June 23, 2015

My Gut Reaction: Czarface (7L & Esoteric + Inspectah Deck) - Every Hero Needs A Villain (June 16, 2015)

In 2013, the Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck teamed up with an underground producer-rapper duo, Boston's 7L & Esoteric, to record a full-length collaborative project, building off of the chemistry they established while working together on the group's song "Speaking Real Words".  Due to their mutual love of comic book imagery, I guess, the side project, detouring from the career paths of both parties, was named Czarface, and featured hard-hitting beats from 7L (and an assist from the one and only DJ Premier, a fact I had literally forgotten about until just now) for Deck and Eso to talk shop over.  They invited some of their closest friends: Eso brought in the underground cats, while Deck hired on Ghostface Killah and Cappadonna (although he probably also had a hand in the Primo production, too).  When the project was completed, I didn't give that much of a damn, not being that great of a fan of 7L & Esoteric, and Deck's solo career had topped out at fucking Uncontrolled Substance, but I listened to Czarface anyway, and goddamn, that motherfucker was good.

So a sequel was a foregone conclusion.

Their first project was credited to Deck and the team of 7L & Esoteric, but the follow-up, Every Hero Needs A Villain, is officially a Czarface album.  The comic book imagery and professional wrestling references are still around, of course: these guys know better than to mess with a good thing, as was evidenced by the few tracks from the project they leaked themselves to build up some buzz.

Every Hero Needs A Villain is produced entirely by 7L and Spada4, who held a co-production credit on some of the tracks on the original Czarface but has been upgraded to full-time collaborator here.  Now that these guys have established themselves, there's no need to bring in a ringer to handle the microphone or the production boards, so Deck and Eso invite guest artists that won't necessarily cause cash registers to ring (well, maybe Method Man still has that kind of pull, but I doubt it), but also aren't merely repeats of what worked the last time.  So instead of Action Bronson or Roc Marciano, we get R.A. the Rugged Man and Meyhem Lauren.  Do you miss Cappadonna and Ghostface Killah?  Tough shit, you can listen to Meth and GZA/Genius instead.  Our hosts even pay homage to the golden days of our chosen genre by inviting Large Professor and Juju (of The Beatnuts) into the fray.  Even MF DOOM pops in for an appearance, apparently unable to sit out any hip hop side project that encroaches upon comic book imagery for very long.

Every Hero Needs A Villain comes to us under considerably more promotional consideration than its predecessor, but honestly, the fucking music speaks for itself, as this shit is pretty damn great.  Oh, did I give away the ending of the review?  Oh well, it won't be the last time that'll happen.

Rap album intro.  Moving on...

Should have been the first track on Every Hero Needs A Villain, because it's so goddamn engaging that you can't help but to listen to the rest of this shit.  This song bangs.  Over 7L and Spada4's distorted guitar loop, the Rebel INS and Esoteric each tackle a verse, immediately recalling their chemistry on the previous entry in this series.  Eso's contribution boasts some of his best shit-talking (and even a reference to Nick Kroll, who must be so proud right now), as though this Czarface stuff has rejuvenated his career or something, while Deck already sounds more invested in this project than he did on the entirety of the Wu's A Better Tomorrow.  An excellent way to kick things off.

Another guitar loop over some funky-ass drums, but as long as Every Hero Needs A Villain continues to sound this entertaining, I really don't care.  On "Lumberjack Match", Deck and Eso pass the microphone back and forth not to one-up each other, but to pose as a unified front.  And it works: Deck even remembers to shout-out the Wu, but you two won't give a shit because you'll be all-in on Czarface at this point. Esoteric sounds right at home over 7L and Spada4's instrumental, as well.  This was just nice.

The group had leaked "Nightcrawler" to the Interweb as the second "single" from Every Hero Needs A Villain, and I commented on Twitter at the time that this shit was a banger.  Still is, too.  Those drums are hard, and there is no guitar loop, so you don't have to worry about these guys exhausting their welcome.  The title "Nightcrawler" can't help but remind me of the recent Jake Gyllenhaal flick (which is pretty good: he was robbed of an Oscar nomination), but nobody in this trio of rappers can be labeled as a freelancing sociopath: everyone is just obsessed with sounding great in the booth, and they all pull it off, especially Method Man, who kills his cameo, as he typically does when presented with such an opportunity.

I loved the drum-heavy beat, which sounded like something Extra P might have created for himself back in his Main Source days.  Unsurprisingly, the Large Professor comes across dope as shit during his opening verse, with Deck and Eso bringing up the rear.  It's important to note that none of the songs thus far are about anything aside from boasts 'n bullshit, and when shit sounds this good, that's perfectly fine by me.  Also, Deck busts out a reference to the Ultramagnetic MCs, so there's that.

Obviously, given that song title, a guitar comes into play throughout 7L and Spad4's instrumental.  So what?  This was catchy as hell.  "The Great (Czar Guitar)", which our hosts shot a video for, zips by, its punches landing shortly after Deck and Eso have cleared the building.  Inspectah Deck sounds so good that I hope he keeps this side project going as long as possible: he's dealing with a level of commitment and inspiration that he just isn't getting anymore from his solo career or from The RZA's teachings.  Esoteric acts like he could suddenly become someone's favorite rapper, which, given how good Every Hero Needs A Villain is so far, isn't outside the realm of possibility.

Speaking of The RZA, a vocal sample cribbed from his performance on the late Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Cuttin' Headz" plays a large role on "Red Alert", and also gives this track its title.  The longest song on Every Hero Needs A Villain so far, "Red Alert" moves at a much slower pace than its predecessors, the running time padded with dialogue-heavy skits, but possibly because it's a complete 180 from what we've heard up to this point, it doubles as the brick wall you crash into that you somehow didn't see coming.  Nobody will want to listen to this shit more than the once, especially the cute-but-cloying sketch at the end where Esoteric's kids discuss Star Wars lore.  Well, they can't all be winners.

Junkyard Juju over a beat that he didn't have a hand in producing?  That could go either way, but Every Hero Needs A Villain goes in an entirely different direction, as the music is pretty good (in that it doesn't come across as a direct Beatnuts lift), but Juju's opening verse is delivered in such a lethargic manner that I'm pretty sure he fell asleep in the booth, leaving 7L and Spada4 to construct the remainder of his contribution out of sound bites they found of his on the Interweb.  Eso and Deck manage much better, with Deck dropping his second Kool Keith reference of the evening, which, hey, Keith Thornton must be smiling like a fucking fool right now.

And we're back to the distorted guitar loops.  "Sgt. Slaughter" picks up the energy, though, which was nice.  Eso's verse is much more memorable than the Rebel's: I especially dug the line, "You lack vision like the first Avengers [movie]".  Not that Deck was using the space to take a break, obviously, but it's cool that these two are allowing room for both of them to shine for the greater good.  Entertaining, but slight.

The GZA/Genius, who normally doesn't participate in these side-project shenanigans (unless they're his own - *cough* Grandmasters *cough*), has come out of his shell a bit by appearing on here, which is cool and all, but where the hell is Dark Matter?  (He was originally rumored to have a cameo on Ghostface Killah and Adrian Younge's Twelve Reasons To Die II, but he was probably left on the cutting room floor.)  The 7L and Spada4 instrumental is jazzy and breezy, kind of, giving each participant ample space to talk their shit, each artist receiving a tweaked underlying beat.  "When Gods Go Mad" may not be great enough to justify its overly-dramatic title, but I really liked it.  Could have done without the flow-disrupting dialogue samples, though.

The third track Deck and Eso leaked from Every Hero Needs A Villain, and the first I really didn't give a fucking shit about.  MF DOOM's verse relies on his old tricks, rhyming several syllables per bar even if it renders each sentence meaningless, and his, um, esoteric musings just flat-out don't fit on a project where the hosts are hell-bent on delivering focused shit-talking.  The 7L and Spada4 beat isn't that great anyway, so it's no real loss, and I don't feel bad saying that I will never listen to "Ka-Bang!" ever again, not even ironically.  For what it's worth, our hosts sounded alright, but that isn't enough for me.

The first leaked track, which reintroduced the Czarface team to the hip hop masses while giving Queens rapper Meyhem Lauren a showcase, as he's the first guy you actually hear on "Deadly Class".  I thought this shit was pretty good when it first dropped, but while it still bangs, it pales in comparison to the better tracks on Every Hero Needs A Villain.  The 7L and Spada4 instrumental is quirky and engaging; MF DOOM's cameo should have been saved for this beat.  Deck and Eso sound as good as always, so this served as a great advertisement for the then-forthcoming Every Hero Needs A Villain, even if it's long since served its purpose.

I suppose this is the centerpiece of Every Hero Needs A Villain, given it runs for longer than eight goddamn minutes.  Also, that song title is goofy as shit.  While the rest of this album is a sprint, given how quickly Deck and Eso run through their respective performances, "Escape From Czarkham Asylum" is a marathon, as the audio track contains what feels like at least five different songs running one right after another, with twice as many 7L and Spada4 instrumentals thrown in for good measure.  Inspectah Deck's various verses fare better than Esoteric's, as his flow is elastic enough to adapt to whatever is thrown at him, while Eso resorts to spitting the identical way each time, hoping that the listener will notice him before catching the beat.  The music, by the way, switches up just enough to keep listeners awake, but dear God, this shit is exhausting.  I wonder why they chose to do this "B-Boy Bouillabaisse"-style as opposed to separating out each track.

Deck and Eso abandon their overly-loquacious "Escape From Czarkham Asylum" personas to bring shit back to normal, as "Sinister" runs for less than three minutes.  And it's a pretty goddamn awesome less than three minutes, too: although 7L and Spada4's drums-and-distorted-guitar formula may not exactly be what I would refer to as "Sinister", Deck and Eso both sound amazing over it, and it's not like the music isn't engaging.  That's all I got.

The drums on this final track (for dinosaurs like me who like holding physical media in their goddamn hands, anyway) are fairly similar in scope to what the group used for "Sinister", but "Good Villains Go Last" could not be more different: Deck and Eso's boasts 'n bullshit come across as more stone-faced, matter-of-fact statements than they did on the previous track.  Guest star Crustified Dibbs, as promised by the title, closes out the song with a hurried-but-dope contribution on which he sounds like the missing third (rapping) member of the crew.  Damn.

Digital adopters that are kind enough to welcome Every Hero Needs A Villain onto their iPods receive the following bonus tracks.

The first digital-only exclusive, "Deviatin' Septums" has a pretty interesting title (and a hilarious "hook", made up of a wrestling promo, that gives the song its name) but falters overall, as it just isn't as good as everything else on the proper album.  Let's just say there's a very obvious reason why collectors of compact discs and vinyl won't even know they're missing anything.

Although this remix was alright otherwise, the original "Sinister" is so good that you'll just want to listen to that version instead.  Unnecessary, but it's not like you'll skip past the song or anything.  And now I'm done.

THE LAST WORD:  Every Hero Needs A Villain is, as I stated above, pretty fucking great, and even tops the original in many spots.  It has its own issues to contend with: you won't be able to sit through it in its entirety without skipping past some of the slower moments, the MF DOOM track is pretty bad, and the overlong "Escape From Czarkham Asylum" will most likely try your patience.  But the rest of the album is really fucking good.  Inspectah Deck and Esoteric spit their flames with the confidence and comfort level of two underground rap veterans who have long since stopped giving a fuck about what you think, and that makes Every Hero Needs A Villain that much better.  The beats, from 7L and Spada4, are also almost uniformly knocking, as though they saved up all of their best instrumentals for this one album.  It's kind of like a far-less-political Run The Jewels, except Deck isn't going to be running for any office anytime soon, and Esoteric doesn't actually produce the beats on here, so this isn't a perfect analogy, shut up, I know that.  But I plan on bumping this shit for the next few months, at least.  Join me, won't you?


I wrote about the previous Czarface album here, and you two can check out more on Inspectah Deck and 7L & Esoteric if you wish.  Also, obligatory Wu link.


  1. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    'Trip out West' Max says

    1. "Exception for the Wu", Max also said.

    2. AnonymousJune 24, 2015

      'East coast dickrider' Max should say

    3. Because that's how you'll get me to give a shit about your opinion? Clever.

    4. AnonymousJune 25, 2015

      Other anonymous is a whiny baby. It is ok if Max likes east coast rap better than west coast.. is that really a crime? I like Biggie more than Pac omg I'm such a turd. Hey Max if you do wanna review a new west coast album that has some hype, I'd be seriously interested in your take on Vince Staples debut album. No I.D. produced every track except for a few produced by Clams Casino and DJ Dahi.. in other words he secured amazing production for a double disc album. Glad that you reviewed Czarface :)

    5. AnonymousJune 25, 2015

      Shut the fuck up man, If Max says he's going to do something he should commit to it rather than go back on what he's saying or trying to find angles around it, that's bitch shit to me. Don't be a chatty patty Max can speak for himself.
      Brush your teeth.

    6. See my comment above for clarification.

    7. AnonymousJuly 02, 2015

      Seriously anticipating these weirdos' reactions to your review to the upcoming sequel to giallo-hip hop masterpiece Twelve Reasons To Die. Max, your comment sections are hilarious!

  2. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    it sounds like you loved more tracks on the first album.. did you??

    1. I liked both roughly equally, but this one is fresher in my mind, obviously.

  3. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    Goddamn, you hate MF DOOM.
    Czarface has officially become my shit, though. Loved the first & love the second even more.

  4. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    i've only given this a single listen, but i feel like the whole album just felt... samey samey, i don't know. i gotta give it another chance tho

  5. AnonymousJune 23, 2015

    This whole album is incredible. its a shame Deck's solo shit couldn't sound like this. he should just get 7L & Spada4 to do his next album. I loved Escape From Czarkham Asylum. do u not like songs over a certain time limit?

    1. Time limits aren't an issue if the music is consistently engaging, unlike "Escape From Czarkham Asylum".

  6. AnonymousJune 24, 2015

    I have the first Czarface album, and it's good. Particularly good that I can now say that Deck's solo career is not a complete travesty. The problem I have with Czarface is that every song is boasts 'n bullshit. Deck has it in him to write something more interesting for at least a few songs. Now I realise the appeal is that these albums don't go against the grain, they are a shout out to the 90s. But even MCs I had given up on like Prodigy occasionally pull out some different subject matter (like "Confessions" on his LP with the Alchemist)

    1. AnonymousJuly 09, 2015

      I'm actually inclined to agree with you on Deck's subject matter. This Czarface series is still my shit, though. Because it's about damn time we listened to some good punchline rap from an OG.

  7. AnonymousJune 24, 2015

    This is Hip Hop!

  8. AnonymousJune 24, 2015

    Meh, it's alright I guess. I liked the production better on the first album, it was more boom bap to my ears. Don't want distorted guitar in my hip-hop.

  9. AnonymousJune 25, 2015

    This is shit

  10. Great review of a pretty brilliant album. This and Ghostface Killah's excellent follow up to Twelve Reasons to Die have helped wash off the bad taste left by F.I.L.A.

    1. AnonymousJuly 02, 2015

      I cannot agree with you more.

  11. AnonymousJuly 04, 2015

    Would you recommend the Czarface albums over the DJ Muggs Soul Assassins I and II albums?

    1. Below anonymous already nailed this, but there isn't any comparison. They're not even the same type of project.

  12. AnonymousJuly 09, 2015

    Allow me to answer: There's no way in hell the two franchises are even remotely comparable.

  13. What probably made the coming of this album the pinnacle of my time as a fan of this group is that Deck told me himself about it. (He, Meth and Redman did a rather short show in lieu of the Clan not showing up and majorly fucking up my $90 ticket for the first live performance of a musical act I gave a fuck about in my life.) And I remember I came outside just gushing and being a half-drunk idiot. After we got a pic together, he tells me "Yo, be on the lookout... Czarface II..."

    There's a reason I fucks with the Wu.

  14. Czarface 3 is also worth a review. Interestingly enough, there's a CZARFACE X DOOM collaboration in the works.

    1. I've barely listened to the third one (although, weirdly, I've heard more of the instrumental album they released for Record Store Day), so maybe.