Whether he’s snowboarding or not, Matt Heneghan always has some respectable beats going on. Gracing his playlist these days is Esoteric, an emcee and one of the mastermind’s behind Czarface, a comic book and record set. The successful integration of hip hop and superheroes in the original Czarface project has enabled him to work with Marvel Comics and other emcees, including members of Wu Tang Clan. The following is Heneghan’s interview with Esoteric where they chat about comic books, fatherhood and making music.
Words: Matt Heneghan
Heneghan: I read that this album came together after inspiration from Marvel’s excitement about Czarface and wanting to use some of your music for their upcoming Black Panther series. You’ve loved comic book culture throughout your career, this must have been some serious dream come true shit. How did this involvement with Marvel come about?
Esoteric: Yeah, we were delighted to say the least. They had reached out to us through Method Man, who was filming his parts for Marvel and Netflix’s Luke Cage at the time. The relationship blossomed from there, and we’re very lucky to be down with such a giant that has fed my mind for decades.
H: On your social media channels, you never shy away from showing that you are both a vicious emcee and a devoted father. Has fatherhood influenced what you say in your rhymes at all? I can tell it hasn’t slowed down the output, but has it influenced your ability to tour?
E: Yeah I never really got too vulgar on the mic before having kids anyway. I never rhymed about my sexual prowess too often, so curtailing any of that was never really an issue. The swears still find their way out of my mouth though, no doubt about that. And yes, having children definitely puts a strain on touring, and I choose to do it less because of my involvement in their lives. My son is 8 and my daughter is almost 2. I love them both so much and I don’t want to miss a second of it, I’ve already toured everywhere and seen a lot of the world, so the business end of a deal has to be really persuasive to get me on a plane or on a bus for a month.
H: How do you guys decide who to feature on these projects? On “Fistful” you have return guest Meyhem Lauren, did you find that he really fit into the Czarface universe and you had to have him back?
E: We have a good relationship with Meyhem, and initially I thought having him on here wasn’t a good idea, because something I wanted to do was never repeat features on a Czarface album, but he’s dope and he earned that spot. As far as how we choose features, we really gotta make sure the emcee fits the vibe of the overall project, we aren’t rushing out to grab an emcee with some buzz because we feel that “we” are the buzz, and the guests provide some extra flavor. It is typically a conversation that the three of us have, or I will pitch an idea to Large Professor and then let Deck know, and so forth. If it somebody from the Wu-Tang camp, Deck makes that happen very easily. They obviously show Deck mega love. These Czarface projects have put me in a spot where I’ve been able to work with every emcee I’ve ever wanted to.
H: How does a Czarface recording session look? Are you, Deck and 7L in the studio together for most of it?
E: We are in the studio for a lot of the pre-production and vocals, but then the post production duties are handled, and I’ll classify that as 7L changing a snare or an entire melody or loop or me adding some soundbytes from an old 70’s radio show or even re-creating something to sound like an old sound byte, we feel that gives it something special…something extra to chew on or process.
H: Within the entirety of your career, you’ve worked with a variety of independent labels. Do you think this has made you more capable to survive in a music industry that is struggling to adapt? I mean, you guys seem to have a great formula in place for continuing to create a valuable physical product with a huge emphasis on the artwork, extremely reliable (and timely) physical copies and merch bundles that include everything from T-shirts to action figures.
E: I think experience is a wonderful teacher for sure, and a lot of the artists we came up with got out of the biz for better or for worse. With Czarface and the extra elements that are off-shoots of the music, such as action figures and mercy, they’re in place out of love, nostalgia and business. You can’t illegally download a t-shirt or a figure. If we want business from the listener who normally steals music, we have to make the whole packaging worth it for him/her to spend the money on.
H: Now that Czarface is Marvel affiliated, is it fuck DC? Can we expect Czarface to start beefing with some of those characters?
E: Nah, but I’ve always been a Marvel first type of guy. I think it is impossible to have contempt for one and love for the other when there are so many icons born out of each brand. When I was young, I played with my Marvel Secret Wars guys, and then my DC Super Powers guys. Or I would read Secret Wars, and then Crisis on Infinite Earths. It didn’t matter then, but of course I had my favorites, and they all stemmed from Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby’s creations in the 60’s.
H: Do you think that the brand of hip hop you’ve based your career on is starting to come around again? De La Soul just released a huge album, some of the biggest names in rap (Kendrick, J Cole, Pusha T) are very lyric based artists and guys like Action Bronson and Joey Badass are seeing huge success despite not having that modern mumble trap sound.
E:Yeah I don’t see it ever going away completely, it is just the majority of it is for the car or the headphones, not necessarily the clubs or commercial radio.
H: How long were you guys working on this new project?
E: 3 weeks. Maybe a month. This was a very quick project for us as opposed to the first two.
H: With all the work you’ve done with Inspectah Deck and in turn, a lot of other members of Wu Tang Clan, what are your top 5 Wu and Wu affiliated projects?
E: Deck was my favorite from the beginning, so I’d start with him. I’m not just saying that either. Then Ghost, then GZA, then Meth, then Raekwon or ODB, but if I gave it a lot of thought, they’d rotate and it would depend on the production they were rhyming on. My favorite records are Enter the 36 Chambers, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, and Supreme Clientele.
H: What artists would you love to include on a Czarface Project?
E: I’m telling you man, personally I’ve already worked with everyone I wanted to on these records. That’s one of our biggest struggles is trying to find guests that make sense moving forward. I don’t know if that sounds silly or what, but it’s the truth.
H: After releasing “Every Hero Needs A Villain” with an accompanying comic book, are there any plans to convert the story into a full cartoon movie of some kind?
E: We would absolutely love to, but these things take a lot of development and animation is expensive. Super, super expensive for something on the scale of what I have in mind.
H: Throughout the span of your career (Czarface, 7L and Esoteric, Solo work) you have talked about everything from animal rights, terrorist cells, comic books, golden era basketball, star wars, fox news to life in Boston. Are there any topics you haven’t discussed that you still really want to bring attention to?
E: Czarface is really about just rhyming at the lunchroom table and trying to make your friends laugh or wanna hear it again. If I were to get serious again in terms of subject matter on solo records, I’d probably rhyme about things that had a direct effect on my children, but you know, it is possible I’ll revisit some of the things I’ve touched on in the past.
H: Did you handle any of the production on “Fistful of Peril”? How has working as a producer helped your writing or has it?
E: There are always odds and ends I throw into the beats at some point during the process, but it is more like the salt and pepper to 7l’s sirloin or whatever. I really enjoy the challenge of making sound bytes work on records and incorporating those into beats, sometimes I construct hooks out these phrases I sample.
H: Is there a punchline you’ve dropped on a record that makes you cringe when you hear it now?
E: I don’t listen to my own stuff because of that. Not so much punchlines, but just overall performances. There are tons of artists that love listening to their own material….me? I love making it, and perfecting it to the point that I’m ready to release it, but I seldom revisit the material ever after that. But to answer your questions, I’m quite positive there’s good portion of punchlines or lyrics delivered a certain way that I could wipe out of existence.
H: Whats next for you? Is there a tour planned for this album? New 7L/ES music or solo projects?
E: More Czarface and maybe a few other things, but we will have details on that in the future.