Inspectah Deck Says Wu-Dunnit Inspectah Deck's long-delayed first solo album, Uncontrolled Substance (Loud), is finally set for release September 14. One of the least flamboyant members of Wu-Tang Clan, Deck is also probably the group's best overall writer. His flow?and, increasingly, his production style?suggests an alternative communication pattern, as dense with abstract meaning as it is unbeholden to traditional syntax. Though he claims otherwise in this interview, the guy is clearly a brainiac.
I tried to use Deck's all-phoner press day as an opportunity to get some info on the early days and inner workings of the Wu, about which surprisingly little has been reported. Despite what you may have read in Spin or Rolling Stone, Wu-Tang is the most important band of the decade. But they're still too mysterious, as of 1999, for that to be easy to see. Deck was remarkably straightforward for an MC on press day, but he dropped a lot more clues than solutions to the Wu-Tang conundrum. He talks almost as fast as he rhymes?this whole interview lasted about five minutes. I don't know whether, at the end, he hung up on me or we just got cut off.
When did you join Wu-Tang? You goin' back like that?
Yeah, I wanna go all the way back.
We always been together, before the records and shit. We didn't come together to make a record. We were always doing this shit, from kids. It was RZA and GZA, it took them to come out with a record [each] and really get jerked... That's when we came through and formed this whole Wu-Tang coalition.
You're referring to the records RZA and GZA did before Enter the Wu-Tang...
Words From the Genius and "Ohh, I Love You Rakeem" and all that. Those were some early bad experiences that they learned and brought back to us because we was always people, we always been making the tracks. RZA and GZA were the first ones out there doing it. So they took a few shots that we didn't have to take. Even while they was out there doing those albums, though, we were still Wu-Tang, back at the camp. My face just wasn't seen yet.
So you guys all knew each other from grammar school and you were tight.
When you split it up, you got RZA, GZA, ODB and Masta Killa, they comin' from Brooklyn. Me, U-God, Method Man, Raekwon and Cappadonna coming from Staten Island. RZA lived on the island at one point, that's what brought Genius and Dirty out there?you know, talent shows and little neighborhood parties. Him and Dirty would rhyme, do they routine.
Do you have any tapes of those talent shows?
People have them. [They] just show how ahead of our time we was. It's not even funny. Half of them shits we could put out now.
So all nine of you were a group, even when you were still in school?
The nine you see there [in Wu-Tang] were there from day one.
It's amazing, that's what I'm saying! It's always been there. It's not like we came together to make a record. It's like if you had your childhood friends and family growing up, who lived around you?you probably know people that you've known for 15 years. But it's not the same group? Y'all didn't stick together! That's all it is, just unity. We realized that we're all we got.
And from day one, you were called Wu-Tang Clan, or did you have a different name?
The style was Wu-Tang. It wasn't Wu-Tang Clan?it was just, we rock the Wu-Tang style. It was the renegade style [like] in the martial arts flicks [of the same name]. When everyone was on some Buddha's-name-be-praised, turn-the-other-cheek shit, the Wu-Tang was the rebels. They said, Fuck that?we gotta take a stand for ourselves. We just took that mentality to the wax. When we first came out people thought that we was really into doing martial arts, flips and kicks and all of that, but it wasn't even that. It was just discipline and the honor and the brotherhood that they were dealing with in those karate flicks. My brother would give his life before he let you touch me. That type of mentality.
Which of those movies would you recommend?
Pick up Five Deadly Venoms and just read how all these cats came from different walks of life [and were] put a situation where they realize they're all they have. One cat get his arm chopped off, one cat gets his legs cut off, one gets crippled dumb, deaf and blind, another one's all retarded, but they were made like that by a common enemy, which drew them together.
We didn't really have no enemy, but we had a cause. Our cause was that all of us were ill MCs, individually?the problem [was getting] all of us out there at one time. That's when we said, We gonna be the Wu-Tang Clan. Same way they did it?they rebelled and shit, against the whole organization, but their style was greater! That's why nobody really accepted them, 'cause they were like, not in the ruthless form, but they didn't accept everything. That's the way we came in. We didn't accept the way the industry was, that you gotta sound like this, or you gotta look like that, or you gotta be like this or rap about that. We came in with our own set of rules and regulations. Let the energy follow us.
There's a lot of doors that are open now, thanks to the hardcore coming through at the time it came through. At the time Wu-Tang made it happen, all the groups wanted to break up?everybody wanted to go solo. Everybody wanted to shine, and be a star, and put glassy glasses on and wear shiny suits. All the real groups were breaking up. I recall only one group being there when we came out, that we felt was our only competition, and that was the Hit Squad. I remember that vividly, when we first came through with our album...but they broke up. They broke up right when we were coming in, so it kinda cleared the path.
But you guys went solo, too. You had it both ways.
That's the way RZA came at the labels. We got nine times the artists?you can't sign all nine of us to one measly deal that would fit one of us! You can't sign the whole Wu-Tang to a $200,000 contract! Each and every member is worth that and more. But we took it in the beginning. Strictly because it allowed options.
A lot of labels must have passed on that.
We went to a lot of companies and they told us our idea wouldn't work?a nine-member group. They couldn't see it happening because they didn't know that we were brothers like that. They didn't know that we'd been there before the record shit. They thought it was all about, Oh they comin' in, they got together to make a record, these guys are from Shaolin, these guys are from Brooklyn, so eventually they'll fade out, and we'll make our little money and not have to worry about them no more.
Nobody expected Wu-Tang to grow like this except the original Wu-Tang members who sat around the table plottin' it. RZA saw all this happening. He never figured that it would escalate this big, but he was like, I had a vision. Everybody's gonna be able to do their thing as well as we're gonna do it as a whole. That's all we needed to hear. We can be out there doin' this too and don't gotta break up? Word! That was the most loveliest thing I ever heard. 'Cause I didn't wanna go about it by myself, back then. I knew it was a cutthroat party and I watched RZA and GZA go through it on they own.
Did Loud Records accept the deal just because they were a small company, or did they share in the vision?
It was a small company and they wanted to make some money. [Loud president] Steve Rifkind and them saw the potential. But they didn't see the longevity. Nobody did. We didn't even know that it would be like this, to this extent.
Let's move on to the present, and Uncontrolled Substance. I notice that your vocabulary is way beyond most rappers'. Do you read a lot?
Sometimes I throw some words on you, and sometimes I keep it simple. I can give it to you hostile or gentle. I know my own capabilities and limitations. I read anything?I could read the paper for inspiration. It might be some Donald Goines, but it might be USA Today. I'm on some futuristic shit. You don't have to read sci-fi?it's right there! It's on the news, it's happening right in front of me. My little homeboy, from around the way, 17 years old, got thrown off a fuckin' roof. That'd be the inspiration to my lyrics. I don't just throw big words like I got my nose in the dictionary. I throw shit that I know what I'm talking about. Muthafucka going through problems in a relationship. All types of shit I'm throwin' on paper? A jewel or something?you gotta drop a jewel on heads now.
I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply that?
?I'm just an intelligent black man utilizing my true power?that's my mind. One minute I'm talking about: "Thugs kill for drugs, plus the young bucks bust duckin' handcuffs/ Throats get cut when dough rush," that's some hustla shit. I go right from there into, "In the houses/Thousands seen early graves/ Victims of worldly ways/Memory stays engraved" [from "Better Tomorrow," on Wu-Tang Forever]. Then you go to another song on the Forever album, "For Heaven's Sake": "My rap style swing like Willie Mays/My eyes purple haze," just freestyle.
I like the way with a lot of Wu-Tang lyrics, if you just relax and let them hit you, images arise in your head.
You ain't gotta bob your head?you ain't gotta do nothin'! Just absorb it. Absorb the beat and let the rhyme take you there. That's what RZA was trying to tell muthafuckas. Yo, you don't even need to go to summer school?just listen to the Wu-Tang Forever album. It deals with a lot.
Do you think white kids really understand what Wu-Tang has to say?
It ain't just black. It's shit that you go through, but in a different form or fashion. Everybody got their own way to describe their experiences. A lot of experiences be the same.
Who produced Uncontrolled Substance?
Myself, True Master, 4th Disciple, RZA, Mathematics and the Blacksmith?he's new. Wu-Tang is more than what it appears to be. There's a lot of people that depend on this right now? I'm trying to keep the tradition going. On the 36 Chambers album you heard mistakes and everything in the background. The tape stopping and all that?the extras that gave that natural real shit like, yo, we did it in the basement. There's a lot of niggas out there that are doin' shit in their basement right now that are Wu-Tang. There's a lot of groups that are Wu-Tang but they can't get out there, get noticed, because they don't have the access, or they don't have the chemistry or the formula or the financials. There's always at least one reason?
I didn't just put an album together and say I'm on and make a video and all that bullshit. I wanted to make something, same way Wu-Tang did it in the beginning and opened a lot of doors. I want this album to be not just, Okay, he's another one of them Wu-Tang niggas and he's ill too, and he sold 800 thou, or 900, a mil maybe and you don't hear nothin' from me 'til the next album. I'm trying to start something. I want niggas to hear this album and pattern they shit after this one. Like, Yo this must be the way to go now. Because it's gonna sound so different and so original, it's gonna sound like nothing you ever heard before?beats and rhymes.
Aren't some of the other Wu-Tang guys interested in moving in completely different directions? What's going on right now with the group as a whole?
Right now, they trying to assassinate the character of Wu-Tang as a whole by individually fucking with us. I'm talking about media, press, news, cops?fuckin' everybody that's not showing love. Everybody's that's not a fan, and supporting the music and appreciating the music, is against it. If you don't like something, that's all good, but keep it to yourself! I don't like a lotta shit but I don't run around saying I don't like this, I don't like that?I just don't deal with it.
So you don't believe in criticism? It might be my job to say I don't like something, I think it sucks.