Venue: Jazz Cafe, London Date: 8 October 2012
Times have definitely changed. Almost twenty years ago, in 1993, the mighty Wu-Tang Clan launched an assault from the slums of Shaolin with a debut album that would have a lasting impact on the music, business and culture of Hip-Hop, placing the RZA-led band of rap brothers alongside the likes of Public Enemy and N.W.A. as a group that changed the game. Two decades later and the Clan’s huge record sales, cultural influence and global fame were definitely not reflected by the surprisingly small number of die-hard Wu fans scattered around London’s Jazz Cafe awaiting the arrival of the Rebel INS, better known as Inspectah Deck.
Deck might not have been as colourful a Clan character as Method Man or Ol’ Dirty Bastard, nor might he have as many certified solo classics under his belt as Raekown or Ghostface, but the Staten Island native has always been one of the crew’s strongest and most robust lyricists. So why then the small turn-out? Maybe it was the fact that Deck hasn’t made as big an impact as a solo artist as some of his homeboys, maybe it was a lack of promotion for the show, or perhaps it was down to the typically poor British October weather, but regardless, to see that only approximately a hundred people had passed through the Jazz Cafe doors was definitely something of a shock.
As the minutes to showtime ticked by, the same concerns were probably running throuth the minds of many of the fans who had made the effort to attend. Would Deck leave it as late as possible to hit the stage in the hope more people would arrive? Would the Wu warrior then end-up delivering a short set due to his disappointment at the size of the crowd? Would those fans who had travelled to the gig also leave disappointed because of Deck’s potential reaction to the situation? The same short answer applies to all of those questions – no, no and no.
Joined by hypeman Colt Seavers and DJ Timmi Handtrix, Deck descended the venue’s stairs at a prompt 9:45pm, encouraging everyone to gather close to the stage so that he could “turn this muthafu**er into a party.” Still looking every bit the straight-from-the-street-corner emcee seen in those early Clan videos, Deck, sporting an oversized Champion sweatshirt and baseball cap, set the night off in no uncertain terms with his verses from the Wu anthems “Protect Ya Neck” and “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing Ta F’Wit” followed by “For Heavens Sake” from 1997’s “Wu-Tang Forever” album.
Quick to reassure any fans who might have been expecting the worst, Deck humbly acknowledged the low crowd numbers but stated that it didn’t matter whether he was performing for thousands or hundreds, he was appreciative of any support he was given and would always deliver a show, commenting on how the “intimate” surroundings would allow him to get “up close and personal”, proving his point by jumping offstage to perform the classic “C.R.E.A.M.” amidst a sea of mobile phones held aloft to capture the moment.
The Inspectah’s performance was strong and fast-paced. Rather than dropping endless songs from his own solo catalogue, the Shaolin soldier instead worked his way through a set list that would read like a “Best Of Deck” mixtape, including specific verses from various Wu bangers as well as some of the Rebel’s most memorable collaborations.
The rumbling bass of the timeless “Triumph” drew loud cheers as Deck delivered his brilliant “I bomb atomically…” verse with crystal-clear precision, whilst his rhymes from GZA’s “Cold World” and Raekwon’s “Guillotine (Swordz)” were also received well.
Shouting out fallen legends Big Pun and Guru, Deck also dropped his intricate verbals from the BX giant’s “Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)” and Gang Starr’s “Above The Clouds”, before walking back into the crowd for an Ol’ DB tribute, performing both “Shimmy Shimmy Ya” and “Brooklyn Zoo” in their entirety with virtually the whole crowd excitedly rhyming along with Deck word-for-word.
Taking a moment out to speak to the audience, Deck thanked everyone for supporting the Wu throughout the years, sounding both honest and sincere as he stated what a blessing he felt it was to still be on worldwide stages doing what he loved so long after he first picked up the mic as a youngster on Staten Island.
After a freestyle over the Gap Band’s 80s soul favourite “Outstanding”, a lengthy acappella rhyme that perfectly captured Deck’s talent for vivid, descriptive wordplay and his verse from Pete Rock’s 1998 gem “Tru Master”, the Clansman brought the hour-plus show to a close before retiring to the bar to graciously take photos and conversate with the people.
Feeling like a mix between a VIP gig and a rowdy house party, what could have been a show that was remembered for all the wrong reasons was saved thanks to Inspectah Deck’s professionalism, enthusiasm and genuine respect for his fans.
Wu-Tang, it would seem, is indeed forever.
Inspectah Deck’s Ol’ Dirty tribute at London’s Jazz Cafe.