Inspectah Deck’s Favourite Collaborations: A Trip Through Hip-Hop History

Wu-Tang Clan emcee Inspectah Deck sits at the epicentre of hip-hop. The Staten Island Shaolin’s been matching up against fellow rappers on tracks for 30 years, and he’s been part of some of the genre's most historic moments. Writer Reece Hooker spoke to Deck about his favourite collaborations, giving him the space to tell some of his favourite stories from his career. Words by Reece Hooker

By Reece Hooker, 30/6/2023

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Since his start with the Wu-Tang Clan, Inspectah Deck has cemented a reputation as one of the most fearsome rappers to come up against in the booth.

Few emcees in rap history have the passion, intensity and output of Inspectah Deck. The Staten Island Shaolin’s been tearing tracks apart in a variety of permutations for 30 years: first as the Wu-Tang Clan’s unofficial leadoff hitter, then as a reliably ferocious solo performer, and finally in a late-career renaissance as one-third of the prolific rap group Czarface alongside 7L and Esoteric.

It seems hard to keep Deck away from a microphone, and he confirms as much when we talk over a video call. “It’s just something I’ve had with me since I was a young kid,” he says from his backyard in Dallas, Texas.

“Rapping is just something that I love to do.”

The love comes through no matter where the conversation turns, whether Deck’s detailing the ethos behind Czarface’s pop culture-laden records (“We were able to put our childhood into the music”) or as he’s reflecting on 50 years of hip-hop, an artform he helped shape (“Hip-hop is something that’s in your blood and you don’t really find hip-hop, hip-hop finds you”).

Some of Inspectah Deck’s best verses come when he’s pitted against his peers. Deck acknowledges that sharing a track with rappers he admires makes him competitive.

“If you don’t feel like that, then you’re in the wrong sport,” he explains.

In a wide-ranging conversation with Junkee — which we landed while Deck was promoting his link-up with Menulog to launch their new Dolla Dolla Deals platform — Inspectah Deck talks through five of his favourite collaborations over the years.

He takes us back to the fateful session with DJ Premier and Guru of Gang Starr, and a chaotic night recording alongside Big Pun, Prodigy and a few dozen strangers in a raucous New York studio.

Deck also reveals details about an unreleased MF DOOM and Czarface album, and recalls a famous Wu-Tang Clan party attended by a who’s who in hip-hop.

‘Above the Clouds’ – Gang Starr feat. Inspectah Deck (1998)

Inspectah Deck: You know me, I come into the room, I’m kind of loud sometimes. I come in there, I’m anxious, I want to hear beats banging. [Gang Starr producer DJ Premier] was more like, “Nah, I’m gonna concoct this beat as we go.”

When I walked in, it was just drums playing and [Gang Starr rapper] Guru was on his side of the room and I definitely was on this side of the room, just trying to give my brother — rest in peace — his space to do what he does. I hate when somebody’s in my ear kicking their rhyme while we’re both trying to rhyme something. I didn’t want to be that guy, so I go over here and try to get it together.

When I’m ready, I’m whispering to him, “Yo, check this out” and he’s like, “Yo, that’s it”. And he had his rhyme ready, and we rapped to a certain part of the beat.

Once we got our vocals down, Premier — being the legend that he is — just went to work and chopped and diced and put that thing together… he’s an orchestrator, man, he can take that nothing and turn it into something. I watched him do it. That was the dopest part to me, watching him make that from scratch.

When I’ve got the quiet chill space, I write deeper. I can come up with the ‘C.R.E.A.M.’s and the ‘Cold World’s, the ‘Better Tomorrow’s. When I’m in front of the crew and it’s just a whole bunch of noise and chaotic, that’s when you get “Poisonous paragraphs, smash your phonograph in half”, you know? You get that.

It’s a tale of two tapes. When I’m calm and cool and it’s quiet, you get “Cash rules everything around me”, you get the story-type rhymes. But when the crew is there, it’s more of a “swing your hammer, lay your hammer” type thing.

‘C.R.E.A.M.’ — Wu-Tang Clan (1994)

Deck: [Performing on] Arsenio Hall really put some icing on the cake. We had an album release in New York City as well around the same time, at Webster Hall, and I think that solidified our spot in New York.

We were on the road, we were trying to push the album in Virginia and Texas and California. We were in a van travelling — five vans, 20 people in a van type of thing, just trying to get the record pushed.

We’re on the road, it’s maybe four or five months, we’re moving and shaking and then we come home and that happens: we do Arsenio, we do the album release at Webster Hall, and it took off from there.

I saw the whole rap industry at our album release. I look to my left and see Q-Tip, I see Big Daddy Kane, I see all of our peers and the people I grew up watching, like “Oh wow, De La Soul was here”. Roxanne Shante, and seeing all of those faces… the Lords of the Underground… I could go for days about the people who was at that album release.

That’s when I went from being regular Jason Hunter to actually being Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang.

Czarface Meets Metal Face — Czarface and MF DOOM (2018)

Deck: The MF DOOM album, I love that because we were just continuing in the vein of what he does.

I remember MF DOOM when he was KMD and they was kicking ‘Peach Fuzz’. That’s how far back in hip-hop I go back. He reinvented himself and came out with the mask, Madvillain, Viktor Vaughn, DOOM, you know?

‘Face [Ghostface Killah] was the first one to actually get with DOOM out of the Wu-Tang Clan. They had an album scheduled to come out, I don’t know the ballistics of what happened but it never came out.

By the time we got to MF DOOM, we were just wanting to carry on that wave of Madlib on the beats, stuff like that. I always thought that was dope and no one else does it.

We came up with the actual character for Czarface. We took the Stan Lee, Jack Kirby drawings, Marvel, and we made our own versions of it to get their attention.

It was only right like, “Yo, why don’t we do an album with DOOM, maybe he’d be down to do it?”. We did two albums with DOOM and we still have more songs.

We put the first [album] out before he passed, the second one after he passed. The third one, we don’t want to seem like we’re trying to milk a train. We’re not trying to capitalise off of his death, but we think that the world would want to hear that.

His fans would want to hear, like, “Wow, you still have 8-9 more Czarface songs with MF DOOM?”. You know, if the world wants to hear that and if his family is cool with that, and his wife is cool with that, then we’ll let that go.

‘Tres Leches (Triboro Trilogy)’ — Big Pun feat. Prodigy and Inspectah Deck (1998)

Deck: People knew that I was good, but they hadn’t really gotten a full blast of me yet. Big Pun had 30 dudes from the Bronx in there, Prodigy had 30 dudes from Queens in there, and it was me and my boy Schott Free, he used to A&R at Loud Records at the time we were signed.

[Free] walked me in there and made that track happen… I didn’t know what the scene was going to like. With all these people, there’s a lot of pressure on me to write a rhyme from scratch right there.

Even though I’m good at that, man, it’s Pun and Prodigy. I’ve gotta come out with the big guns. I was able to pull off a nice verse in the midst of those two guys, but you know it’s beautiful when you get around those types of calibre rappers and they pull the best out of you.

I definitely felt the challenge of, hey, I want to walk off and hear everyone like “Deck killed that, Deck killed that verse”. Sometimes, you don’t get it. You go as hard as you can, but somebody might nudge you a little like, “Yo, he went crazy!”

Pun goes crazy all the time, so it was like: let me at least be in the same ballpark as Pun. With Prodigy, it’s the same way. Everything he touches, he kills it. I didn’t want to be like the crash dummy on the track.

‘Tru Master’ – Pete Rock feat. Inspectah Deck and Kurupt (1998)

Deck: I met Pete Rock early in my career. Pete Rock, to me, is me. He’s like another version of myself. Being around him, his soul, his passion for his music… not just his music but he loves music in general. He goes back and he’ll play a classic record for you like “Yo, this shit is dope.”

They call him Soul Brother #1. To me, he’s like a cousin of mine. He’s a family member in a sense, based on our musical careers.

Me teaming up with him goes way back to ‘Tru Master’, it goes back to ‘Trouble Man’. He’s always been like that older brother to me. I’ve just seen him recently, like two days ago, in California… he stayed for my set, I watched his set, we’re just trying to keep hip-hop alive.

Pete’s always been like a brother. Like Mobb Deep, you know, rest in peace to Prodigy. Havoc, I saw Havoc the other day, it’s like a brotherhood.

Brotherhood of the old school.

Editor’s note: Answers have been edited for brevity. 

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Reece Hooker is a Melbourne-based writer who can be found on Twitter and Instagram.

Main Image Credit: Menulog

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