For a busy artist like Inspectah Deck, the wait to release his solo debut album, Uncontrolled Substance, must have seemed like an eternity.
"It's frustrating because you waiting, you trying, you struggling, you working hard to get it out," a perpetually moving Inspectah Deck said from the New York headquarters of Loud Records in August.
The 29-year-old Wu-Tang Clan rapper (born Jason Hunter) recorded the album last year, following what he said was five years of learning and growing under the tutelage of his fellow group members. But what he intended as a lightning bolt became stuck in molasses. He first shopped for a label to distribute the album. Then he waited as Loud Records, his eventual suitor, was sold by RCA Records to Sony Music.
After the dust settled from that deal, Inspectah Deck found himself returning to the studio several times to add new songs and refine old ones after bootleg copies hit the street.
"Before it even comes out, you know, it's out on the street cheap," Inspectah Deck said. "There's no money in my pockets with that" (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
Despite his hi-fi concerns over lo-fi tapes, the album nevertheless distinguishes Inspectah Deck from his eight counterparts in the Wu-Tang Clan — the Staten Island, N.Y., collective that broke into the mainstream with 1993's Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) and a series of solo albums.
The album's beats, put together by Inspectah Deck, Mathematics, Pete Rock, Wu-Tang mastermind RZA and others, are much less off-kilter and avant-garde than the Wu-Tang's work.
Instead, Inspectah Deck uses soul and funk to offer his vision of the hip-hop world. "Movas N Shakers" (RealAudio excerpt) drives home the one-beat with James Brown-style horns. It has a chorus that would make Isaac Hayes proud: "On, you don't stop/ If you don't stop, baby, it won't stop/ If you won't stop, then it can't stop/ So keep on/ Keep on and on."
"You know what I do? I study '70s music," Inspectah Deck said, listing with delight such influences as Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield (RealAudio excerpt of interview).
The title track (RealAudio excerpt) combines the patented Wu-Tang grand piano loop with a heavy, pulsing drumbeat and soul vocals on the chorus. The song uses the metaphor of drugs to describe Inspectah Deck's rhyming — "Given/ With no prescription/ This is the medicine, setting a new standard." The song makes mention of morphine and amphetamines as well.
"This is your drug of choice, but it's going to stimulate your mind,"
said Inspectah Deck, further milking his metaphor and plugging the
album at the same time (RealAudio
excerpt of interview).
Inspectah Deck was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved to Staten Island
at age 12. He was featured on the early Wu-Tang songs
"Protect Ya Neck" and "Da Mystery of Cheeseboxin'." His voice is
clear and smooth and is among the loudest in the group. He said he
took his name after fellow Wu-Tang member U-God told him as a teenager
he looked like Inspector Clouseau from the "Pink Panther" cartoon
He spent the interview inspecting his fingernails and his wireless
phone, obsessively digging the dirt from his nails after cutting
them, as well as fielding three calls. Yet he exuded the body
language of someone who is completely comfortable with himself,
smiling and enunciating with a pause between words that made him
He plays up that wisdom on the album's first radio song, "Word on
the Street" (RealAudio excerpt), another song with '70s blaxploitation overtones. The song finds Inspectah Deck setting a cinematic scene that evokes a car chase and elaborate escapes.
"That's the way my rhyme style is right now," he said. "It's like the horns, for instance. With the horns itself, you can listen to that track without me. So now it's not to show I'm ill with the rhymes now. It's how do you make your voice fit on the track."
The rapper is the third Wu-Tang Clan member to release a solo album this year. Founding members Genius/GZA and Ol' Dirty Bastard released Beneath the Surface and N***a Please in July and September, respectively. The albums barely cracked the top 10 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, and Inspectah Deck's fate may not prove to be much better, according to Eric Winn, general manager of Fat Beats, New York's pre-eminent hip-hop record store.
Winn said the album has undersold, selling 75 copies. He said the store ordered several hundred copies, mostly on vinyl. The bootlegging, he said, may have hurt Inspectah Deck in the long run.
"People aren't going to buy it if they've bought it off the street," Winn said. "It doesn't hurt me as a merchant, but it's a pain in the ass when the label advertises an album and kids come in and say, 'Where's it at? Where's it at?' "