Exclusive: Boston-based 7L & Esoteric join Shaolin's Inspectah Deck to explain merging eras, friendly competition on "CZARFACE," and INS' book plans after possible Rap retirement.
They’re two paths that you’d never expect to cross, musically, geographically and figuratively. Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck has been deeply rooted in the musical philosophies of Shaolin both with the Clan and in his solo career. Beantown duo 7L & Esoteric have been all over the Northeast and the world trading rhymes for respect in a Hip Hop game moving ever so far from where their hearts lie. While both factions are deeply rooted in the teachings of the boom bap era, neither sounded like they would match up–until they meet on a record.
“The idea was to make a few records, keep it really lyrical and give the people what they wanted and what they expect from the Wu-Tang Clan’s most heralded swordsman so-to-speak and me and 7L from Boston,” Esoteric explains. “We started to conceptualize the idea of CZARFACE and having that be the name of the group and the character that represents the three of us when we’re on the mic and doing damage.”
In actuality, the record didn’t just come from out of the blue, as both forces met on 7L & Esoteric’s “Speaking Real Words” in 1999. The little the three had in fact released naturally begged for something more.
“I sat down with Esoteric and he brought that thought to light, and I thought that that would be a good idea,” Inspectah Deck says. “We grew up with those comic books (describing the album’s cover), and some of us are still die-hard fans of that. I thought bringing that together with just being the classic Hip Hop beats and rhymes of the 90s and before—I thought that combination was going to bring something to the game.”
HipHopDX recently spoke with Inspectah Deck and Esoteric about their highly-anticipated debut collaboration with 7L as each spoke on the album and, on their own realms–Inspectah on his operations with Wu-Tang and Esoteric on his love for dogs and fat beats and rhymes in an interview not unlike the perfect mesh of two completely different souls on one very unique-sounding album.
The Origins Of CZARFACE, Inspectah Deck Working With 7L & Esoteric
HipHopDX: CZARFACE looks to be a monster and sounds like a dope concept. How did this one come together, and what were some of your goals in creating it?
Inspectah Deck: I really don’t think there were a lot of goals or things like that. For me right now, it’s taking off better than anticipated because I guess I underestimated the people’s need to hear something worth listening to. So I did [CZARFACE], I’ve done a couple records with 7L & Esoteric back in the day with “Speaking Real Words” and another ["12th Chamber"]. I’ve done two songs with them already, and we built up a lot of buzz just off of those two songs, and it took a while. I went on tour with the [Wu-Tang] Clan, but we all talked about it a while ago—about doing this type of project.
It all just came together at the right time, and the whole CZARFACE thing was supposed to be a hero to save Hip Hop. I didn’t really have the whole cartoon, comic book vision all in my head at that time. I sat down with Esoteric, he brought that thought to light and I thought that would be a good idea. A lot of the real Hip Hop heads, the true school Hip Hop generation, they know what that cover’s all about. We grew up with those comic books, some of us are still die-hard fans of that, and I thought bringing that together with just being the classic Hip Hop beats and rhymes of the '90s and before. I thought that combination was going to bring something to the game. I think CZARFACE is the blue-collar album of Rap right now. I think it’s the Detroit Pistons when they won with Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace and them. They really had no star but the whole team was blue-collar, and everybody gave that effort.
I think this is one of those underdog albums that, when the smoke clears from all of those big guns going off, you’re still going to hear these shots going. I listened to the project really head-to-toe for the first time the other day and I’m like, “It sounds good man.” Just let it play from beginning to end, that’s how we used to do when we had cassette tapes; just let it roll then go to the other side. I think this is one of those personally, just listening to the sound I think. We leaked three songs—the one with Roc Marciano ["Cement 3's"], the one with Action Bronson [“It’s Raw”] and the one ["Shoguns"] with Vinnie Paz. I believe that created a real buzz for it right now, so it’s getting good feedback and a good vibe. I think this is one of the smart choices for 2013.
Esoteric: Basically it started out as 7L’s idea to put out something like a white label or kind of a diamond in the rough slab of vinyl that really had no promotion at all and was just kind of leaked out there. You know we still have that '90s mentality. With me and [Inspectah Deck] on the mic [and] 7L on production, we were just going to have it sneak out. As we started recording, we thought we could actually sell this, so we started to conceptualize the idea of CZARFACE and having that be the name of the group. The character represents the three of us when we’re on the mic and doing damage or whatever. The idea was to make a few records, keep it really lyrical and give the people what they wanted and expect from the Wu-Tang Clan’s most heralded swordsman so to speak, and me and 7L from Boston. So it was just doing what we do in the past but just come out swinging in 2013.
DX: You mentioned the '90s mentality. I swear if I didn’t know anything about this album it could almost get lost in the '90s, and that’s really hard to do these days when a lot of people that kind of try to emulate the '90s. Did that ever occur to you when making this one?
Esoteric: Honestly, what was in our minds when creating it was just making a hardcore Rap record that pulled no punches and was just true to ourselves and what we do as a craft. Me and Deck met lyrically and just kind of focused on that. ‘Cause Deck can take it places I can’t, where subjects that he’ll touch on like on Wu-Tang records or whatever. And then I’ll touch on different things with our records, but the middle ground is just lyrical slaughter. I think that was the focus of the album, and I think in the '90s a lot of that was prevalent. It was kind of a natural thing where 7L would just give us these beats and there would be banging drums and 93 BPM—that’s kind of our forte. When we’re in the lab together making records that’s just what’s going to come out, you know?
Inspectah Deck: The thing is, being Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang, you’ll have people in your ear that will tell you, “Why are you wasting your time doing this? You can do this project or you can do that project.” And at first I might have felt that this wasn’t the time to do it, but then one of the next times I spoke with Esoteric and he brought it to the table, it [kept] sounding like one of the albums I was going to do in the process of doing The Rebellion album that I’m doing for myself. I also have a project with Agallah; I’m doing a few things, and I’m not going to put everything out there yet. But just coming from that kind of space and people questioning the moves I’m making, I just felt it. And to top it off, Esoteric is fucking dope, man. People who don’t know or really listen to him, when you talk about “White rappers” in the game, this guy sounds nothing like Eminiem, Justin Beiber or none of these names that people throw out there. If I had to put Esoteric with Eminem, I would put him up there and win or lose I could still say, “Yo, this motherfucker can give you a run for your money.”
And speaking of a lot of other rappers, white or black he’s dope period. I listened to a lot of their newer stuff before I went with the decision to do the album and tag team with Esoteric. He actually brought back some of my lyrical side; I was drifting off into different things and different chambers. After 20 years of recording for Wu-Tang, I’ve spoken about so much that it has forced me to speak on new things in life and where I’m at now as a grown man. He brought me back into just spitting that lyrical stuff and just letting me spit…letting it fire. When I listen to the album, he scored. He scored on that album, and I might have to step my game up another notch. He’s going to get a whole lot of new fans that they didn’t know already, and hopefully I can get a whole lot of new fans off of him, and we can do that for each other.
I think it’s actually a good mixture because it’s two totally different styles, but they’re still similar at the same time. He can switch rhyme schemes; he can fly off the beat, jump in your chamber, get out and take you to a realm of his own. He switches styles eight to ten times through 16 bars and shit like that. That’s like a lost art, and I thought I was one of the last ones to still do that. I think that’s what’s refreshing about it like, “Yo, these motherfuckers are going back to back. They’re going in, they’re cutting and scratching and the deejays are involved.” That’s what I like, and like you said, it just has that '90s nostalgia without even trying to. [It’s not like] we came in the studio and said like, “Aw, we’re going to take it back to the '90s,” we didn’t do that. We just came and let the beats pretty much take us where we needed to go.
DX: You’ve got a really interesting mix of features from the some newer crop from New York like Roc Marciano and Action Bronson with vets like Ghostface Killah, Cappadonna and Vinnie Paz. Why where these the choices for the record?
Esoteric: It was just important for us to work with lyricists that we respect and just keep it a really organic record. We’re not trying to dial in an Akon hook or something like that that’s going to make a record blow up in a way that doesn’t really suit us. I think the natural thing to do is to get some Wu members, some members from my crew—we’ve got Vinnie Paz on the record. Everyone was really excited and easy to work with because they saw our vision. Obviously the Wu guys with an allegiance to Deck just made it a real easy thing. And 7L wanted to get Action Bronson and Roc Marciano on the record ‘cause these guys are really poppin’ right now. It might add a little flavor to the record for maybe a younger listener who is more in-tuned to what they’re doing right now, and obviously they destroyed it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for them, so it was just a good fit for the album.
DX: Yeah new guys but they definitely weren’t compromises because they fit into what you do.
Esoteric: Yeah, I think it’s a very similar vibe, so it just kind of made sense. I don’t think we’re like squeezing Snoop [Dogg] on the record [laughs] or trying to reach out and grab another audience. It’s not really about that; it’s just kind of giving back to the audience that’s supported us for so long.
DX: “Cement 3’s” was one of the singles on the album definitely that has a Wu-Tang feel and elements of Pterodactyl Takes Tokyo also. Earlier, you mention jumping into each other’s zones when necessary. Maybe talk about that record that Roc Marciano jumped on as well.
Inspectah Deck: Yeah man, it’s like you just said, being able to jump into each other’s chambers. It’s like a friendly duel at the same time. It’s a little friendly fire, but you’re not trying to out do somebody or anything…not trying to show each other up. We’re just showing that we’re both lyrically capable of doing that, and you know Roc Marciano is one of the newer cats coming out that is on the same wave. So we’re trying to connect with a lot of the newer cats, and it doesn’t matter if you’re really old or young. But a lot of the newer cats that are coming out pretty much give us that feel and vibe of real Hip Hop.
There’s a lot of them out there. I like Curren$y. I wish we could have got Curren$y involved and a few other people especially like Kendrick Lamar right now. But if I could extend it, I’d get a few more people on there just to show that we’re old school, we’re veterans, but we can still compete with the youth. We’re still able to make good music, and it’s collaboration and things like that. The Roc Marciano track man, it sounds like who was supposed to be on there, just like the Vinnie Paz track. I like the Vinnie Paz one too. He just comes in, and he’s ready. [Laughs] He’s coming in like Stone Cold Steve Austin on that track, so Hip Hop is missing that. Everybody wants to be all cool and fly all the time. You’re more worried about your hairdo than how you worried about sounding on the microphone. So we wanted to step away from that. We can give shows with t-shirts and shorts on and a whole lot of energy to make you feel it.
DX: That’s interesting that you bring that up, because a lot of these newer cats think the old school guys have lost it lyrically and don’t know how to adapt. And a lot of the older cats often times stereotype the new school as non-lyrically gifted. Do you think that a lot of veterans have lost it and maybe don’t know how to adapt in these new times? Is that a fair critique?
Inspectah Deck: It works both ways, because I was that same young dude that told all the older heads the same shit [like], “Ya’ll don’t know what time it is. Y’all don’t understand me, [and] I’m going to do it my way…I’m going to make it happen.” And I did and I told them that, but I understand that. I understand a young person’s feelings right now. When they don’t think we understand because we’re older, and things are different and that’s true. The way the world is now is different. The price of milk is different. Everything in life has changed since a certain period when things went a certain way so now these kids are out there.
Remember, technology is so advanced too now that they don’t have to have the certain things that we had to get established or even grow up or learn. When I came up, we had to fight and scrap. There were no guns. When it came time to the music, we had to get out there with RZA, get 15 of us in a seven passenger car, go out there, shake hands, meet people and go have lunches. We went to lunch with Russell Simmons at the Thai restaurant, and we had to physically be hands-on.
Right now, a lot of these young dudes are beneficiaries of what’s been laid down for them. They didn’t necessarily have to put out the same amount of blood, sweat and tears not to mention the influences of a YouTube, Google or Soundcloud and all Facebook/Twitters that are going on now. We didn’t have that to promote our music. We had to go out there and scrap and fight a little harder. That’s why you have a lot of old school cats or older cats saying now, “Ah these young boys, they don’t know shit.” As an old school cat, you can’t bash the young’ns neither, because this is the world they live in.
They’re young; they’re growing up, and they have to find out certain things in life and make choices. Some are going to learn the hard way, and some going to follow the leader and set a good example by following in those footsteps. Other ones are going to go through hell to figure it out. So, you know, I look at both sides, and the young’ins have a right to say what they say. Some old cats won’t let go neither and pass the torch. I’m not like that. I understand this is the young man’s game now, just like if I was a professional athlete. I can’t run the 4.5 40-yard dash anymore. I might make that clutch-ass third down catch, but he’s going to get the highlight touchdown. He’s going to do the endzone dance. For me, 20 years later, I understand that, and I have no problems with that.
DX: How did the two forces meet? I know Deck was on “Speaking Real Words” back in ‘99. How did you guys all meet and come together originally?
Esoteric: This guy that was managing us worked at Loud [Records] and that’s when Deck was on Loud. He was like, “Ah yeah, I see Inspectah Deck in the office all the time. He always comes through. Prodigy’s coming through.” He was just name-dropping these guys, and he said he can put you in touch with one of these guys if you want them on your record. That was like, “Oh word?” [Laughs] We hadn’t met Deck, and he wanted to know if the shit we were working on was official and all of that stuff. So we were like, “Yeah give him a few of our joints, and have him listen to them.” And he heard “Be Alert,” which was the song we did in ’97. He didn’t know it was out already, and he wanted to rhyme on that.
Me and 7L were just so vexed, because it would be amazing for him to be on that record, but the record had already come out. So we came up with “Speaking Real Words,” and we all met at the studio in Brooklyn and laid it down. The rest was really history. We put that out, and then we continued with our career, he continued with his, and we linked up again in 2009 on 1212. We did a record, which is on one of 7L’s albums, and the record was called “12th Chamber.” From there, we started talking about doing an album together, because it seems to be a real easy process to bang out, and we really work well together. We just kind of took it from there.
DJ Premier's Special Appearance On CZARFACE
DX: DJ Premier produces the only track on here that isn’t done by 7L, which is interesting. How did that come about?
Esoteric: [Laughs] Well you hit the nail on the head there. Basically [DJ] Premier has been supporting—well obviously Deck’s records—but he’s been supporting our records since the early 2000s. We met Premier coming out of Rock and Soul, a record store in New York…like 2001 maybe. We were like, “Oh fuck, it’s DJ Premier, let’s get this record.” We just pressed up his record on one of our 12” and ran up to Premier like, “Yo, Premier take this, this is our record,” and he was like, “I already got this one man; I bought it.” So he had bought our records back then. He bought “Speaking Real Words,” so we’ve always had this relationship with but never have been able to work with Premier.
He’s been playing our singles on his [HeadCourterz radio] show and stuff, and eventually I made the move and I was like, “Yo, can we get down on a track?” And he was like, “Sure.” It was just a track for me and I was like, “I wanna put this on the CZARFACE record to make it more special than it is,” and that’s kind of where it took off. Premier is such a class act and just stands out in terms of his accessibility. I’m very thankful to have him on the record. It’s true that there’s no other producer that we would really want on the album if it wasn’t Premier, because the idea from the beginning was to have 7L do the whole thing. And then I’m sitting on this Premier record that I hadn’t recorded to, and why not make this part of the CZARFACE record? Obviously they were down for that, and that’s how we made it happen.
DX: Right. I love the cover on this thing too. Got the comic book element to it. What was the mindset behind that?
Esoteric: Well that was something that I wanted to do for the album. One of the things that always stood out to me with Deck was that he’d reference superheroes every once in a while—something about the claws of Wolverine, Peter Parker…all these different things. I’ve always been into comic books, and I think our discography kind of shows everything with that. But I kinda think that’s how we meet too, and if we had a figurehead for the album, I came up with CZARFACE the name. I ran it by Deck, and he loved it, and then I had to find an artist that kind of brings CZARFACE to life. I wanted it to be very Jack Kirby influenced. I just love Jack Kirby’s art. Lamour Supreme, who works for Mishka, had done stuff for Jack Kirby’s museum, and it made a lot of sense for him to do the art and he killed it. He developed CZARFACE based on the ideas I gave him, in terms of what I wanted it to look like and what he represented. I would reference Ultron and Major Blood and all these different metal-clad villains or heroes, and he just went with it. We’re really happy with what he created.
DX: Deck, I’d like to ask you as a Wu fan and maybe you’ve been asked before but from “Protect Ya Neck,” to “Assassination Day” to “Triumph,” you always begin a track so hard. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence that you usually go first or if it’s with good reason, but how were you always put in that position with Wu-Tang or was that just a natural thing?
Inspectah Deck: I don’t know, man. That’s kind of interesting. I don’t know if that was a thought that RZA had saw from the jump, because RZA’s a very smart man. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve been around, and he sees things in you that you may not see in yourself. He likes to bring that out of you, and I don’t know. It could have been a subliminal RZA plot; I’m not mad at him. I know my mentality most of the time, especially when it comes to the rhymes and the beats in this Hip Hop music. I’m just so ready most of the time. A lot of times when I see people on the street and they ask me, “How do you think of that? I bomb atomically, Socrates, like oh my God!”
I’m like, “You know what, man? I watch CNN, play PS3, and I do everything that everybody else does. I just stay in tune with it, and I like to reflect that in my rhymes.” Like I’m not going to try to be the most gangster, the most flyest, most lavish-I don’t even claim that I’m the best emcee of all time. I just like to be great at what I do, and it’s just a simple mentality. The hardest part for me is just making it rhyme.
I could take the President’s Inaugural speech the other day and turn that into my next single based on everything he said: the political change, the system, the healthcare reform, you know what I mean? That’s a rhyme, because I can give it to you from the street level of how it affects us in the hood, how it affects a single mother or how it affects the dad that’s in jail. I can give you those type of angles of it, and that’s what I choose to do.
DX: Right and that’s the most dangerous you can be, when you’re smart about the injustices that are going on in impoverished areas as once a victim of that. Do you ever think of it from that aspect?
Inspectah Deck: Um, nah I don’t think about nothing negative at this phase in my life. I think about my kids growing up having kids. I think about the future. I also think about what I’m going to be known for outside of being Inspectah Deck from Wu-Tang. I feel like this is just a vehicle for me to score on a greater note, the same way RZA came with The Man With The Iron Fists. Whether I make a movie or I star in something, it doesn’t even really matter, but I feel like this is just a stepping-stone. I think they’re going to remember me for something else, but I will say this–I’m going to put out all my poetry, like a lot of rhymes that you know and a lot of rhymes that you don’t know. It’s going to be like a 300-page book man, and it’s going to be all my lyrics.
I want people to understand the depth that I went to put these thoughts together, because a lot of people listen to Rap and listen to music but they can’t really piece it together as a whole. But a lot of people read, and when you read, you’re able to see those lyrics separated from the beat and you can see those lyrics. I think people are really going to change their mind of how they see Inspectah Deck lyrically. When they start talking about Tupac and Biggie and certain people being the greatest of all time—Nas and Rakim—I want Inspectah Deck’s name to be in there. My name is not in that category yet because I haven’t sold a million records or things like that. It’s like the hall of fame athlete that never got the ring, but his career attributes speak for them self. I may not get the ring, but I want the hall of fame [laughing], you know?
Inspectah Deck Discusses His Upcoming Book & Retiring Gracefully
DX: It’s funny because even in Wu-Tang a lot of times your name isn’t one of the first people think of, and then you go into the classic songs and you always kill it.
Inspectah Deck: People are going to figure it out. If something happens to me, God forbid, Hot 97 or one of those radio stations, they’ll go back through my history and they’ll realize, “Holy shit, this is crazy.” A lot of people will hear those songs for the first time [laughs], they might hear “Rec Room” for the first time, “Yo killa bees swarmin' / Protect ya neck / What's the warnin' / So proceed with caution / I walk with my swordsmen…”
And when they hear that it’s like, “Wow, he said that back then.” That’s what I want, and my poetry book is going to show that to people. I have two books coming; one is called From Pawns to Kings, just talking about my role in this whole Wu-Tang dynasty. This is a story I’ve never told. I’ve never came out in the magazines and talked about. I’m the one who hasn’t really talked much, and me putting it into this book, like behind the W, from the king, you know? And I’m going to rock that, and my poetry book is. I’m going to rock this next Rebellion album and I’m going to retire gracefully, man.
DX: Esoteric, you are very into the welfare of dogs, which is awesome. You were passionate about it on the song “Palin/Vick,” and you’ve worked to raise funds to shelter dogs. What gives you the passion behind that, and how important is that in your life?
Esoteric: Ah, man it’s right there, neck and neck with Hip Hop man. It’s something that’s always been there with me and it just grows all the time. Dogs, they don’t play fair man, you look at them and then they got you. You lock eyes with a dog, at least for me, and they just got you by the heart. And anytime I can help a dog, I’m always trying to bring new dogs into our house. My wife is the only voice of reason that keeps us sane. If I go on tour or something, I leave her with all this stuff and it doesn’t really make much sense.
It kind of limits the amount of helping I can do, but when I did make an album that had a story based on dogs, it came very natural to me. I kind of engulfed myself in animal welfare and done a few fundraisers and worked at the PCA. I’ve seen every type of thing you can imagine. Fully recovered dogs; I’ve seen dogs die in my arms. I’ve had a lot of crazy experiences with dogs, man. I’ve seen the best of things, and I’ve seen the worst of things. I’ve seen paralyzed dogs come in, get treated by a neurosurgeon and walk away the next day. You get the full range of emotion with dogs–they’re loyal, they’re simple and they don’t want anything from you. They’re not complicated beings. They’re there; they’ll be your buddy. Feed them, take care of them, [and] it’s an even trade. People have ulterior motives that are conniving. Dogs are where it’s at, you know?
DX: Absolutely. And finally what’s coming up for you in maybe the immediate future?
Inspectah Deck: Yeah we’re going to do the CZARFACE thing, on the road, tour that. I’ve got a bunch of free mixtapes, downloads I’m about to give out. But right now Wu-Tang coming together and putting together this next album and a world tour, and that’s going along nice. My iCal is buzzing everyday with a new show, so it’s all looking out, man. I’m good.
Esoteric: CZARFACE is the main aim right now. We’re pushing that, and we’re releasing a limited edition action figure to accompany the album along with some other merchandise that we’re really excited about. We have the Demigodz album that comes out March 5, and that’s with Apathy, Celph Titled, Blacastan and Ryu. That album’s all wrapped up. I’m actually about seven songs deep into a new Army Of The Pharaohs album, and I’ve got this album I’m doing with Stu Bangas called Machete Mode. That’s an album where he’s producing everything, and I’m on the mic for the whole thing. So I’ve got a bunch of different albums that are coming down the pipelines that I’m a part of or spearheading. Once this CZARFACE comes out, a lot of weight is going to be lifted off my shoulders, because I’ve put a lot of energy and invested a lot of time into making this. So I’m very excited for it to come out.
We could have just thrown together a record and just hope it stuck with a bunch of different producers and whatever, but we kind of wanted to take our time with it and have 7L be at the helm with the beats and really craft out what we wanted to do.