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Overlooked: Inspectah Deck, 7L & Esoteric’s “CZARFACE” (Album Review)

Posted by Dharmic X on 02/25/13 | Filed under Opinion, Album Reviews, Overlooked, Inspectah Deck
7L and Esoteric are Boston hip-hop royalty. They have been on the scene since 1993, and have been releasing material since 1996. Along with their own catalog of over six albums, the duo are known for their affiliation with the Demigodz and Army of the Pharoahs collectives, two staples in the Northeast underground hip-hop scene.

Meanwhile, Inspectah Deck is a seasoned veteran best known for being part of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan. ‘Nuff said.

The two entities came together last week in the form of "CZARFACE", an album that hip-hop fans didn’t even know they needed in their collection until the songs came out. And while RefinedHype has thus far been silent on coverage for this album, RefinedHype Nation has been clamoring for the site’s thoughts on the project.

Before listening to "CZARFACE", I had the opportunity to attend the group’s album release party this Friday, at the famed Middle East venue in Cambridge. This show was a testament to the legacy of Wu-Tang, the Demigodz (fellow members Blacastan and Apathy were also in attendance and performed), and 7LES. With the main acts slated to get on stage at 11:45, a line formed around the street corner of the venue by 9:00PM, a rarity for a hip-hop show in general. Perhaps never in the history of the Middle East had the lower stage, with its maximum capacity well over 550 people, turned away over 100 people from the venue.

To put it in perspective, Murs & Fashawn performed at the upper stage of the Middle East the following day. The upper stage has a capacity of 200 people.

Meanwhile, the show was simply a party, with the beats knocking and the crowd bopping their heads and keeping their hands in the air throughout. The crowd received the CZARFACE material with zest, but was pleasantly surprised to find Deck performing Wu-Tang classics such as “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin to Fuck With” and “C.R.E.A.M.” For myself, the highlight of the show came when Deck jumped into the crowd to perform his verse from “Above the Clouds,” paying homage to Boston’s greatest emcee, the late Guru.

The show was an incredible experience, so it is saying something for the album itself to be even better.

“Air ‘Em Out” is the album’s opener, and is one of those songs that makes one get up on their feet and throw their hands up in the air in the house alone (...or maybe that’s just me). While perhaps a bit more upbeat than the rest of the album, it sets the tone for the 7L’s hard-knocking production style that chills the spine throughout. Meanwhile, Deck starts the song off in vintage form, brazenly declaring, “I don’t hear a sound, I just hear the crowd, I’m surgically performing like the doctor in the house.” For fans of smooth flows and oblique lines, this is the cure to end all illnesses.

Those who believe that Deck would overshadow his rhyme partner on this project are sorely mistaken--Esoteric sounds possessed and hungry on every rhyme he delivers throughout the project. On “Air ‘Em Out,” he goes in to match Deck, wittily rapping “Heavyweight, that’s what the title says, leave ya limbless like a pez, you can suck my dick, beat my nuts, Psycho Les.” One of the testaments of this comes on “Marvel Team-Up,” where Eso trades bars with Inspectah Deck ala Styles P and Jada, the two styles meshing perfectly as the Masshole claims “I got the ego of Evel Knievel.” Meanwhile, he opens off “Rock Beast” with precision and flair, proving that he is not the Rebel INS’s second-in-command on this lyrical journey.

On projects like "CZARFACE", production tends to be hit-or-miss. Fans have been subjected to a lot of uninspired production that bangs but leaves a lot to be desired. On this album, however, 7L shines throughout. Take “Cement 3’s” for example. This could have been standard fare, a thumping yet simple beat. However, 7L throws a little extra spice into the beat, making it richer in sound. Songs like “Czar Refaeli” evolve as they progress, changing in sound midway through verses. It is a testament to 7L and frequent co-producer Spada4 that “Let it Off,” produced by DJ Premier, fits comfortably and seamlessly into the album while sounding like a vintage Premo heat rock.

Meanwhile, what separates "CZARFACE" from most albums of this generation are the mini-skits, usually put together through vocal samples (with the exception of Esoteric’s son trying to say “Czarface” at the end of “Let it Off,” a very funny and cute moment amidst all the boom-bap grime). A perfect example of this is the timely WWF sample on “It’s Raw.” While the samples come from an assortment of sources, they are all weaved together to create a very cohesive concept for the album without coming off as tacky or trite.

The features assembled on the album are the icing on the cake. For the first time ever, Action Bronson and Ghostface Killah can be heard on the same project, ironic due to the frequent comparisons made in terms of sound and style. Ghost’s contribution on “Savagely Attack” is incredible, dropping bars in rare form: “Attack like a n... on bath salts, eat his face and leave his body on asphalt.” Action doesn’t disappoint either. Meanwhile, on the standout cut “Poisonous Thoughts” Mr. MFN eXquire comes through and attacks a beat that actually sounds tailor made for him with panache, holding his own amongst the veteran emcees. Each feature is well-placed, matched up with the correct beat from 7L.

Some might argue that "CZARFACE" is a niche album, a relic from the 90s born in the wrong era. But the album is honestly masterpiece, put together with an attention to detail that is refreshing to hear right now. Not only does the album satisfy the cravings of boom-bap enthusiasts, it succeeds where similar albums have faltered in terms of content, style, and sound. It’s the nuances that make "CZARFACE" an incredible body of work, arguably one of the early favorites for album of the year contention.

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See Also:  Overlooked: Chaundon “By the Way” EP (Album Review)

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