Exactly 4 years ago, 9th of November was officially declared “Wu-Tang Clan Day” and since we here, at the Steppin’ Into Tomorrow Headquarters, are just as fond of numerology as that mighty crew is, we thought it would be only right to put today’s spotlight on them, and in particular the underrated Rebel INS, Inspectah Deck.
Inspectah Deck, just as Masta Killa, U-God, (and to a lesser extent, Cappadonna) are part of the OG line-up of the Wu-Tang Clan, but, when the clan was at the top, they never really caught the eye of the general audience, despite all being very skilled.
If anything, Deck might be the Clan’s most reliable swordsman. When their debut album was released 29 years ago, he was that dude who ‘smoked on the Mic, like Smokin’ Joe Frazier’ ("Protect Ya Neck"), the one whose ‘Method on the Microphone was bangin’ ("Bring Da Ruckus"), the Mic Wrecker whose ‘Rap Style had the Force to leave you lost like the Tribe of Shabazz’ ("Wu-Tang 7th Chamber"), while his verse in “C.R.E.A.M.” is so endlessly quotable, I won’t even try.
But with so many insanely talented & charismatic rappers all in one group, it’s easy to get overshadowed: Method Man was always designed to be the Clan’s break-out star from the get-go, Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s crazy antics and huge presence were also hard to beat, Raekwon & Ghostface quickly established themselves as the Wu’s criminologists, GZA that towering figure dissecting the (rap) landscape with sharp observations & witty wordplay, with RZA being the glue that kept it all together, while at the same time developing another persona, Bobby Digital.
Deck, however, stayed grounded, carefully kept constructing fiery darts, and as such was featured on almost all solo albums by Clan members during their glorious ’93-’97 period. It’s been said, over several interviews, he was about to drop his own debut album too that same period; the definite timeline remains a bit sketchy though, but I’d say either ’96 or maybe early ’97.
You see, back in those days, The Wu had the game on lock: late ’94 Method Man released his solo debut and from that point on, there was a Wu solo release every 4 to 5 months over 1995. But in ’96, it was only Ghostface’s “Iron Man” that came out. And that album reportedly wrestled with the same problem as Deck’s intended solo debut: a flood in RZA’s Basement Studio on Staten Island, happening late ’95, wiping out all recorded material and beats that were stashed on floppy disks, as well as destroying equipment, such as vocal compressors.
RZA stated he gave every vocalist of the Clan his own compressor, tweaking its frequencies, until he was satisfied with how they sounded, to never change it anymore afterwards.
As a result of that flood, the recording sessions for Ghost’s album were taken somewhere else, and that -according to RZA-, made his voice sound different than before, while Deck reportedly recorded solo songs as early as ’93, his intended album already being titled “Uncontrolled Substance”, but those were all but destroyed in that catastrophe.
In the meantime, as mentioned before, Deck kept on blazing, with scene-stealing verses on his brother’s albums, still relatively low-key, but that changed completely when “Triumph”, the lead-off single of the Clan’s sophomore album “Forever”, was released.
His opening verse is huge. So huge, it’s considered one of the most iconic verses of all time and raised his stock immensely, resulting in a series of high profile cameo’s on albums by Gang Starr (“Above The Clouds”), Big Pun (“Tres Leches”) & Pete Rock (“Tru Master”). He initially was on 2Pac’s “I Got My Mind Made Up” too, alongside Redman, Method Man, The Lady of Rage & The Dogg Pound, but his verse (and Rage’s as well) got cut off. That in itself is a whole other story, but one thing’s sure, it wasn’t for the quality of the rhymes.
Deck finally secured a release for his own “Uncontrolled Substance” album in the last quarter of 1999, but some label shuffling, behind-the-scenes things, as well as the Clan’s fractured focus, made for a flawed product. RZA kept a tight ship until ’97, but loosened it after, and was experimenting heavily with his productions, and it’s safe to say beats from ’99 RZA sound totally different than those from ’98 RZA, let alone ’97 RZA, or anything before that. And Deck’s album suffered severely, because of it.
The question will always remain how “Uncontrolled Substance” would've sound, had it been released in ’96/’97. The Rebel INS himself stated it was a totally different album than what came out, with a completely different tracklist.
The Mighty Clan themselves was in a bit of turmoil too towards the end of the 90's, with a series of albums underperforming and/or not being received as well as those in their heydays; all of it wasn't beneficial for Deck’s solo career, which got derailed for a long time, and most of his subsequent solo albums didn’t do justice to the great MC he is. Luckily, his bond with the Boston-based duo 7L & Esoteric (with whom he recorded a couple of songs before) and their shared love for comic books, made them start the group Czarface. Their first project saw daylight in 2013 and a huge streak of consistently enjoyable albums followed. Moreover, it doesn’t look like they’re calling it quits anytime soon.
A few years ago, Method Man was interviewed by MC Serch, and Meth declared Inspectah Deck top 5 dead or alive, naming him the most underrated of the Clan.
But when Serch inquired about the other 4 spots, Meth answered “Nobody! Deck, Deck, Deck, Deck, Deck. It might change in the future, but right now, my top 5 is Deck!”
And who wanna argue with Johnny Blaze?
Check some of the INS' finest verses in our curated playlist below.