Czarface soars above the clouds

PROFILE: 7LES + Inspectah Deck

By Chris Faraone

Originally published in the Boston Phoenix (February 2013)

Back in the day, a young indie MC from Boston was more likely to have Michael Jackson stop by his house to pee than he was to collaborate with a premier rap superstar. So in 1998, it was certifiably outrageous for 7L and Esoteric to be at a studio in Brooklyn, waiting to record a track with Inspectah Deck. They were subterranean scrubs — two white neophytes fresh out of Salem State University. Deck was a lethal Wu-Tang Clan lyricist — a rapper’s rapper who’d just ripped the greatest guest verse of all time on Gang Starr’s “Above the Clouds.” But through a buddy who was managing the Boston duo while also working at Deck’s New York label, Loud, they arranged the unfathomable, and scored a stunning Clan cameo for their debut EP.

The resulting banger, “Speaking Real Words,” earned major college radio burn in 1999. It also inspired some old-fashioned hip-hop hatred in the ‘hood, according to Eso: “It pissed a lot of kids off who were scratching their heads asking, ‘How the fuck did they put this together?’ “

All these years later, Deck offers an answer, pointing out that they met before the age of shameless pay-for-play collabos. “This wasn’t a money thing,” he says. “I wanted to explore outside the Wu parameters.”

Thanks to that sort of scientific thinking, those parameters soon evaporated, with fringe hip-hoppers of all stripes uniting to preserve rap integrity. 7LES compadres Jedi Mind Tricks delivered GZA on some classic tracks; in 2005, Wu-affiliate Dreddy Kruger dropped an entire project dubbed Wu-Tang Meets the Indie Culture. As for Deck and his Boston comrades — their relationship lasted, and it re-culminated on “12th Chamber,” a glorious smack of raw reunion gold off the 2010 7LES album 1212.

This week 7LES and Deck drop Czarface (Brick Records), a full-length work of adventurous genius revolving around a metal-clad protagonist who feeds on destruction. The 7L soundtrack rides like a graffiti-stained freight train barreling through multiple rap dimensions, while Deck and Esoteric go head-to-head and blow-for-blow in round after glorious round of verse, only occasionally surfacing for air so that other leather-lung contenders like Ghostface, Vinnie Paz, and Action Bronson can jump into the scrum.

“Everybody brings a different element,” says 7L, “but if we didn’t already have a real relationship with Deck, Czarface wouldn’t have sounded so complete, like it was meant to happen.” Adds Esoteric: “It definitely opens up a new chamber, so to speak, and a new element of what we’re doing. I’ve been inspired by Deck since Wu-Tang first came out, and a challenge like this gets the best out of me.” Deck concurs: “[Esoteric] was young Anakin then; now he wields his light saber like a true Jedi. One that even rivals Master Yoda.”

Read more of Chris Faraone’s music archives here …