"I bomb atomically, Socrates' philosophies and hypotheses/Can't define how I be dropping these mockeries...
We all have different verses and songs that we've committed to memory. However, I'd make the argument that one verse in particular — Inspectah Deck's opening salvo on "Triumph" from Wu-Tang Forever — is one of the most widely memorized verse in Hip-Hop history.
In honor of the 24th anniversary of Wu-Tang Forever, we unpack the legacy of Deck's legendary verse.
The idea of "recycling" a verse isn't necessarily a unique phenomenon in Hip-Hop. The "Triumph" verse as we all know it can be traced back to the Rebel I.N.S's contribution to Tony Touch's Power Cypha: 50 Live MC's Vol. 1 which he delivered over GZA's "Shadowboxin'" at the 39:20 mark.
This verse has all the same energy and introspection that we'd eventually come to associate with the "Triumph" verse — a rugged RZA production — with such an intricate rhyme pattern, that listeners had to go back and constantly rewind the tape.
"Shackling the masses with drastic rap tactics/Graphic displays melt the steel like blacksmiths..." wait what?!"
Putting aside the fact that the verse is profound, well-executed, and loaded with too many internal rhyme schemes to count, there are a number of factors which I think contribute to its huge impact on the culture since it first hit the masses in 1997.
According to researchers, learning becomes more difficult as we age, not because we have trouble absorbing new information, but because we fail to forget the old stuff.
The music a person heard from earlier decades likely came at a time when they were forming a sense of self. While many people tend to erase unfortunate fashion choices from when they were teenagers, the music itself isn't internalized as being regrettable. In fact, it becomes a legitimate part of a person.
As a result, our brains bind us to the music we heard as teenagers more tightly than anything we’ll hear as adults. When a person listens to song that triggers personal memories — which sit in one's prefrontal cortex which maintains information relevant to one's personal life and relationships — positive emotions flood the brain. Researches refer to this phenomenon as, "The reminiscence bump."
“We are discovering music on our own for the first time when we’re young, often through friends,” said Daniel Levitin, the author of This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, "We listen to the music they listen to as a badge, as a way of belonging to a certain social group. That melds the music to our sense of identity.”
We return to key moments in our life over and over again because they reinforce who we are. In the case of Deck's "Triumph" verse, it was one way — before social media — to outwardly showcase your love of Hip-Hop culture. There was no Rap Genius or Google to find out what he rapped. You had to literally rewind the CD or tape, and program it into your brain like they were nuclear launch codes.
Yes, Biggie's "Juicy" verse also benefits from the reminiscence bump, too. But Deck's verse provides something powerful for me personally.
I remember begging my brother's friend to let me have the double CD with the cracked case. When I opened it, it came completely apart. There was something so exotic about a double CD itself. It felt like something out of Mission Impossible film when Ethan Hunt receives a hidden transmission. Just imagining that moment brings me back to a precise time and place 24 years ago.
The CD player was black. The buttons were worn. The sound of the lid opening up had a hydraulic quality to it. Then..."Triumph." For me, it gets no better than that moment in time.
For more analysis, check out classic Hip-Hop's 35 greatest opening lines.
*HEADER CREDIT: Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan performs during EMBA Fest 2020 at Oakland Arena on February 21, 2020 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)