, while the third single "Back in the Day (Puff)" peaked at number 62 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. On October 28, 2003, Worldwide Underground was certified gold in sales by the Recording Industry Association of America, following sales in excess of 500,000 copies in the United States. According to Nielsen SoundScan, the album has sold 609,000 copies in the United States.
Despite some criticism towards its loose, unconventional structure and songwriting, the album received generally positive reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 71, based on 14 reviews, which indicates "generally favorable reviews".Allmusic writer Andy Kellman gave it 3½ out of 5 stars and wrote "the whole thing goes down more like a weekend jam session than an endlessly labored-over, polished project. For the most part, this is a good thing".PopMatters writer Mark Anthony Neal commended Badu for her themes relating to hip hop culture and for her musical direction, writing that "it finds the artist 'Stepping into Tomorrow', with a new production collective in tow and some straight-up, free-floating, funky-ass R&B. And for the first time in her career, Badu is wearing her own voice and it is unmistakably Badu".Yahoo! Music's Dan Leroy expressed favor towards Badu's incorporation of lyrics about "the street and its demands" with her characteristic "jazzy abstraction" material, stating "Brimming with 'I got the block on lock' attitude, 'Danger' and 'Steady On the Grind' boast the hip-hop hardness Badu's been lacking, and yet it never seriously impedes the languid, elegant groove that's as much a trademark as her headwrap used to be".
Uncut viewed the album as too groove-oriented, but also found it "frequently intoxicating".Blender gave the album three out of five stars and stated, "There's rambling, digital fiddling and self-indulgent sprawl here, but a sense of purpose, too, even as her lips move on autopilot." Georgia Christgau of The Village Voice commented that "Although sometimes her reliance on mood threatens to get the better of Worldwide Underground, Badu remains faithful to the old school of flow, a blend of drums and rhythm designed to service soul's best instruments: its vocalists." In his consumer guide for The Village Voice, critic Robert Christgau gave Worldwide Underground an honorable mention () rating, indicating "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure". He cited "Love of My Life Worldwide" and "Danger" as highlights and quipped, "If Andre can sing-song hip-hop, so can his babymama".Mojo gave the album four out of five stars and called it "an astonishing album that, while paying its dues to the soul stars of the past, marries hip hop with a subtle lightness of touch and a soothing vocal to create a nu soul master".Slant Magazine ranked the album number 90 on its list of the Best Albums of the Aughts.