Growing up in Beverly, Seamus Ryan devoured old Marvel and DC comic books from the ’60s and ’70s to savor the exploits of superheroes. Then he immersed himself in hip-hop as a late-’80s teenager and started rapping as Esoteric a decade later, joining forces with 7L, the DJ moniker of Peabody native George Andrinopoulos.
Now both worlds collide in Czarface, a group that 7L and Esoteric formed a few years ago after six albums as a duo, drafting rapper Inspectah Deck from New York’s Wu-Tang Clan to tackle a fresh, collaborative challenge.
“It definitely sparked new life into what we’re doing,” Andrinopoulos says. And when the new trio needed a name, Ryan reached back to comicbook memories. He came up with an ironclad, caped crusader named Czarface, whose laser-eyed visage commands the comics-styled covers of the group’s self-titled 2013 debut and more assured June 16 release, Every Hero Needs a Villain.
“Our exaggerated egos on the record and the cartoonish violence that we put in the rhymes are inspired by that stuff that we grew up on,” Ryan says. “Most kids, when they start out and start finding their confidence, they’re looking at superheroes, and then start looking at rappers and people in the music industry. A lot of rappers, dating back to the ’80s, take their B-boy stance with their arms folded, and that’s how Superman stands when he lands.”
Czarface himself springs to life in a 25-page comic that Ryan wrote for the deluxe packaging of Every Hero Needs a Villain, zapping bullies out of their polo shirts and pounding trigger-happy cops. “He can be a hero to some, a villain to others,” Ryan says. “Kind of like hip-hop artists in general. They can be polarizing figures.”
Deck certainly brings a fearsome reputation from Wu-Tang, but he makes an ideal rapping foil for Esoteric. “Nothing will be as grandiose and legendary as Wu-Tang, but this is something that’s just fresh and fun to do, with him and I locking horns,” Ryan says. “We kind of look at it like a friendly competition.”
He and Deck also fit the project’s superhero theme as they engage in fiery battle raps. “Cock back the hammer, watch me lay ’em down. Czarface, the villains, we don’t play around,” Deck spits in the triple tradeoff “Lumberjack Match,” answered by Esoteric lines like “I maintain my fly side, cultivate my grimy one, you can call for help but you’ll be dead by 9-1…”
In rhyme, however, Deck and Esoteric don’t assume roles of characters, but rather generally represent the bold spirit of Czarface. “This is the imagery that would run through your mind if you’re listening to the album, like Czarface is running through the city, taking down buildings, saving kids and overthrowing authority,” Ryan says. “When we’re talking about Czarface on the album, we’re talking about how nobody can compete with us in terms of the music we’re putting out.”
The rappers ride ominous old-school tracks by 7L and jazz and classically trained co-producer Todd Spadafore, and Esoteric gave scripts to voice actors to prepare dialogue interludes for 7L. “He’ll EQ until it sounds like an old cartoon,” Ryan says. “There are a few that we sample, but there are several that we just created and made them sound like they were taken off an old VHS tape.”
Now Czarface shifts to the stage for one of its rare live shows, a July 25 album release party Downstairs at the Middle East with R.A. the Rugged Man (one of several guests on Every Hero Needs a Villain, which also sports MF Doom, Large Professor and Deck’s Wu-Tang mates Method Man and GZA). Deck flies out the day after that show to perform with Wu-Tang in the U.K., Ryan says (and at least Esoteric and 7L will also man a Czarface booth during Boston Comic Con at the Seaport World Trade Center from July 31 to Aug. 2).
As the DJ, 7L has a prime view of Czarface’s live attack. “Once you hit onstage, there’s a chemistry that happens,” Andrinopoulos says. “You just go with the flow.”