The villain character maintains a special place in the heart of Hip Hop. Since the culture’s inception in the Bronx during the early seventies, class struggles created a reverence for the anti-hero. Of course, then, many legendary Hip Hop artists have a continued affinity for comic books and embodying the heroes and villains within those strips. The same can be said for underground Hip Hop vets 7L & Esoteric and their New York-based collaborator Inspectah Deck on their second Czarface album Every Hero Needs A Villain. 7L & Esoteric are not looking to put their respective Boston Hip Hop scene on their back. And Inspectah Deck is very aware that the popularity of Wu-Tang Clan from the nineties will not necessarily be “forever.” Yet they creatively pose a threat to the establishment as elder Gods in Hip Hop.
Inspectah Deck spoke to HipHopDX about the motives in working with his fellow Bean town villains, his solo career, and why Wu-Tang Clan should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Also, 7L & Esoteric discuss the branding of Czarface beyond the music, and their opinion on the state of Hip Hop.
*Photos by Bill X
The Redemption of Czarface
DX: Do you each find this Czarface series as a sense of redemption in your own individual careers or better yet a happy ending for each in your own right as 7L & Esoteric and Inspectah Deck?
7L: Going into the first Czarface record, and 1212, which was the last 7L & Esoteric record, while listening to it, I thought it wasn’t bad. It was kinda like some mixtape shit, kinda giving it away for free. At the time, even during 1212, I don’t think it was bad because it had great songs, but it just happened. I don’t think any of us were really focused. During that, the song with Deck on there, I was like “Yo, we should do an EP or something and give it away.” That got my wheels turning, and Esoteric was like “Well if we’re gonna do it, we should make something out of it. Let me talk to Deck.” Then that become an album, and the whole idea was “Let’s get more creative with a rap super group of underground legends and make it look more interesting.” And as for L’amour Supreme, we were big fans of his art already, so he and Eso started talking about classic comic book characters and artists — including legendary cartoonist Jack Kirby and that style. And they just kind of ran with it. We put it out and the anticipation exceeded anything that I ever imagined.
Inspectah Deck: I think Czarface is beautiful because right now because we’re not even concerned with all of that [Laughs]. We just rhyming, dog. We’re just having fun kicking our rhymes to the beat, man. Like that’s why the whole craft came about. It’s supposed to be a multi-million dollar industry right now, and that’s the focus for us. I think the craft is not the focus anymore. I don’t think the tables are going to turn with Czarface. Like Czarface is not going to spearhead the revolution (laughs), but maybe we can be some of the first that’s on the front line to help turn this music back around. Thinking more about the elements, man.
Show Me A Hero: Czarface Talks The State of Hip Hop Today
DX: The “hero/villain” concept for the album series has worked well for many Hip Hop artists in the past. How is this one different?
Esoteric: When we thought of the title and heard Doom was interested in being on the record, the villain part of the title doesn’t apply exclusively, but still applies to someone with a mindset of someone with an internal struggle to do the right thing or do the wrong thing. As far as the title goes, it applies to the duality of good and bad. It’s not as concrete as people expect it to be. It’s kinda like an abstract title. In terms of Czarface separating itself from the rest, the two emcees and one producer is something that’s gone away from every rapper as a solo emcee. You hear Deck’s voice, and me and we have plenty of features, but it seems everyone is going for theirs. These duos like Mobb Deep or M.O.P, you’re getting two different personalities on a track shining.
DX: The nineties rap style is popular again with artists like Action Bronson, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Joey Bada$$. Do you feel that underground Hip Hop is seeing another heyday right now and that the current decade will be sacred to Hip Hop fans in twenty years like the nineties?
Esoteric: It’s tough to say because today a lot of Hip Hop is made by using just keyboards and drum machines exclusively. Whereas the nineties, everything was free reign on samples. You could get a lot more carved out on sampling for this really unique sound that thrived from 1986 to 1998 or something: This untouchable era that we often look back to with admiration. Today, I don’t know because the sounds can be easily created again and again and again and again. When I think of what goes on today, I’m thinking of like Rae Sremmurd and Fetty Wap, whatever. I don’t know, man (laughs). I know their records, and I guess I don’t agree with how they pertain to say like a Wu-Tang and Mariah Carey joint.
I just feel like they’re two kids that are having fun with it, which is good. I got no problem with their records. Just like the way Kriss Kross came out, or even when Mobb Deep came out. They came out swinging with a different type of weapon. You know what I mean? [Laughs] They were hard with it, and that’s stuff that we like. But in twenty years, our kids of today will be like “Damn, where’s the ‘No Flex Zone’ at?” How come we don’t have “No Type.” That’s the big thing with Hip Hop and music in general. It’s generational. It’s hard for a guy my age to say what’s for a twenty-year-old by a twenty-year-old.
Inspectah Deck: Yeah it’s perfect timing with all the buffoonery out there. To a real person, this shit is embarrassing. You know what I mean? Like a lot of things in music is embarrassing. We live in a world where everything is lies, People’s attention span is not that long. We live in a world in which you’ll be attentive for like thirty seconds and your attention span moves onto the next. So anything is really not much of long-term significance. And I think that people have become aware of that now. Even the social robots have even become aware of that. Everybody is robotic now.
Everybody follows what Twitter says. Everybody follows what Facebook says. Nobody dictates the situation for himself or herself. But I think fans of Hip Hop are tired of the silliness that gets promoted. The biggest stories are “somebody got their chain snatched,” or “this one has got beef with this one.” It’s never about the music anymore. Until a person like J. Cole came, who don’t really got no controversy with nobody. But came out with powerful music, and people talk about his music. Not “he got child support payments with a baby mama” and all the stupid shit that people focus on.
DX: Do you feel like the villainous emcee from the “gangster rap” or Wu-Tang heyday of the nineties has taken a backseat?
Inspectah Deck: Everything has its time. Gangster rap ain’t gonna last forever, and Wu-Tang ain’t gonna last forever. Even though we say it’s gonna last forever, it’s a mentality. You know? The gangsters are always gonna be there. Wu-Tang and the fans that love us and the culture that we created is always gonna be there. So it’s just a shame that it takes a backseat. But also I can be an entertaining artist, have a good following, good record sales, have a good reputation, and I put an album out, but I gotta pay all this under-the-table money to get my video and records played in these markets. Doing all the things I gotta do.
And a motherfucker screaming “Deez nuts, got eem” could overshadow me. Like I get one-hundred thousand views on YouTube, but this motherfucker gets three million views in a day for saying that shit. I get it, but I don’t get it. I’m madder that society has just accepted a lot of shit. Y’all let this dude blow up. But the same way they gonna take that magic carpet from him. Like give him a hot two weeks. The same magic carpet that was put under will snatched from under you that fast. Enjoy it while you got it. That’s where we’re at right now.
DX: Where do you plan on taking the Czarface brand beyond the music?
Esoteric: We’re going to be at the Boston and New York Comic-Con events. We’ve got action figures coming out, and a comic book that’s comes with the vinyl. You can also get the comic book separate from the vinyl at the conventions. The comic book actually comes with a CD. The format is for the CD booklet. That was actually a kind of cathartic thing for me to experience writing a comic book. Doing something I’ve always wanted to do before I wanted to rap, but its real cool to combine comic book stuff and Hip Hop.
Inspectah Deck Talks Wu’s Legacy & Being Omitted From Tupac’s “All Eyez On Me”
DX: Let us go back to 1996, during the height of the whole “Bad Boy versus Death Row” conflict. Originally, you, Method Man, and Redman each had verses on 2Pac’s “I Got My Mind Made Up” from his All Eyez On Me album, but your verse was taken off in the end. Was that record a step forward to show the world that the “East Coast versus West Coast” rivalry was a contrived beef by the mainstream media?
Inspectah Deck: Kinda. I think at that time the record made a statement to everybody else that the West Coast really doesn’t have beef with the whole East Coast. It was just they wasn’t feeling those particular dudes at the time. And it showed that “Yo, Wu Tang still got love for both sides.” Even though we were artists and we had gone through our own business situations, it was never like “Wu Tang’s from the East Coast, so y’all can’t come out here.” So we came out there because we had love for the West, and the West had love for us. It was like “I’m out here with Daz, Kurupt, Lady of Rage, RBX,” there were a lot of people in the building. Redman, Meth, and myself.
So it was just a lot of Hip Hop attitude and spirit in the building, so just being there was love for me. And Daz threw on the beat, and it gets to the point where they asked me to be on the track. So I’m like “Okay!” I get on the track, and I do what I gotta do. After Tupac came home with Suge, he had been hanging with Daz and Kurupt and got that song from them to put on his album after he got out of jail. I just know when the song, my verse and definitely Lady of Rage’s verse were gone, and RBX’s too. For some reason, they left my adlibs on there. But it was still a win.
DX: When your first solo record “R.E.C. Room” came out in 1998, and it had a huge buzz on the radio and in the nightclub scene for fans to anticipate your debut solo album Uncontrolled Substance. Why wasn’t there a video to compliment the buzz to that song “Rec Room?”
Inspectah Deck: It’s crazy that you mention that. I brought that idea to Loud (Records) at that time, and (former CEO) Steve Rifkind. And they were stuck on ‘Word On The Street’ to be the single. “R.E.C. Room” was like every day in the hood for us. That was an actual place. A little center that they used to have in the lobby of the building where we lived.
DX: An homage to where Hip Hop began in the early seventies.
Inspectah Deck: Right. So, that was just me taking it there, on being just happy to be there. I had a record out, and I wanted everybody to see how I did it in the beginning, seeing me in the rec room growing up.
DX: Hip Hop is now in its forties. Do you feel like Wu-Tang or other Hip Hop legends are like the new Jimmy Buffett’s or (Pink Floyd’s) Roger Waters to Hip Hop with a devoted fanbase to be huge brand marketing cash cows on the concert tour circuit in their advanced age?
Inspectah Deck: Let me ask you a question: If you watch Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions and award shows, who are the main stars of the show?
DX: It’s always the old guard of Rock n’ Roll.
Inspectah Deck: It’s always the guy with gray hair who’s been around been around the block for a minute. That’s always how it’s gonna be, man, so why not have Wu-Tang as the John Lennon’s, Aerosmith’s, and the Guns N’ Roses? So yeah, Public Enemy is out there, too.