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Meaning of the song ‘City High’ by ‘Inspectah Deck’

Released: 2003

In “City High”, Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan provides an in-depth and gritty narrative of life in the inner city. The song is a compelling portrayal of the struggle for success, the pursuit of wealth and the determination to rise above the chaos and danger of the streets.

In the opening verse, Deck paints a picture of raw, unvarnished life on wrong side of the tracks. He talks about “dancing with the wolves” and “wrestling with pitbulls,” vividly expressing the metaphorical trials and tribulations common in the city streets. The “fistfuls of dollars and cents” and “empty pistols” are symbols of the strive for wealth and subsequent violence that often ensue. He proceeds to discuss “elaborate scams” and “lofts of land,” representing the desperate means and grand dreams of those embroiled in street life. When he says, “I never claimed killer, I came iller,” he’s drawing a distinction between being a murderer and being a lyrically sharp, highly skilled MC.

The chorus serves as a personal anthem, with Deck proclaiming he’s “just a city guy living fly getting high.” This line encapsulates the high-risk, high-reward lifestyle of the city, where survival and success are earned rather than given.

On the second verse, Inspectah Deck introduces us to the relentless grind of the city streets, detailing his journey through the music industry and his deft navigation of its pitfalls. The lines “It’s New York life, walk like what you talk like/Or you might get tossed right off the ninth floor” highlight the need for authenticity and emphasis on the credibility of one’s persona in both the streets and the hip hop industry. Furthermore, he acknowledges the temptation of material riches when he recounts a conversation with a woman who tells him to let go of the street life if he wants professional success in the music industry. However, both the streets and the music have deeply shaped him, leading to his confession that “this is the only life I’ll ever know….”

In the final verse, Inspectah Deck reflects on his journey. The line “years later, hey I made it, no explaining how” sums up the unlikely triumph over his circumstances. He then masterfully drops sitcom references with “still trying to live the +Good Times+ like James Evans,” which simultaneously encapsulates his aspirational mindset, and the harsh reality of inner city impoverishment. The refrain of different words ending in -le in the parentheses serves as a testament to the constant, varied strife in the city streets.

“City High” is a testament of pound-the-pavement perseverance, of the grind necessary to climb out of the urban jungle, and of the resilience of the human spirit against all odds, truly an insightful narrative into the concrete heart of the city.

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