Inspectah Deck & 7L & Esoteric = CZARFACE
It may be because I am about to hightail it out of here for the beaches of San Juan, but I like to think of the Wu-Tang Clan as the black Menudo. Why? They enjoyed immense popularity over many years, there were many members who would go on to earn illustrious careers of their own and their tenure was laced with beef and conflict between members and other external entities. On the other hand, the Wu-Tang Clan never needed deli counter tickets to keep track of its members over the last three decades, to the best of my knowledge they were never mired by a gay sex scandal and I enjoy their music. So really, they are nothing alike.
The late, great Ol’ Dirty Bastard had been staunchly implanted in my heart for many years as my favorite Wu-Tang member, and more prominent members like RZA, GZA, Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah have seen more of the limelight in their solo careers, so admittedly I have paid less attention over the years to the quieter, least ridiculous member of the crew, Inspectah Deck. This was my mistake, and Deck’s fifth album, CZARFACE, a collaborative album with 7L & Esoteric, which dropped today, corrected it.
CZARFACE is a shining example of how the richly talented just get more richly talented. In a genre that has seen more fads than hairstyles or hemlines, Inspectah Deck and his cohorts understand how to bring the timeless into the timely, effortlessly blending the old with the new.
Starting with “CZARFACE Intro,” the collective throws in the action figure, comic-esque bites and references that will permeate the album, without forgetting a nod to past contributions. The percussive, symphonic intro feels very current, with a few major differences separating the album from its peers. These veterans understand restraint. Too many artists now treat production like I treat corned beef hash; if a little is good, more is better. They overschtick the schtick. That is not the case on CZARFACE.
“Air ‘Em Out” assaults immediately with a drum machine, switching up vocally in a familiar Wu-way, all the while delivering as stated while “surgically performing like the doctor in the house.” There’s a sort of synth rock metal riff that reappears in various forms later in the album, giving the entire song a hard edge.
On “Cement 3’s,” featuring Roc Marciano, the delicate video game progression underlines the hard rhymes, leaving the song masterful without being too much. As it is, only a careful ear can follow the flow, taking you elegantly from “make you wanna slap Snooki “ to “hedge your bets, contact your bookie” to something about a Wookie. You can’t beat that.
“CZAR Refaeli,” featuring Oh No is industrial and dingy, its layered clips creating aural chaos. This frenzy is followed by “Rock Beast,” well-paced with simple beats that keep your focus. The inclusion of a shrill pipe organ imparts an interesting energy into each verse.
“Savagely Attack,” featuring Ghostface Killah has a splendid plainness about it that shows these pros are not impressed with their own bullshit. It’s old school scratches and ruthless rhymes, and it’s wonderful (you don’t get much more ruthless than “rampant, run through your town in attack mode/ savagely leavin’ broomstick in their asshole”).
“It’s Raw,” featuring Action Bronson revisits that great rock guitar backing, while “Let It Off” is more of an anthem rap. “World War 4” speeds it up with horns. “Poisonous Thoughts,” featuring Mr MFN Exquire has a lyrical flow that reminds you of Tupac with a backing that makes me think of a calliope. This is true diversity.
Ending this show is “Hazmat Rap,” harkening back to the industrial sound heard earlier in the album, yet with another twist. At every turn, Deck and his collaborators demonstrate tremendous versatility, all the while illustrating why substance will always trump shine. CZARFACE is a gem.