Underground heavyweights 7L and Esoteric joined forced with Inspectah Deck to form one of the coolest and unexpected trios in hip-hop. Check out this exclusive interview with Boston’s finest as they discuss the CZARFACE album, how it came together, working with DJ Premier, and much more.
The CZARFACE album is out and getting a lot of love. How does it feel to have it out?
7L: It feels great. We worked really hard on it. It took a lot of work but it was a breath of fresh air.
How did you guys get Inspectah Deck involved for the project?
7L: I think initially, Deck is someone that we’ve always stayed in contact with and talked with. We did a song together on our last project. To me, at least, I thought we should do a little white label EP or six songs, something to put online. I wasn’t really thinking anything big about it and Deck was cool with that and try it out. The more we talked, it seemed like we should just do a whole record. It just came easy from that aspect. We did some in Boston and some in Staten Island.
Esoteric: As far as formulating the album and so forth, we kind of met in the middle, me and Deck, in terms of what my strengths and his strengths in terms of just kind of demolishing tracks from a lyrical standpoint. We didn’t focus too much on storytelling or some emotional trials and tribulations about making it or something like that, coming up in the game, or anything like that. We attacked it as two veterans who are out to claim our rightful place and tear mics up. That’s kind of what we came up on. We knew what Deck was going to do and we’re able to hit the lab and do it together on a 7L track.
Did the verses ever get competitive or did you feel like you were building off each other?
Esoteric: I never really looked at it like a competition. I don’t think there is any competition. He is a living legend. I just really wanted to work with him and not let anyone down in my crew. It turned out to be a really fun back and forth kind of a dual throughout the album where we were just trying to show creative rhyming.
How did the process change with CZARFACE versus if you were working on a 7L and Esoteric album?
Esoteric: I think a lot of things really stayed the same in the sense that we brought to the table what I think we always have brought to the table. But this time it’s accented by having another MC rhyme with me, and a very, very accomplished one at that. We put our spin on things by marketing it, in terms of the approach with the art. We put a lot of work into a good-looking video. We took a different approach and that kind of led to a lot of buzz and people talking, wihch always helps propel the project.
You guys wokred with Deck back in ‘99 on “Speaking Real Words.” What was it like working with him back then? Would you have ever thoughgt ap roject like this would be possible back then?
7L: I think back then the idea of groups doing a whole album together like that was really a rare thing, just for music in general. I think over the years it became more common. Obviously back then we would have loved to have done that, but I never thought back then it would happen like that. And this record did come together very naturally and it was very easy and that does come across in the music as well. I think Esoteric’s raps with my beats, I think everything works off each other. I couldn’t have asked for more.
7L, you let go of the beats for one track, the DJ Premier-prpduced “Let It Off.” How important was that track to the album?
7L: Of course. Obviously that is a dream come true as well. Obviously over the years his production style has influenced me and thousands of other producers, being able to have tracks side by side on a record, in general, is an amazing feeling. The beat he came with is amazing. On top of the lytics and the chemistry of Inspectah Deck and Esoteric, everything just worked out. Plus just having DJ Premier on there is crazy.
What other producers would you give up a spot for on a 7L and Esoteric album?
7L: I would say Showbiz and Alchemist. (laughs)
Where did the action here theme for CZARFACE come from?
7L: That all came from Esoteric, and I say that in a good way. The packaging and the art were important to this record as well and I think without him putting that approach out there, it wouldn’t have done as well.
Esoteric: In every interview he deflects that. I think he’s secretly against it. (laughs)
7L: No, no no! I said that because I want him to get the full credit. The concept is incredible. I love it. I think early on, maybe, I might have not, in other interviews.
But it grew on you.
Esoteric: Yeah. In terms of the execution of it, we recorded a few songs. “World War 4” was the first record we had done where we just tried to think about what are we going to call this project. We bounced some names off each other. I came up with “CZARFACE” and I hit Deck with the name. I told 7L the name and he instantly liked it. But then I hit Deck with it and it took him about two days to respond. I’m sitting around, pacing, asking myself how can he not like this, and then he hits me back. It turns out he really liked it, he was just on the road or whatever. I really fell in love with the name when we came up with it. We’re in a vigilante-type of indie era and this went along with it. It really helped create the buzz with this record.
When you look at the CZARFACE album as a whole, is it what you wanted it to be?
7L: I would say 100%, definitely. I don’t think it could have worked out any better. It was very natural. The beats came together very easily. They came together quick. Some were remixed over time. It’s not because they weren’t good enough but because I was working on more tracks that I thought could have been worked out better. But it came out perfectly from my standpoint.
Esoteric: Yeah. I agree. I think, honestly, this is the only album that we haven’t butted heads on about the finished product. I know that 7L can rattle off at least six or seven Esoteric songs that he hates and I can probably do the same thing. But I think with the CZARFACE album that we can both agree, top to bottom, there’s no filler and no bullshit involved. We’re both just really proud of the record and we want to make another one. We know it’s going to be tough to capture that same vibe but we’re up to the challenge. I’m really happy with it.
Would Deck be down for a follow-up or would you want to work with another MC?
Esoteric: We’re talking with B.O.B about it and Travie McCoy. (laughs) No, no, CZARFACE is definitely me, Deck, and 7L. There’s no other CZARFACE. I’ve spoken to Deck about it and it’s on the table.
You had me worried for a second.
Esoteric: Don’t worry! (laughs) There wouldn’t be any other incarnation, really. That’s how it happens. But another 7L and Esoteric album, that can happen anytime. And Deck is working on his solo album The Rebellion. But there would be no changes with CZARFACE.
What’s been played on your iPods lately?
7L: Recently, the Durag Dynasty. The old stuff, Yo! Bum Rush the Show…what else? What else? I basically listen to a lot of satellite radio for hip-hop. It’s all mixshows and Tony Touch and Kay Slay. The Beatnuts’ Stone Crazy is in the car still. In terms of new stuff that I’m listening to, I mean, relatively new, CDs I got would be the Wu Block CD, Sean Price’s album is in there, the Gangrene album, definitely the new Ill Bill album.
Are there any new artists from Boston that we should be checking for?
Esoteric: I think the guys that we know are already on, like Slaine and Termanology. Those two names jump out at me immediately. They have a buzz and have a following. In terms of up-and-coming MCs, I feel like 7L might be more equipped to answer that question. I hear a lot of MCs doing their best J. Cole rendition. A lot of them are sounding bland. You have some with these cool, introspective lyrics but then you have your imitators. Boston is full of imitators. Moe Pope is really dope. He’s been around for a while too.
7L: I think it’s what Esoteric said. I think a lot of the rappers that are coming out are already on. They already have their own fans and followers like Term and Slaine and Akrobatik and Moe Pope. There’s a lot more. But as far as the new, new ones, I’m sure that they’re out there. Maybe I’m just not fully aware.
No doubt. What are you guys going to be working on next now that CZARFACE is out?
7L: The fourth Army of the Pharoahs album is in the works. We just put out Killmatic, the Demigodz album. But right now in terms of the group thing, we’re working on the AOTP album and you never know who will be featured on that. The whole crew’s together on that and that’s pretty much the main aim. We always have a few projects in the stash.