The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Old Testament: Inspectah Deck-Uncontrolled Substance

On the surface, it would seem tough to be Inspectah Deck. Sure, there’s that whole fame-and-fortune thing, but let’s be real, it has to hurt a bit that that most people consider him at best the fourth or fifth-best rapper in the Wu. Not nearly as emotionally resonant and vocally complex as Ghost, lacking the shimmering fluidity of Meth or the scientific intricacies of the Genius, it’s better to think of the man born Jason Hunter as you think of the man who he took his nickname from, Rollie Fingers: one of the greatest closers in history. The sort of guy you want facing the opposing team’s power hitter in the 9th with hard lights-out fastballs or 16 bars of controlled but forceful raps.

It was this fireman brilliance that made Deck stand out in the first place. Whether it was the 45-second Wu mission statement on the first single, “Proteck Ya’ Neck,” or the scene-stealing on “C.R.E.A.M,” Deck’s turns were the stuff of legend. Leading up to his 1999 solo debut, the erstwhile Rebel I.N.S. had already blazed the intro from “Guillotine (Swordz),” to the “chrome dipped lyrics known to split stone” of Big Pun’s “Tres Leches,” to the god-body 16 of “Above the Clouds,” where flanked by Premier’s ethereal bass lines and rattling dusty drums, he annihilates Guru. And of course, there was the jaw-dropping verse on “Triumph” often picked as the greatest Wu-Tang verse ever. Needless to say, expectations for Uncontrolled Substance were high. [Insert gong noise here]

There was only one problem. The album didn’t exist. It was supposed to. Hell, rumors claimed that the thing was finished in ’95. Finally, as the millennium neared, a deal with Priority was finally locked down and a release date set. Except late ’99 was a fitting release date for the man whom RZA described as: “the person you see that’s never there, that guy that lurks in the shadows.”

Inspectah Deck: Finger Licking Good

“Never there” being the operative phrase, as Uncontrolled Substance emerged following a wave of mediocre Wu-affiliate albums (Sunz of Man, Killah Priest, Cappadonna), and in the midst of a seven-month period that saw seven Wu solo albums released between June 1999 and January 2000. With Raekwon’s insanely anticipated, insanely disappointing Immobilarity dropping a mere two weeks after it, Uncontrolled Substance registered little critical or commercial reaction and was quickly overshadowed in Wu circles when Ghost dropped Supreme Clientele a mere two months later.

Looking back at Deck’s much-delayed debut, eight years after the fact, illustrates most of all, the RZA’s impact in shepherding the Wu’s projects. Unlike the first round of classic solo albums, Deck’s record dropped after the RZA had ended his five-year plan of master-minding all Wu-Tang projects. Letting Deck run things meant less guest verses from the other Clan-members, less RZA beats, and the absence of the cinematic narratives that made Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Liquid Swords, Tical, and Ironman indelible.

In that vein, Uncontrolled Substance is a second-tier album, hampered by the absence of any and all memorable guest appearances. No vivid “drinking rum out of Stanley Cups” imagery from Ghostface, no “Ice Cream” hook from Meth, no Scarface references from Rae. Just a few Masta Killa and U-God bars and Wu weed carrier appearances, including one from La the Darkman more boring than the Liam Neeson movie, Darkman. Despite Deck’s well-constructed verses and supreme technical mastery, the album possesses little balance and little flow, filled with lyrically empty gun talk and boasts, albeit brilliantly constructed, slang-heavy, well-rapped empty boasts.

But Have Inspectah Deck and Sir Smoke-A-Lot Ever Been Seen in the Place at the Same Time?
When removed from its album context and placed in shuffle, though, each song off Uncontrolled Substance is fairly solid, with a half-dozen great ones thrown into the mix. In three to four minute doses, Deck more than succeeds, penning hard-charging throwback joints like “R.E.C. Room,” the sex romp “Forget Me Not,” which oddly and wonderfully samples Half Baked’s Sir Smoke-A-Lot, the twinkling keys of “Elevation,” and the brassy swagger of the title track.

But stretched out over 17 tracks and an hour and six-minute run, Deck doesn’t have the steam to carry an album on his own, better off in the bullpen, throwing fewer pitches and cutting loose in the ninth. In spite of his solo shortcomings, Deck remains one of the finest rappers of the ‘90s. So what if his best work came in the context of the team game? After all, closers are only important on winning teams. Go ask Rollie Fingers.

Originally Published at Stylus

MP3: Inspectah Deck-"R.E.C. Room"
MP3: Inspectah Deck-"Show N' Prove"
MP3: Inspectah Deck-"Forget Me Nots"


At 4:59 AM, Blogger green hornet said...

maaan anybody that thinks deck is the 4th or 5th greatest in the clan is crazy

At 7:54 AM, Anonymous floodwatch said...

Stellar write-up, J... frustratingly, Deck has always been one of those 'small dose' MCs who can slay 16 bars, but will put listeners to sleep over the course of an entire album.

I always thought "Trouble Man" was a pretty solid cut of this album, with an ill Pete Rock production to boot.

At 9:43 AM, Blogger Wade said...

Yeah, I mean, I think this is dead-on. Wu-Tang was the biggest thing to me; I thought they were so real. When they delayed the release of Wu-Tang Forever (many times), it put a crack in their foundation.
Immobilarity was the Gigli of Wu albums. I honestly remember, after the 3rd or 4th frustrated attempt at listening to it- hurling it out the window on I-35.
You're exactly right: Rebel I is sick for 16 bars, but his flow is just not varied enough to carry a whole album. And Substance didnt have all the stuff it needed to support him.
Wu half-assed so much of their stuff for a point, it made it embarassing to be their fan. Like, where the f is that Bobby Digital movie? wasn't RZA working on that for like over a year like 9 years ago?
And you know who else kills verses on Wu-Tang ish? Street Life.
And that cat gets NO credit.
Nice work as always Jeff and thanks for the support on that other deal last week.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Commish CH said...

After I heard INS on "Tru Master" from Pete Pock's joint, I expected him to lead the next wave of Wu releases. Other than "Word on the Street" your review is deadon.

Wasn't he on a Tupac joint in the day too?

At 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please start a Wu tang blog....

bust a album a week.... educate people on the most important Hip/hop group ever.

start with 36 and move your way up...

"thats minimum and feminine like sandels"

At 1:23 PM, Blogger travis said...

This was one of those albums I was so eager for it to drop and was even more disappointed when it finally did

As far as verses on 36 Chambers, he was my 2nd fav after GZA, but he can't really hold a whole album

At 5:12 PM, Blogger David said...

I'm inclined to agree with everything you've said. I will, however, note that tracks like "Word on the Street," "Show 'n Prove," Uncontrolled Substance" and "Hyperdermix" were wicked. Wicked awesome, even.

At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He was sampled on the "got my mind made up" off the All Eyez on me shit.... its at the very end of the song..

At 1:53 AM, Blogger douglas martin said...

another reason why supreme clientele overshadowed deck's album: there was that one incredible beat that deck had produced himself and included on the album [the song title escapes me], only to be tweaked a little and placed on ghost's album, aptly-titled "deck's beat."

At 12:35 PM, Anonymous RJB is Zee Arrah said...

"REC Room" was one of the best Wu solo joints--I remember buying the single on vinyl and I wasn't even a DJ. I think Deck, Masta Killa and GZA should do an album together or work more closely on projects like Ghost, Rae and Cappadonna did.

All 3 of those clansmen are intricate, solid and need other cats to work off of for best results. "Uncontrolled Substance" was aight, but his 2nd album "The Movement" or whatever the hell it was was HOT GARBAGE! I'd rather listen to U-God's album.

With all of that said, Deck is still the most consistent spitter of 16's in the entire Clan.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger M.Dot. said...

1. Wicked Awesome is hot.
2. INS is 4th best.
3. RZA and the dude from Knocked UP are in Complex mag this month. Delish.


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