Inspectah Deck: Pawn To King
Released through Traffic Entertainment, March 23's The Manifesto hopes to alter perceptions. Speaking with HipHopDX, Deck explains that he's dealing with rivalries and fair-weather fraternities with his brothers, but his commitment to lyricism, wisdom and technical flow may finally yield the pensive emcee his first solo masterpiece, in a score that's been especially kind to Shaolin alumni. Inspectah Deck did not just steal the show on "Triumph," the emcee has lived it since birth.
HipHopDX: Listening to "The Champion" , that song has such an innovative rhyme scheme. I listened to a number of times, and the places where the words rhyme is really innovative, and it still sounds like good music. As an emcee, how do you stay so technical and innovative at this point in your career?
Inspectah Deck: Number one, I appreciate the fact that you noticed that, man. I respect that. That's why I still do it at this late stage in the game. Yeah, a lot of people are going to miss that 'cause they're so concerned with the beat and who did the beat. [People] are more concerned with a name than the actual product right now. My man Hasan could've did the beat, and it would've probably been overlooked, but being that it's an Alchemist beat, it's 'Oh shit!' That shouldn't even be the point.
The song that I was making, what [inspired me] was the Shane Mosely vs. Floyd Mayweather fight. I was pretty much thinking about what if Shane pulled off the major upset over Floyd? I started thinking of myself in that form or fashion. In a certain sense, my competition right now seems to be that I chose to release my album [on the same day] that [Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Method Man] are coming out [with Wu Massacre]. It's at a point where I can't even back down. I can't pull my album for that. I feel like the underdog who's about to succeed in at least bringing back the listener to Rap. That's what I was trying to do with this album. "The Champion" was...my career's been shuffled around: BMG [Records] dropped Loud [Records] right when I signed. Sony [Records] picked [Loud] up, then Sony merged with Relativity [Records] and they [merged with] Columbia [Records]. The next thing you know I'm on Columbia with Three 6 Mafia and everybody else. Uncontrolled Substance was being pushed, but it wasn't being pushed with the forced of an Only Built 4 Cuban Linx [by Raekwon], ya dig? So I got caught up in all those types of storms or wars, really. It was a battle for me. "The Champion" is like, yo, it's 2010 and I'm still here, about to drop on March 23rd.
And I'm gonna show y'all why I'm a champion, so I said rather than just rhymin' on this beat, I got a whole bunch of them rhyme schemes; I just don't think the public is ready for them yet, 'cause they're so trained. I'll break the scheme down to you, 'cause it's HipHopDX: It's more or less, every word that you hear that rhymes, the next word rhymes. So if I say, "I scream / Machine / Gun / Funk / Trunk / Slayer / Major / Pain / Game / Holder / Mind controller." Each back-end of the word rhymes with the next word comin'. I just thought of it and tried it to the beat and said, "Oh, it kind of works." I just wrote it. Next thing you know, I had this whole picture. I'm about to fly to L.A. and do a video to that, and I'm actually trying to reach out to Shane Mosely to see if he wants to be part of it. If I can catch him, I will. If I can't, it's all good. We're still gonna put together a nice video for that joint.
DX: As you say that, I want to talk about emceeing some more. At the time of Enter the 36 Chambers, you all brought styles to the table that really came out of thin air. Can you tell us about the Deck that existed prior to 1993, on demos and talent shows and stuff like that. Along with that, who would you say influenced you on an emcee level?
Inspectah Deck: I can give credit to a few emcees that's in the game, then I have to give credit to a lot of people that the public just don't know. It's a couple of answers to that. Early on, I grew up listening to all of my mom's [records]. My mom used to wake us up with music and keep the music on high so we wouldn't go back to sleep. [Laughs] It was ill, because I would hear so much. I was in elementary school, going to school knowing Rick James, Aretha Franklin, way before my time. By the time I got around 18, 20 and started hookin' up with the [Wu-Tang Clan], I was already one of the dudes that would hold the tape recorder up to the speaker, and tell everybody to be quiet. I was a pause-button king, tapin' whole radio shows without the talking. I was already on that mode. By the time Wu-Tang came around, I had gotten locked up right before. I had started writing seriously in jail. I used to tell cats, "When I come home, I'ma try to make this happen."
All I remember was RZA was a deejay that used to throw parties. The first thing I did was come to RZA, "Yo, I got rhymes now." RZA was from [Brooklyn] and I used to go there by myself and battle. It used to get deep. I'd be in the cypher by myself, and I'd get into fights and all of that over this Rap. Me, Rae, U-God and Meth, we the Park Hill [Staten Island] part of the Clan. Cappadonna and King Just [too]. We started taking it across the water. RZA came to me one day when I was Meth and he said, "Yo, I got this contract." We always supported RZA and GZA through their [respective Tommy Boy Records and Cold Chillin' Records] deals. They was our Rock stars. All of that incorporated in me doing what I'm doing now. I like to consider myself the Rap Isaac Hayes or the Rap Curtis Mayfield or something. [Laughs] Like "C.R.E.A.M.," I'm painting the picture, and you see me there, but it's not always directly about me. It's about the scenery that took place and the actual things that are going on. I get that from books. I try to paint those book visions on music.
DX: One of the records that really impressed me was 1999's "Show N Prove" from your debut, Uncontrolled Substance. Would you say that record was a case of book visions?
Inspectah Deck: "Show N Prove," nah, that was the beginning of street smarts. Book smarts was part of my growing-up too; I was one of those dudes in English class that knew how to write the words in all of that - that was a 100 [% on my test], guaranteed. [Laughs] You give me that for homework, I'm eatin' that for lunch, yo. I was never dumb, son. I was always one that wanted to expand my mind and learn, 'cause I looked up to a lot of dudes who were like that. Those were the cats around me, I guess. I break that down on [The Manifesto] on a song called "The Never-ending Story." I'm talking about the [social] cycles people go through.
"Show N Prove" was the beginning of me out there on the avenue, makin' money, seein' things, women startin' to come around. I got access to stuff. You're taught that you have to do [certain things to reach your dreams]. I was just lookin' at everybody I'm around, who was a star in the hood. It started makin' me question a lot of things, and I was one of the kids that was going to church growing up. I'd ask the preacher, "Well, how do you know? You've seen God? You're just reading from a Book. What's it like in your own words though?" [Laughs] I was gettin' pulled out of church, yo. It's not because I'm the Devil, it's just that I've got questions! I'm watchin' people on my left die, I'm watchin' people on my right die, I watched my aunt get hooked on drugs, overdose - I wanted to kill my uncle. These are things that's real in my life, man. That's what possessed these songs and made me say [rhymes slowly] "I once asked God to forgive me for my sins / Bent on my knees, pleadin' to be Heavenly cleansed / He said 'The Holy Ghost will change the ways and actions of men,' / But when I stood, I felt the same as if I just walked in." [Laughs] That line right there, that shit smashes niggas' whole albums. That line right there is more powerful than five, six straight songs from certain niggas. The weight of it. It travels through the future and back to the past, it spans every generation.
[Continues] "I'm facin' / Massive guns on the plantation / Singin' songs from home, but I'm still caged in / 'Cause 9,000 miles is such a long way to swim." [Laughs] They not ready for that, they not ready for the truth. They want to be led into fantasy. Everything is poppin' bottles and 2020 Ferraris in a 2010 video.
DX: As you recite those rhymes, there was substance there. There has to be substance on a track on The Manifesto called "Born Survivor" with Cormega...
Inspectah Deck: I like to answer [these questions] like [Muhammad] Ali now, with a rhyme. That song, I said, "I thought the block was all there was to life / I'm zombie, meaning, up for nights / I got tired of roamin' halls / Got wise to protocol / Then I got mines with no regards." [Cormega] sets it off on a pace that, I couldn't do nothin' else. He came in and was talkin' about how dudes be treatin' baby mothers and different things and life. How he went out was, "My city never sleeps, I'm a born survivor." I was like, "That's the name of this one, right here."
You've got to be a born survivor out here. [Laughs] I'm a born survivor, just [looking at what we've talked about], the wars I went through - career being jerked around, things in the street, real life goin' down. It's not even a hook on that; [President] Obama is on the hook on that one. Just to take it there. Deck is different, son; he's not followin' these dudes. I'm keeping it Wu-Tang, but in my own form, in this new day. I like to think that I'm 2010 with this new Wu.
DX: You appeared on Chamber Music and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...Pt. II, but what did fans awakening to the compilation, Raekwon's album, Method Man and Redman's album, U-God's album and the whole Clan last year do for you, especially going into 2010 with The Manifesto?
Inspectah Deck: I'm glad you said that. See, 'cause that all leads me to where I'm at now. All that beautiful music came out last year; everybody got their chance to shine. I played my part in different projects: I was poppin' up here and there on [Only Built 4 Cuban Link...Pt. II], I got some work in with GZA, I did some work with La The Darkman, I did the Afro Samurai with Kool G Rap and RZA. I was just tryin' to make little waves and keep myself out there, all settin' it up for what I have now. I'm the only one that didn't drop nothin' in the mix of all that. All I did was get myself right to the point where I'm dropping Urban Icon Records' first album, which is my label and my album - which I wanted to do years ago. But I was under contract, I had niggas controlling which way you move. That was my hiatus was getting out those paperworks and contracts. A lot of the world don't know that, 'cause I wasn't on TV and in magazines, cryin' about the RZA, none of that. I just held my own and rebuilt myself. In the meantime, I was doing things: getting into mutual funds, real estate and surrounding myself with other people that was helping me maximize with money that I did have.
Once I saw certain things in this Rap game, how it was movin' for me...I signed in '97, but didn't drop [Uncontrolled Substance] until '99. Then the shuffle [with the labels], then the [turmoil with] the Clan, and [media] trying to put me and Cappadonna against each other. I got a book about all this that I ain't write yet, but I know it's there 'cause I'm mappin' out the chapters. Yeah, your boy went through a lot. Now, I'm comin' out when the coast is clear. I'm rebuilt, thinkin' straight, got my own businesses movin', and it's on me now. That's all I wanted to do in the first place.
My only thing is now I might fall into the category of, "Damn, your album dropped right around the same time as [Wu Massacre]." The underlining factor to all of that, that real niggas know if they follow Rae, Meth and Ghost, is Deck make all them niggas shine when Deck's part of they shit. So it's no loss for me. The only real loss is a lot of them same cats didn't play the role for me the way I did for them. I can put that out there. [Laughs] So when you see the album and you look and say, "Where's the [appearances], the RZA tracks? [and so on]," you've got to understand that dudes went on and did what they did to support themselves and survive, nahmean? I still played my part for them, 'cause that's just me. But everybody ain't on it like that. So when I came to a couple heads to make things happen for myself, some dudes wasn't there, man. That's just bottom line. Word! But it don't take away the love and respect, 'cause I feel like I'm still Wu-Tang. Nigga, this is me! This is Deck the General. If anything, I gained, and I'm gonna gain. How can I lose? If y'all feeling what we're doing, and you're not feelin' the radio, [support me]. I'm not tryin' to fuckin' sell two million copies with this album. That's not the goal. The goal is to reintroduce the world to me and what I've been for the doing the past couple years. So when you see me out there, it's me. I'm not out there gettin' the next nigga rich no more. [Laughs] I been the pawn; you leave a pawn on the [chess] board too long, what happens? He gains power. This is chess, son. This that game of life. I'm a king on the other side of the board now. [Chuckles] I'm a pawn that survived, my nigga. I'm just a piece of a puzzle.
DX: You've gotten into production during that hiatus. Most producers go on to become emcees. And emcees who can produce generally fall back on production. Tell me about your craft.
Inspectah Deck: A lot of people don't know I do production, they just catchin' on. Within the last 10 years, I think I produced on every Clan member's album, except maybe Rae. I did Beneath The Surface with GZA; people don't know that. I've got a joint on Bobby Digital [in Stereo], ["Kiss of a Black Widow"]. On Meth's [Tical 2000: Judgement Day I did] "Spazzola." I did tracks from The Wu-Tang Swarm. It all came to me one time when I was listening to a song on Ghost's [Supreme Clientele]. I did a song called "Elevation" on Uncontrolled Substance. He did a song ["Stay True"] which was a beat I did for Ghost. The back-end of the beat was the one I did for "Elevation," which was two separate pieces. I was just like, "Wow, this record got some crazy stuff to it." My man told me that I needed to start producing more on my own albums. I did "Visionz" on [Wu-Tang Forever], but Sade didn't want to clear the sample, so I've been trying to get into the art of producing without samples now.
DX: How did you learn?
Inspectah Deck: My whole production skills comes from many nights of sitting [beside] your man Bobby Digital. I give son [all the credit]. I wanted to do it, and knew I could do it, but I didn't know how. He never really had to school me neither. I would just watch what he do and see and hear the result, so I'd know what he did. He showed me the basics, and the rest was me watching him. It was the easiest way of doing it. The next thing you know, I'm playing beats for him. He'd say, "You almost got it." I'd ask him to tell me what I'm doing wrong. "Your tempo" or "You ain't got no snare." Plenty of tour nights, where we were on the tour bus, drivin' eight hours from Michigan to Wyoming and shit, and we'd just build. I owe him, definitely, a lot of the credit for my whole production style.
But that's what I want to do, right now. Through the situation that I'm doing with Traffic, I'm going to put an instrumental album out. I was just talking to my man Ayatollah the other day. Everybody's done it. He's done it, Pete Rock's done it. I have two instrumental albums Ayatollah did, I got the two Alchemist did and I've got a Pete Rock joint. I'm about to put mine out. [Laughs] I'm gonna shock the world, man. I'm gonna get some calls.
DX: You are, to my knowledge, the only Wu-Tang Clan member who worked with DJ Premier. "Above The Clouds" is one of the illest records that ever came out. How did that appearance come together?
Inspectah Deck: It's crazy that [Gang Starr] isn't together [anymore]. I'm just grateful to have had the opportunity. There's a club in New York called Don Hill's. I just happened to swing through there one day. It was Sadat [X], Carl Thomas, a few people in there; I forget what the occasion was. I ran into Guru. Guru had always been my man, so I was like, "What's going on, man?" I was reaching out to [DJ] Premier to get a beat. He was like, "Yo, just come through the studio. I would love to get you on the song."
I came down to D&D Studios. D&D was the home of the whole Duck Down, all of them. I already knew Rock and Ruck and Starang and a few other heads. It was all love when I came in, Cocoa Brovas at that time, before they was Smif N' Wessun [again]. I'm nostalgic just talkin' about it, 'cause the studio don't even exist no more. Premier was so cool. "Yo, you came through, Deck! I always wanted to work with you." Me and an artist, sometimes you be thinking you ain't got a shot to work with people, but when you actually meet them, it's [the not true]. He just started pullin' records right then and there and said, "Yo, I'm about to start puttin' something together." I said, "Oh, that's what's up." This dude came back like 20 minutes later, and he already had the basics of the beat together. We had the frowned-up face. We both just like, "This shit is mean, son!" [Laughs] He's like, "Word? You like it? This ain't my normal style of makin' beats, but I know for that Wu-Tang style, I gotta make it a lil' choppy." I'm like, "Dog, leave that shit right there." He put his finishing touches on it, polishing, and then [reciting intro], "A mysterious force is loose somewhere in outer space." I was lucky enough to be there with a bunch of my peer niggas that I respect in Rap. Shout out to my dude Guru for makin' that happen, that's always been my dude. Shout out to Premier, that's my nigga too. Right place at the right time.
DX: The Wu-Tang Clan emcees defy age for the most part. How does it feel to be in your forties and still be rhyming young and challenging yourself?
Inspectah Deck: It's ill, 'cause I still look the same as I did then. I don't look my age, that's how I get over, number one. Number two, fuck that anyway. That shit bears no...you get wiser with age. If anything, the shit that I'm kicking to you now is gonna be 10 times as potent as it was back then, 'cause I was a lil', wild nigga who was on that "I ain't give a fuck," I wasn't thinkin'. Now I'm putting thoughts into activation, dog. You can't withstand that. You can't wisdom, it comes at you too strong. That's what GZA used to say; the Wu is that wisdom. That [makes sound] when you swing that sword. You might throw a thousand blows at me, and I might get one. But it's that one!