(No, it's okay, this isn't a rerun. Today, Keeshawn provides an alternate take on my Inspectah Deck write-up for Manifesto. I originally wanted to combine both reviews, but I felt that it might have been too hard to follow, and also, I got really fucking lazy at the last minute. Enjoy, and leave some comments for Keeshawn below.)
Inspectah Deck, of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan, shouldn’t have a problem defending his skill behind the mic. If you’re a fan of the Wu-Tang, it’s safe to say that Deck has undeniable skills which help him to always deliver an insane verse when needed. His unforgettable verses throughout all of the Clan's group albums surely make him one of the better rappers in the Wu. Back in the 1990’s, Deck truly wasn’t one to be fucked with. The man was a god when he was holding a mic. Sadly, we never got to hear his RZA-produced solo album during the golden Wu years (due to the mythical flood that took over Prince Rakeem's basement and destroyed a lot of master tapes), but he made up for it by turning in a magnificent performance on the Clan’s second album, Wu-Tang Forever. When the time finally came for Deck to release his debut, Uncontrolled Substance, I’m sure ninety percent of his fans were let down. The man had released some bangers such as “Let Me At 'Em” prior to Uncontrolled Substance, and we wanted to hear more of that kind of music, but instead, Deck released an album that was full of magnificent lyrics backed up by sub-par beats. The man was still burning hot behind the mic, turning in great performances on other Clansmen albums, but he didn’t have a classic album to call his own.
Fast forward to today. Inspectah Deck still hasn't turned in a classic album. People now doubt that Deck can even rhyme because of the lack of said classic album, even though we true Wu fans believe Deck still has it in him. His most recent album, Manifesto, is what Deck described as a way for him to throw his name out there. He wanted people to realize that Inspectah Deck was still working the long hours. The purpose of Manifesto was to prepare people for the eventual follow-up, The Rebellion, which is supposed to be entirely produced by the Wu Elements, which could mean that his classic album is still on the way. Whether of not you believe any of that is up to you. All I’m saying is that we need that classic Inspectah Deck album now.
If Manifesto was truly an album created just to get his name out there again, I’m not expecting this album to be very good. Regardless, I’m going to dive into this album with a clear mind. I had to actually listen to Manifesto three times before I could actually write a review for it, but I believe it still qualifies as a Gut Reaction post.
Make me proud, Deck.
1. TOMBSTONE INTRO
No kung-fu sample to start things off? Damn it. Instead of kicking things off the proper Wu way, this slow paced instrumental killed every Wu-fanatic’s expectations, although it does become surprisingly better the longer you listen. The piano keys have a RZA feel to it, and then Deck starts rhyming. (Yes, Inspectah Deck is rhyming on his rap album intro. Trust me, I didn’t see it coming either.) To my surprise, Deck sounds hungry. His flow has changed a bit, but he doesn’t sound completely terrible. The lyrics even have some depth to it, and just like that, Deck sets a proper mood for the rest of Manifesto. Huh.
2. THE CHAMPION
The first official song of the album, and it actually doesn’t sound bad. The Alchemist’s beat isn’t something to salivate over, but Deck manages to rip shit the fuck up. He rides this beat with ease as he uses a pretty revolutionary rhyme pattern. The lyrics are on point, his delivery is fierce, and the flow is consistent. Double huh. A surprisingly good intro, and a great song to start things off? Can this really be?
3. BORN SURVIVOR (FEAT CORMEGA)
This sounds nothing like what you would expect (or want) a Wu-Tang swordsman to spit over. Cormega does a commendable job kicking things off and setting the stage for our host, but Deck sounds as though he doesn’t even want to rap over this. Sure, Deck’s lyrics are strong, but the delivery and instrumental come off really lazy. I knew this was too good to be true.
4. THIS IS IT
Yet another sub-par instrumental. This song suffers from what Max calls “Ras Kass Syndrome”: the host does a great job on his part, but the producer simply can’t deliver. Other examples of this growing concern can be found on every other Inspectah Deck album ever released. It’s sad, really.
5. LUV LETTER (FEAT FES TAYLOR & MS. WHITMEY)
Deck’s first production credit on Manifesto. If you’re familiar with Inspectah Deck's production, you'll get more of the same formula on here. In other words, to quote Max: Groaaaan.
This is a big, big step in the right direction. The instrumental sounds dark and is exactly the type of beat that I want Inspectah Deck to rhyme over. Keeping this song short was a great idea, because I could see how the instrumental can get a bit repetitive. This song just gave me high hopes for Deck again.
7. T.R.U.E. (FEAT MESHEL)
Another Rebel INS donut. (And by “donut”, I mean instrumental, for those of you who aren't acquainted with the work of the late Dilla.) Doesn’t sound amazing, but it does sound better than his previous attempt. Deck, once again, spits some great rhymes, but his flow and delivery could use some work. The awful hook on here brings this song down from “so-so”, to “oh-no”.
8. WE GET DOWN
Huh. This Inspectah Deck instrumental is surprisingly good. Scratch that, this song is surprisingly good. If Deck keeps placing these kind of songs in between the other garbage, I might be able to make it to the end of Manifesto. On another note, the hook on here is fucking terrible.
9. THE BIG GAME (FEAT RAEKWON & AC)
What the fuck is up with the hook on this song? Seriously, what the fuck? The hook along with the beat sound like the garbage that has been polluting our radio stations (not that I listen to the radio or anything) for the last decade. This is the beat in which we get to hear the only other Wu-swordsman that bothered to show up to Deck‘s recording session spit over? That said, Deck chose the weirdest instrumental to turn in his best performance thus far. Both Deck and Rae sound great on this song, but that instrumental… *sucks teeth*
10. TOMBSTONE INTERLUDE
If you've gotten this far into Manifesto, congratulations! This is the halfway point. As I look back and see at what I’ve listened to so far, I noticed that five out of the last nine songs were between average and above-average. That is… surprising. I feel like I have trashed this album more often than I’ve been in favor of it, but the statistics tell me other wise. Maybe this album is worth listening to. This is exactly the mood I need to be in as I enter the second half of this album. As for the interlude, not bad. It’s the exact same beat as the intro, but it actually sounds even better. Way to go, Deck. I’m now rooting in your favor.
10. 9TH CHAMBER PART II
Believe me when I say that this song is no where near as good as its predecessor from Uncontrolled Substance. That said, this song is a love-it or hate-it thing. If I were to describe this song, I’d say that it’s just Deck yelling his verse with an incredibly awkward delivery, over a pretty decent instrumental (which has Deck‘s fingerprints all over it.) Sounds unattractive, but the more you listen to it, the more it grows on you. I’ll warn you though, upon first listen, it really isn't that good.
11. REALLY REAL (FEAT CARLTON FISK & FES TAYLOR)
Carlton Fisk? Really? His presence alone gave me high hopes for this track. It’s a shame I was let down, though. I want to say this song is good, I really do, but there seems to be something missing. Maybe with a few more listens, it’ll grow on me. After all, Carlton Fisk is an “ill muthafucka”, after all.
12. SERIOUS RAPPIN' (FEAT TERMANOLOGY & PLANET ASIA)
Good song. Once again, not what is expected from a Wu member, but still good. Termanology and Planet Asia both turn in great performances, but I am glad to say that Deck pulled the carpet right out from underneath his guests. Consider this one of those songs that keeps you interested in the album. Color me impressed.
13. DO WHAT U GOTTA
Two good songs in a row? Deck is just trying to show off now. There is fantastic chemistry between Deck and the instrumental. This shit is fucking nice. Just like almost every other song on the album, though, the hook is atrocious. It should be illegal for INS to sing. But still, this was a good song.
Holy fuckstick, Batman! Inspectah Deck just turned in his third good track in a row!
15. GOTTA BANG (FEAT KURUPT & BILLY DANZE)
With a lineup like that, it’s easy to be disappointed by the outcome. Luckily, the only thing disappointing about this song is Deck’s hilarious attempt at singing a hook. No, this song doesn’t sound as majestic as it reads, but it is really satisfying. Kurupt sounds fantastic on here, as well.
16. THE BAD APPLE
Inspectah Deck made it his fucking mission to have the second half of Manifesto sound way, way better than the first half. This song is simply awesome. I would’ve preferred Rae to spit over this beat instead of the piece of shit beat he ended up on. Come to think of it, this song would’ve been great for us to hear Deck drop knowledge alongside Rae and Ghost. That would definitely make this the highlight of the album.
16. BROTHAZ RESPECT (FEAT CAPPPADONNA & FES TAYLOR)
Throw some dusty, gritty drums on this instead of the ones used, and it could possibly make for a weak RZA beat. Since we all recognize RZA’s genius behind the boards, that is a pretty big compliment. Overall, this song kind of works. The brief sword sound effect during Cappa’s verse got me a little excited. Speaking of Cappa, he didn’t embarrass himself. Way to go Cappa.
17. 5 STAR G
Meh. What a terrible moment in your album to have a “meh” song.
18. THE NEVERENDING STORY (FEAT PLEASANT)
A pretty effective way to end your album. I didn’t even mind the singing on the hook. Whether or not it’s due to the fact that Deck didn’t try to sing it himself may have something to do with it, though.
THE LAST WORD: Inspectah Deck really needed Manifesto to be that breakthrough album to keep his name relevant in hip hop. Raekwon resurrected his fucking career with Only Built 4 Cuban Linx... Part II., and Deck wanted to have a similar impact. Sadly, he isn't able to pull that off: he put out a album that flew right above people’s heads because I’m sure most of them didn’t even bother to listen to the second half. The only people that would give this a full listen would be those hardcore Wu fans who would be disappointed with the final outcome anyway, because it didn’t sound like a Wu album. Rebel INS may have made an album that sounds as far away from what a Wu album should sound like, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. I would recommend that you buy this motherfucker. Manifesto definitely has its clunkers, but it also has its shining moments. Luckily, the better songs outshine the bad ones here, so it’s worth the money.
(Questions? Comments? Concerns? Is there an album that you absolutely love that you feel everyone else should know about? Or is there an overrated album that you want to warn others about? Hit me at the e-mail address in the sidebar, and we'll talk. In the meantime, here's a link to my own review of Manifesto, for comparison's sake.)