February 22, 2013

My Gut Reaction: Inspectah Deck + 7L & Esoteric - Czarface (February 19, 2013)

Today's post is about a project that I'm pretty sure only a quarter of you even give a damn about.  Hell, I didn't even give a shit about this album until a couple of weeks ago, when I was alerted as to how soon it was scheduled for released.  I know that you two don't believe me, given that the subject of today's post stars a fully-decorated member of the Wu-Tang Clan, but I honestly didn't give two fucks about this project when it was first announced.

It's weird how two weeks can change a man.

Czarface is the album title that the team of Inspectah Deck and Boston-based duo 7L & Esoteric came up with, possibly while on a drunken bender, possibly while watching Scarface while on a drunken bender and while failing to use spellcheck while on a drunken bender.  It is a collaborative effort that finds Deck and Esoteric, the rappers, rhyming over 7L's instrumentals, for the most part.  By 2013 standards, it's fairly short, containing only thirteen songs (and an intro), but by 1999 standards, I'm sure this pairing had older hip hop heads pissing their pants in anticipation, possibly because they're now so old that they no longer have full control of their respective bladders.

Here's the thing: the whole 7L & Esoteric / Inspectah Deck thing was ignited by the song "Speaking Real Words", a 1999 track from the former that featured a guest verse from the latter.  It was pretty well-received, but that's about it: at the time, 7L and Eso were coming up within the ranks of underground hip hop while the Rebel INS was coming down off of the mountain that the success of the Wu-Tang Clan had purchased him.  But nothing more ever really came from this pairing...until last year, when the team announced Czarface, a collaboration album recorded and released in a time when collaboration albums are all the rage.  

I've mentioned on Twitter that I believe this album is fourteen years behind the times, and I stand by that remark.  "Speaking Real Words" wasn't exactly a runaway success, so I don't honestly believe that anybody was chomping at the bit for a full album's worth of Eso and Deck running wild over 7L's instrumentals.  But when the need to pay the rent and feed your children prove your artistic worth is at stake, well, nothing beats going back to an old well, I suppose.

Czarface is hitting store shelves at a time when our chosen genre is in crisis: hip hop heads are being overtaken by hipsters and assholes who hold coke and trap rap near and dear to their ironic little hearts, and urban radio playlists are flooded with songs that all sound like the same shit they just fucking played, I mean, come on.  Will there even be an audience for a project featuring two veterans in the rap game whose combined fanbase fails to match even a fraction of the folks who follow around Rick Ross just for fun (and occasional drivebys, apparently)?  Will Czarface ever be able to use its boom bap to grab the ears of the very people that should give it a chance?

How the hell should I know?

Well, that was certainly an accurate title.

Czarface kicks off promisingly with "Air 'Em Out", an upbeat 7L and Spada4 production that features a single verse apiece from both Deck and Esoteric.  Both rappers sound unnaturally rejuvenated: the Rebel INS spits with a Wu-Block "Bust Shots"-level of focus, and Eso sounds just like he did fourteen years ago.  The instrumental definitely helps: it's dope enough to get heads nodding, and it's quick enough to keep everything moving at a fast clip.  The M.O.P. vocal sample that makes up the chorus (and gives the song its title) grows a tiny bit tiresome, but the track doesn't last long enough for this to become a problem.

Over another catchy and upbeat 7L and Spada4 concoction, Deck and Eso rip shit like the rap veterans they are, delivering their respective contributions in such an efficient manner that they could have probably recorded this shit in their sleep, and that is somehow supposed to be a compliment.  My only real complaint about "Cement 3's", and come on, you knew this was going to happen, was with guest star Roc Marcy.  He sounded a little better than usual, I guess, but even the pounding beat can't wake him from his self-induced coma: dude sounds like he actually did record this shit in his sleep.  And the way he's kept separate from our hosts implies that he was a last-minute addition, probably intended to bring in the hip hop heads who normally wouldn't look to a project of this nature.  I may never understand why the guy is so revered in our chosen genre.  But I still liked this song regardless.

Deck and Eso graciously give the opening verse to guest star Oh No, who proceeds to destroy the booth as though he's the long-lost fourth member of this makeshift crew, he sounds that good.  Deck himself sounds more alert than he has in fucking years, bit Esoteric walks away with this song, as he is on fucking fire.  The 7L and Spada4 beat also knocks, building on the pseudo-boom bap that has infiltrated Czarface thus far and elevating it to new heights.  The song title is goofy: I'm sure that Bar Refaeli, generally considered to be one of the hottest women on the planet, absolutely appreciates having a song named after her on an underground hip hop project that only, like, twenty people will purchase.  But this shit was good, even if the final minute being reserved for a useless skit kind of drove me batty.

7L and Spada4 are killing shit with the beats on Czarface so far.  Even if you two could give a shit about Inspectah Deck and/or Esoteric, you need to understand just how good the music sounds.  Speaking of Esoteric, he walks all over a kind-of-out-of-it Rebel INS on "Rock Beast", even with his gibberish hook and a flow that actually kind of sounds like Inspectah Deck's, weirdly.  Not to say that Deck doesn't pull his share of the load, mind you: it's just that Eso sounds that much better.  The organs throughout the instrumental were also a nice touch.

The first of two cameos from a member of the Wu-Tang collective takes place over a rather Wu-esque 7L solo instrumental that, nevertheless, bangs.  Esoteric spits as though he's had something to prove for the past decade, while Inspectah Deck's verse seems to come from a dude who has already tasted success and isn't quite as concerned with reaching those same heights again: after several tracks where Deck was easily outshined by his co-host, I'm starting to come around on the whole 7L & Esoteric thing, especially if their latter-day output sounds this fucking good.  As for Pretty Toney, well, there aren't many rappers that can sound completely at home on both an independent project such as, say, Czarface, and on a mainstream trap-crap circle jerk like, oh, let's just say Cruel Summer.  Which is the say, dude sounds nice.

Deck and Eso have been a pair for the entire album so far, but they haven't really worked together yet.  That all changes on "Marvel Team-Up": aside from an ad-lib or two, this song marks the first time that both artists have participated in a back-and-forth, thereby proving that they did, in fact, work together on this album, for at least the time it took to record this one song, as opposed to having Czarface be assembled from some older Deck verses 7L found on his hard drive or something.  The energy is more subdued on here, but that's okay: we'll treat this track like a breather, although it still sounded interesting.

Action Bronson has quickly carved himself a place within the ranks of underground rappers who are clearly destined for bigger things, so his presence on Czarface is about as surprising as inhaling secondhand weed smoke at a Wiz Khalifa live show.  But it always amuses me when he pops up on a song with a Wu-Tang Clan member, because dude still sounds kind of exactly like Ghostface Killah.  Which still isn't a bad thing, mind you: hell, the game could use two dudes as engaging as Ghost and Bronson.  They sound similar, even down to all of those references to food (because Bronson is a professional chef, naturally), but they also both sound great behind the mic, which is all I give a shit about.  Deck also starts to finally give a bit of a shit again, while Eso does Eso over 7L and Spada4's winning instrumental.  It's been a long fucking time since I've heard an album where the first seven songs were all bangers in their own way.  Huh.

Disrupting the flow a little bit is "Let It Off", a song where 7L leaves the production for DJ Premier to handle, thereby creating both a reunion between Primo and Deck (after Gang Starr's "Above The Clouds", from Moment Of Truth) and validating 7L & Esoteric, inadvertently, as Boston's answer to Guru (R.I.P.) and Premier (although Guru was from Boston, but whatever).  The sound doesn't throw listeners off too much, though: shifting from 7L's take on boom bap to Primo's actual boom bap is a welcome change of pace.  The beat is fairly simple, but it's entertaining, which is all I give a shit about, and both Deck and Eso milk the rare opportunity for everything it's worth.  Nice!

10.  WORD WAR 4
7L's beat is reminiscent of the type of pulsing instrumental Eric B. either producer or took credit for, depending on your point of view and/or the facts of the matter, for Rakim during their reign over our chosen genre.  That is to say, it's pretty goddamn good.  Deck is obviously interested, as he turns in a fairly solid performance, one that trumps Eso for the first time on Czarface.  Then again, both men are outshined by the extended George Carlin sound bites that play in lieu of an actual hook.

It was bound to happen sooner or later: "Dead Zone" is the first dead-on-arrival song on Czarface.  7L's instrumental tries to bang, but trips over its own sense of self-worth, believing itself to be better than it truly is.  Deck and Eso try their best to work around the limitations presented, but neither man was truly built for this endeavor, resulting in what is, essentially, a bad song.  Still, it took us ten actual songs into the album to find a bad song, so...

Anything that boosts the profile of Mr. Muthafuckin' eXquire is a good thing in my book, and if the vehicle transporting him to a larger audience sounds this good, all the better.  7L picks up the ball he dropped during "Dead Zone" and delivers a far more interesting excursion into hip hop's nether regions, one where both Deck and Esoteric shine equally.  eXquire gets a slightly altered instrumental to rock over, which only adds to the theory that he, too, was tacked on late in the game, but he still sounds pretty goddamn great on "Poisonous Thoughts", so why should I care if he and Inspectah Deck ever met, let alone became best friends and eat frozen yogurt together?

Deck brought Cappadonna (either a Wu-affiliate or the tenth member of the Clan, depending on if you're Max and you refuse to accept the latter scenario) to the party, so Esoteric responds in kind, arriving with both a six-pack and Jedi Mind Tricks' Vinnie Paz, one of his partners in Army Of The Pharoahs, to contribute some bars.  "Shoguns" is formatted a bit strangely, in that both Deck and Eso seem to spit an entire track's worth of bars together before either guest even pops up, but the track still works, thanks to 7L's foundation and Deck and Eso helping to transition the listener into the polarizing nature of both Cappa and Vinnie.  Paz actually fits the overall tone of the project, so I didn't mind his appearance all that much, although he does turn in the weakest verse (but still sounds decent).

Czarface ends on a fantastic note with the 18980's-flavored "Hazmat Rap", which combines a dusty drum sample with synths suitable for a cop thriller from that era.  Deck and Eso each receive a couple of verses to get their respective points across, and both men accomplish their goals with little to no effort.  Deck, especially, wins points for paying homage to the late Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya", and not just in the obvious way that everyone else seems to do.  A great way to end the evening.

THE LAST WORD:  Holy shit, Czarface is actually pretty fucking good.  I know, I'm just as surprised as you are, but it's true.  Maybe time has been kind to this team: both Esoteric and Inspectah Deck manage to pull several good performances out of their asses, Eso winning more often than not.  But, seriously, the day belongs to the fucking production, which is almost consistently fantastic.  7L's work behind the boards is crucial to everything working as well as it does, either with or without Spada4's assistance (although the tracks with Spada4 in tow rank among the best on here), and DJ Premier manages a cameo without walking away with the whole pie, which would have been unheard of just a few years ago but makes perfect sense on Czarface, as the chemistry between 7L and his artists is that potent.  I demand an instrumental disc to be released immediately, the beats are that good.  Save for one, but still, the batting average on here is more than solid.  You can almost sit through this entire album without skipping (well, almost); when was the last time you ever thought that about a latter-day hip hop release?  Deck and Eso have done good for a project that nobody's hopes were really all that high for.  Now I realize that this project won't be for all tastes: if you're favorite flavor of hip hop runs concurrent with today's trends and sound, then this project will do so little to change your mind that it may as well have been released by Mitt Romney.  But for those of you who appreciate hip hop's glory days, Czarface is good, and is possibly the first real banger of 2013.  It has been spoken.


Catch up with the Rebel INS here, and as for 7L & Esoteric, well...


  1. I'm a big fan of all parties involved and had no clue about this. But I'm buying it through your Amazon link. Good review Max

  2. very solid album (not as good as dangrous connection), bring on the demigodz

  3. Max, you're right. This is a true banger. I LOVE this, being from the era that you are talking about. I would be all over an instrumental release. 7L made my neck sore, and that hasn't happened in years! Deck, like you said, sound energetic again, which is nice. Dead Zone is probably the weakest track, I agree, but it's still a GOOD track. Nice review.

    1. I have a bad feeling that this project won't do as well as it should, mostly because the demographic that would enjoy it the most has probably moved on from hip hop at this point, but I'm holding out hope that a lot of people will discover it in their own way.

  4. Well now i have to hear this.

    1. You may have to. Surprised the shit out of me. It helps if you go in with lowered expectations, I suppose.

    2. yeah i honestly saw the name Czarface around, but didnt know who it was by...then i saw the artists involved and i was like "wtf." I figured any album with Deck on it other than a Wu group album would be trash, but what do you know

  5. This is at most a 4/10.

    Damn, you're missing a lot of good hip-hop. Keep listening to your golden age stuff like Vanilla Ice.

  6. I was like you, didn't really give two shits about this album a couple of weeks ago. I've NEVER been an Esoteric fan (minus Saving Seamus Ryan) and Deck has sounded like crap the decade or so. But yes, this is truly a great fuckin' album! Point on as always, good sir!

    1. I've always thought Eso was okay but not great, and everyone on the blog knows how disappointed I've been with Deck for the past few years, so this album really shocked me. Quality work that deserves a wider audience that, sadly, it probably won't receive due to the parties involved.

  7. Vanilla Ice ain't golden age.

    ...............platinum age, son.

  8. thanks for this review. between this and ghostface's new song which is actually good, I'm kinda excited for wu 2013.

  9. Is it just me or is Cappadonna trying to sound like DOOM with some of his lines and his delivery on "shoguns"?

    anyway, great album.

    1. Actually, more and more, I've noticed that, too.

  10. It's Raw rocks hard!

  11. djbosscrewwreckaFebruary 23, 2013

    I was looking forward to this.
    7L and Esoteric have been knocking out solid stuff for a long time, so it was about whether or not Deck could bring his A-game and give them that extra edge.
    7L is one of the only people who can still make good boom-bap.

  12. Well color me surprised.

  13. Max liking this is the most surprising thing that has happened since the dawn of the internet

    1. naw, the internet was bound to happen eventually. Inspectah Deck making a good album? Come on, the majority of us here thought it was impossible

    2. djbosscrewwreckaFebruary 27, 2013

      Nicely done.

  14. Max, thank you for posts about such great albums like this one which I would definitely never heard of without the help of Your blog.

    Greetings from Poland!

  15. Some good stuff here! I had completely given up on Deck prior to this, but this is fucking solid work, particularly the Primo track. Nothing revolutionary or anything, but solid work

  16. Listin to the Lords of the underground here comes the lords i'm dying to see ya review

  17. I have always been deeply disspaointed, disturbed and distressed about the fact that Inspectah Deck never received the full RZA treatment back in the early 90's when he was still spitting that fire. Just think about all those killer tracks that could fill his catalog if he had used his status to spit over beats by RZA and the industries best, such as DJ Premier, Large Pro, Lord Finesse, The Beatminerz, EL-P, Stoupe, MF Doom, Madlib, Fizzy Womack, Havoc, Alchemist, Harry Fraud, Prince Paul and 9th Wonder.

    I hear that Deck is retiring soon. i wish he wouldnt, he could use his status and create some great music. surely the state of new york hip hop right now must invigorate him. imagine Deck over Harry Fraud beats, spittin with Bronson, Marcy, Joey Badass, Smoke DZA and many many more.

    1. to be fair, (or somewhat fair) RZA did have that massive flood in his basement destroying all his equipment, strong chance some of those beats were for Deck. Now of course this doesnt excuse RZA from just making more beats for the guy, and it def doesnt excuse Deck for making shit solo work for over a decade

    2. This part's true. But I do agree that Inspectah Deck may have had more of an impact had he been included as a part of The RZA's five-year plan alongside Meth, ODB, Rae, GZA, Ghost, and the WU group projects. It's too bad we'll never really know. Thus begins again my quest to get that DJ Muggs / Inspectah Deck project going again, since it was started and abandoned long ago.

    3. Little-known fact: "Assassination Day" was originally going to be on Deck's solo album, but after the flood was put on "Ironman".

    4. Original tracklisting before flood:
      Inspectah Deck - Assassination Day (1996)
      01. Slums of Shaolin (RZA)
      02. The Rhythm & The Rebel (RZA)
      03. Park Hill feat Method Man, Raekwon & U-God (RZA)
      04. Assassination Day feat Masta Killa, Raekwon & RZA (RZA)
      05. The Swarm feat RZA, GZA & Street Life (True Master)
      06. Droppin' Science feat Masta Killa & Blue Raspberry (RZA)
      07. Presidental Paper (RZA)
      08. 1-6-0 feat Method Man & Street Life(RZA)
      09. Street Scene feat Raekwon & Ghostface & Blue Raspberry(RZA)
      10. Unique feat ODB (RZA)
      11. One in da Chamber (RZA)
      12. Fall Back (4th Disciple)
      13. Poison Bars feat Masta Killa, RZA, Ghostface, U-God & GZA (RZA)
      14. R.E.B.E.L. Music (RZA)
      15. Blade Edges feat RZA & Masta Killa (RZA)
      16. Case Closed (RZA)
      17. Semi-Automatic Rap Metal Jacket feat Street Life & U-God (RZA) [bonus]

    5. Shit. That's just cruel to post something like this. On the plus side, it does explain why Ghostface Killah didn't appear on Ironman's "Assassination Day". But still, shit.

    6. Are any of those songs around, besides "Assassination Day" and (I think) 'the Swarm"?

      Also, dunno if you read Max, but Deck tried out a few of those discs from RZA's destroyed basement and apparently he was able to recover a few tracks. Not sure what songs and if they'll ever be released but it was pretty exciting to read.

    7. how true is this track listing? WOW!

    8. Was Inspectah Deck 'destroyed' album supposed to drop before or after Ironman?

    9. Semi-Automatic Rap Metal jacket is on the Wu Chronicles compilation. Its pretty dope

    10. See also: the High School High soundtrack. Along with The RZA's "Wu-Wear (The Garment Renaissance)", if you're into that sort of thing.

  18. Kool G Rap and Necro have an up coming collaboration under the title Godfathers. collaboration albums seem to be the big thing today, and the results arent always so bad, for example, Fizzyology with Term and Lil Fame, a great album with some great production form lil fame. im surprised this guy doesnt get more props for his producing.

    1. That's why I mentioned at the top that collaboration albums are all the rage right now. See: Wu-Block, Watch The Throne, Monumental, Black and Brown *and these are just some of the ones I've actually written about)...

  19. "Killa bee, choppin up the track like a Dilla beat."

  20. Badass album cover, awesome beats, killer lyrics, grade-A delivery/flow, topnotch production, great guests -- awesome album.

  21. If that track list is true, then my god, that album would have been amazing...

    Interesting to see you approve of this album, Max. Will try listening to a few of the tracks to see if I enjoy it before I actually buy it.

  22. you didn't review killah priest latest album (2013) it's a classic

    1. I wrote up a quick review on my blog. 41 tracks was a ton to get through, but the overwhelming majority of them are extremely dope.

    2. 41 tracks? Holy crackers

  23. shame on some of you guys for not liking his 2 first albums

  24. Ya' heardMarch 03, 2013

    Great album. Hazmat rap gave me a boner.

  25. Yo Max, you should do Alchemist's first album - First Infantry (2004), and a bunch of his free online collaboration albums (including Rare Chandeliers with Action Bronson, No Idols with Domo Genesis etc.), you should also do Prodigy's second and third album as well as some J Dilla albums.

    Peace - Jay

  26. This review is why I still frequent this blog. I had no idea that this album existed but after seeing this post and looking up some songs on youtube, I will be purchasing this.

  27. Zainteresowałeś tym, o czym piszesz . Może zainteresujesz się rónież i moim blogiem.

  28. nice info
    for indonesian hip hop visit http://bkr-crew.blogspot.com/search/label/Hip%20Hop

  29. This album popped up on the 'What's New' feed on my Spotify. I've always quite enjoyed 7L & Esoteric (solo and AOTP stuff) and been a Wu fan for a long time so thought i'd give it a listen. Was also very pleasantly surprised. Hazmat Rap probably my favourite track. I totally agree that this probably won't get the attention it deserves but I'll definitely be directing as much as I can towards it.

  30. A year after this dropped. My thoughts.

    I am of the VERY few that think Deck has NOT lost his penmanship... when it comes to Wu releases & cameos.

    Yet, he has NEVER made a solo album worth mentioning.
    (Not even Uncontrolled Substance, although he did have some FIRE songs on it.)

    Which is the SOLE reason why people stopped giving a fuck about him.

    I, therefore, had great hopes for this album, as it is a collaboration, NOT a solo.

    Upon hearing this album, I realized that Deck fits under the exact same category as Jeru The Damaja.

    Alone, he sucks monkey balls. In a collaboration project, he RIPS SHIT.

    Also, because of this album, I got to hear more Deck cameos scattered throughout 2013, which is always a delight.

    So, here's to CZARFACE 2 blowing the original out of the water!!!

    And here's to Deck making "The Rebellion" with a single legendary producer.

    Oh, and 7L & Esoteric? This album made me a fan of theirs

    Thank you, Max, for opening my eye to this gem.