After a successful and critically acclaimed first season, Wu-Tang: An American Saga is back on September 8th for its highly anticipated second season airing exclusively on Hulu. The second season will have one big difference compared to first season.
In the first season, Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck was played by rapper and actor Joey Bada$$, but for Season 2 of the series, up and coming actor Uyoata Udi steps in to take over the role.
Uyoata has appeared in the HBO mini-series Watchmen as well as the critically acclaimed NBC drama This is Us. We had the chance to sit down with Uyoata to talk about taking over the role of Inspectah Deck, what it was like on set and what fans can look forward to with the second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga.
Pop Culture Principle – You are originally from Los Angeles, so you are definitely familiar with West Coast hip hop. How much did you know about the Wu-Tang Clan and their music?
Uyoata Udi – I am Nigerian and I grew up in Inglewood, CA. Growing up in LA, I was more familiar with the West Coast rap music like Snoop, Nate Dogg and N.W.A. You couldn’t grow up how I did and not know who the Wu-tang Clan was. I wasn’t so familiar with their freestyles and the deeper stuff, but I did know the bigger songs. My cousins were really into the group and knew every song, every word and even all the ad-libs.
Once I jumped into the role, I found a deeper appreciation for their work. Their music was a place for the black man to emote and that’s not given to the black man within America if we take it to that realm. As I mentioned earlier, my appreciation grew deeper once I jumped into the role, but I was definitely familiar with the Wu-Tang Clan.
Uyoata Udi – I haven’t had the chance to meet him yet, but I can’t wait for the moment when that day comes. I did get the chance to talk with him over the phone and it so inciteful and an honor. Not everybody can say that they talked to Deck on the phone. I told my manager Jane Henriksen that if I only got to talk with him on the phone, I would be pleased with that, but I do hope to meet him soon.
One thing that stuck out to me was that I asked him what he would say to his younger self if he could go back in time, and he said that he would tell his younger self to empower himself. I have definitely taken that on and taken that with me in my career and my life. I also asked him where his name came from because there are 1700 different stories as to where his name came from. It was great for him to reveal to me where the name came from.
What stuck out to me was him explaining the difference between Rebel and Inspectah Deck. Rebel is his attitude. If you pop of at me, I’m going to snap back at you, but with Deck, he was the observer. Deck is the highly aware and conscious side of him. So, that really shaped the way I embodied the role and really shaped my understanding of how to take on this character and what energy to put where.
Pop Culture Principle – Do you think people truly understand the depth of the group’s work?
Uyoata Udi – It’s more that what meets the eye. It’s so deep. Individually, they are so deep by nature, circumstances and by environment and when you understand their thought process and their minds and how they are thinking, it goes even deeper and then to have them as a collective, it’s mind-blowing. I haven’t had the chance to attend a Wu-Tang show yet, but I’m glad I haven’t yet because now I will go with a different understanding and appreciation of who they are as a group.
Pop Culture Principle – Joey Bada$$ played the role in the first season of the series. Now that you’ve take over the role, did you look at what he did with the character, or did you decided not to watch what he did and start with a blank slate and put your own spin and stamp on to the character?
Uyoata Udi – When the show came out, I watched it and enjoyed it as the great show that it was, but at the time, I had no idea that I would audition for that role in the future. So, jumping into the role, that’s not my form of preparation. I think artists are individuals and they have their own take on different arts, so I didn’t seek Joey’s perspective or his means of how he went about getting and preparing for the role.
I just went with my own choices for the role. Digging into this role, you have to get out of the way. I can’t be in someone else’s mind wandering what they did for the role. I have to find it for myself. What does the role mean to me in relation to the character, in relation to the universe and in relation to the Wu-Tang Clan that are still alive and active. I tapped into the energy of the role and how I did that was to reach out to people who were of that time and of that era.
It was such a specific era when it came to clothing, the style, the accent and the details. I asked a ton of questions, but specifically I asked them what the energy was like back then and that question was very helpful in creating this role and really diving deeper into it beyond just what was on the surface. I found my own way in creating this character. I’m excited for people to see how I developed this character and to see Deck’s essence throughout the entire season.
Pop Culture Principle – Inspectah Deck only appeared in three episodes of the first season. Will we see more of that character in the second season?
Uyoata Udi – Absolutely. The season really branches off and highlights most of the characters storylines and their come up. You see a lot of the beginning stages of the development of the Wu-Tang Clan, and I am excited for audiences to see that. I’ve always said, it’s exactly what I feel fans of the Wu-tang Clan want to see when they are watching a series about the group. Let’s just say it hits!
Uyoata Udi – We definitely dive deeper into the music. In this season, a lot of the music is explained. How we got to the music and how we understood certain lines that were said that are coined. You’ll definitely be in for a treat for sure.
Pop Culture Principle – Was there any nervousness about portraying a member of one of the most influential groups in not only hip hop, but music in general?
Uyoata Udi – It’s not so much nerves, but really meeting the opportunity. You were called on to produce something that is iconic. It’s not just mediocre, it’s not just anything, it’s icons that you are portraying, so it’s meeting that standard and living up to that standard and I think that’s were the nerves, if you want to call it that, come from.
It’s a major role for a group that is known globally. They are not just a local rap group, so you really want to meet that standard and come with it because they came with it, and they were probably nervous. It’s not like they just woke up and became the Wu-Tang Clan out of nowhere. They worked, they fought, and they did what they had to do to get where they are.
Pop Culture Principle – Many people outside of rap don’t truly understand the genius of RZA and what he was able to put together with the Wu-tang Clan. It’s like he’s the CEO of a company. Would you agree?
Uyoata Udi – I’d say that everyone involved with this series is a project of RZA’s genius, his passion and his hope. Everyone involved in the second season is a product of that. It shows itself how much of a genius he is. He is amazing beyond just music. His music, his producing, his directing and his creating. He is an artist.
I am not so surprised because he understands that his art is able to be used in different facets. Art is art to me. As practitioners of the arts, depending on what we are focusing on, it shifts our perspectives about doing something else when really it’s the masses that are really shifting our idea that we do this one thing and there is nothing else that we can do. We are so surprised when someone like RZA does different things, but it’s all art.
Pop Culture Principle – One thing that RZA did was not only did he learn and better himself on the artistic end of things, but he also learned about the business end of show business. Would you agree?
Uyoata Udi – Absolutely. To that I would say reading is fundamental. If you watched the Showtime documentary Of Mics and Men, he talks about it in that documentary. He says that he read books and I look at it and compare it to the Black Panthers. They read books to really understand what was going on within the law and that way, whatever was oppressing them, they could come back with the law, and they were up to par, up to the standards and ready to play ball. It shows how someone who came from the streets who is also busy savvy. So, what does that mean to me, someone who is from Inglewood, what does that mean to me? It means that there is hope. The story is incredible, and it keeps getting more exciting to find and discover the nuances within the Wu-Tang Clan.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you get a chance to sit down and talk with RZA?
Uyoata Udi – Yes, there were a few times I was able to sit/speak with him. He was open to me picking his brain, while dropping some gems jewels, & words of wisdom. It was incredible! You just don’t get that everyday. He is insightful about his people, the work, the craft, and the art!
Uyoata Udi – – I was really in tune and connected to his lyrics, which in return made embodying the role of Deck feel authentic & relatable. Overall, I felt the essence of Deck. However, I can’t say “I felt like” Inspectah Deck in the booth. A lot of my research was focused on the meaning behind his rhymes. Also, understanding them. Once I gained true understanding of his rhymes, I definitely discovered more about the character and Decks struggles/ triumphs.
Pop Culture Principle – Did you shoot the second season in the places where they grew up?
Uyoata Udi – I believe the first season they shot where they grew up and from what I heard, they felt like as though they were in that moment at that time. For the second season, they spread locations out this season across the East coast. The set designers were incredible with how they shaped the scenes in the studios, and you felt like you were in that specific place at that time. It made it easier to connect to the character and the story of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Pop Culture Principle – What can fans look forward to with the second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga?
Uyoata Udi – Fans can look forward to us going deeper with the music and I think that will be the highlight of the season. I think that’s as much as I can say. 😊
A huge thank you to Uyoata Udi for taking the time to talk with us. The second season of Wu-Tang: An American Saga premiere exclusively on Hulu on September 9th!
**Main photo courtesy of Diana Ragland**
**All photos from Wu-Tang: An American Saga courtesy of Vanessa Clifton/Hulu**