The Wu-Tang Clan will always be the best hip-hop collective that has ever been, but the problem with having a crew as big as the Wu is that the talent becomes a tiered system. You can tell a lot about a person by who their favorite Wu-Tang affiliate is: most people are going to choose RZA if they’re into the beats, or Ghostface Killah if they want their hip-hop to be gritty, but a little over-the-top. Ol’ Dirty Bastard fans are always fun at parties, unless they’re the kinds of people who wear shirts with Kurt Cobain or Bob Marley on them (read: people who obsess over dead musicians, without bothering to listen to them). Fans of GZA are the kinds of people who understand being disappointed after getting their hands on one great thing (read: every GZA record that isn’t Liquid Swords). Fans of Raekwon are patient, and can wait for what they’ve been promised. We all know what it says about a fan of Method Man. It should be stated that there isn’t anything wrong with being a fan of anybody in the Wu, at all. But what does it say about someone who’s really into Inspectah Deck?
For better or worse, Inspectah Deck is the most commonly forgotten lower-tier member of the Wu. It’s not that he isn’t talented, by any means: I attended a show featuring Inspectah, U-God, and Masta Killa last year, and he was the only person who wasn’t drunk to the point of being unforgivably bad. Were he with another crew, he would have definite star power, but being that he has seemed content with being in the background, and stepping in to deliver a few really great verses. My allegiance has always been with RZA, Ghostface, and Raekwon (but only because Only Built 4 Cuban Linx I and II are hip-hop classics), so my knowledge of Deck’s back catalog is incredibly lacking, so I feel like his newest record, Czarface (which is the name of Deck’s collaboration with 7L & Esoteric), is as good of a time as any to get with the program. Admittedly, I’m only a little more familiar with his solo output than I am with the work of 7L & Esoteric, but their work on this album is mindblowing at times. One of the thing I notice immediately is the fact that I’m drawn in by the fact that the supervillain-centric artwork and sampling remind me a lot of that of MF DOOM’s comic book obsessions. That’s a common hip-hop trope, but here, it works perfectly, especially considering the fact that its use isn’t overbearing. However, the best sample comes near the very end of the record on “World War 4,” when the late George Carlin’s stand-up shows up – twice (first a sample of You Are All Diseased, and the other of his landmark “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” bit). But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
The next thing I notice is that the production on the album hearkens back to a time before rap was a commodity, and was more of something that nobody was sure how to monetize. 7L manages to make the album sound like it may as well have come out around the same time that Only Built 4 Cuban Linx… came out, but instead it was born during a truly depressing drought, and it fits in perfectly. The biggest issue here is that, just like in Wu-Tang, everyone around Deck steals the show and pushes things just a little far. These things happen, but when he takes the ball back, he truly shines. Take “Savagely Attack,” for example: he takes it from the top, and delivers a verse that’s good enough to make Ghostface Killah’s appearance look clumsy by comparison. It’s hard not to feel like he’s been holding back a little bit. And while “Marvel Team-Up” has a concept that’s a little clumsy, the slow-flow by everyone feels like they’re trying to purposefully hold back. It feels lethargic, but this is intentional: the following track, “It’s Raw,” proves to be a potential classic – and it doesn’t help that the guest appearance by Action Bronson slays so very, very much, and he gets the best one-liner here (“I’m like the Bobby Flay of rap the way I flavor shit”).
Czarface is a minor release, to be very sure. It was released with little to no fanfare, and it’s hard to not wonder why this hasn’t gotten any real promotion leading up to the release. In the end, we only get half an hour of music, which means that there’s almost no filler whatsoever. It’s not a perfect album, but considering how long we’ve been waiting for a new Wu album - and how much longer we’re going to be waiting – it’s hard to not get excited by something new from the main camp.