11 March, 2013@6:57 am
Inspectah Deck had a rough go round during the first generation of Wu-Tang solo LP’s. While each Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, GZA/Genius, Raekwon, and Ghostface were blessed with debut albums produced exclusively by RZA (save one or two tracks), Deck’s debut, Uncontrolled Substance, was one of the first LP’s to largely employ many of the other Wu-Tang boardsmen, such as 4th Disciple, True Master, and Deck himself, after a flood in RZA’s basement destroyed many of the album’s original recordings. The difference was glaring, and unfortunately became commonplace for many Wu LP’s thereafter, which ultimately saw a decline in the quality for a once pristine brand.
Around the same time Uncontrolled Substance dropped, Boston’s 7L & Esoteric were building a name for themselves as pioneers in the indie hip-hop movement, first catching our attention with what we dubbed “The Transformers Song” – aka “Be Alert” – on the little heard Rebel Alliance EP on a new label called Brick Records. Later aligning themselves with like-minded individuals such as The Demigodz & Army Of The Pharoahes, hip-hop fans were turning to the underground where the major labels failed them.
CZARFACE – the 132nd release for the now legendary Brick Records imprint – is the culmination of a collaboration that began on 7L & Esoteric’s 1999 Speaking Real Words EP, with the title track featuring Inspectah Deck. Who knew that this one time collaboration would result in the three reuniting fourteen years later, and subsequently crafting arguably the best album of both artists’ respective careers? The prospect of 7L & Esoteric being partly responsible for giving Deck his first near classic album would have shocked even us back in 1999, coincidentally the same year that both Uncontrolled Substance and Speaking Real Words were released.
CZARFACE is better than many post-flood Wu LP’s, and the strongest release of 7L & Esoteric’s long career of Boston blue-collar rap. The approach is similar to that of Ghostface’s Ironman, or even MF Doom’s Operation: Doomsday, weaving in samples from old Marvel and Star Wars records, from an era before the Disney buyouts. The production is raw and unflinching; at times emulating the sound of the classic Wu-Tang LP’s, and in other spots, it just goes for its own thing.
The album opens with the M.O.P.-sample fueled “Air Em Out”, as Deck and Eso trade rhymes over a brooding bassline and crashing symbols. Later on “Savagely Attack”, you can’t help but crack a smile at the track’s opening sample (we won’t spoil it), which sets you up for an appearance from Ghostface Killah, which is so well done that we can’t believe it hadn’t been done before. Fittingly, this leads into “Marvel Team Up”, as the classic comic book influence of the LP looms underneath it all.
“CZAR Refaeli”, featuring Oh No, evokes 90’s L.A. gangster rap nostalgia over a beat that would make DJ Muggs proud, while “It’s Raw” (featuring Action Bronson), sounds good enough for Kane or Rakim in their prime. In fact, much of the sound of this LP is owed to the golden era of hip-hop, as 7L subtly works in classic samples in new, creative ways. “Word War 4”, for instance takes a piece of Kool G. Rap & Polo’s “Road To The Riches”, while “Hazmat Rap” pays homage to Eric B. & Rakim. It’s the difference between beat-jacking and sampling genius.
Oh yeah, and there’s a Premier track called “Let It Off”, which kills. This LP is so rock solid throughout that we almost forgot to mention it. This is testament to the level of quality within 7L’s production.
Sewn together with a series of classic, humorous samples and skits, CZARFACE is quite easily the first great album of 2013, and the best LP we’ve ever heard from Deck or 7L & Eso, not counting any Wu-Tang Clan LP’s, of course. If you are a fan of hip-hop’s golden era, the early Wu classics, or are just looking for something completely different than anything else out there these days, give this a listen. All hail CZARFACE.
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