CZARFACE: Czarface Meets Ghostface

Image Courtesy of Silver Age

Image Courtesy of Silver Age

By Henrique DaMour

Superheroes, kung fu, and a spot-on impression of the late Macho Man Randy Savage might not send “rap album” into your mind’s eye, but if you’re hip-hop collective CZARFACE, that’s the M.O. from the get-go. On Czarface Meets Ghostface, four comic book nerds just plain rap their cartoon butts off to orchestrate an unapologetic homage to the ‘90s. NME’s Carl Anka said it best: “This is gonna be some weird Wu-Tang-flavored shit.”

The next chapter in the anthology of CZARFACE, comprised of Wu-Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck, MC Esoteric and producer 7L, swaps out Metal Face (MF DOOM) for a different challenger -- Ghostface Killah, pitting the two former headmasters of the 36 chambers of Shaolin against one another.

The same synergistic approach that made Wu-Tang Clan Nuthing ta F’ Wit in the first place works its magic on CMG, but this time, it’s battle raps and boom bap. Deck and Eso spin lyrical webs around the opposition over a murderous rhythm courtesy of 7L before Ghostface drops out of the sky to deliver the knockout blow. This formula works best because of 7L stepping his game up from album to album and putting the “boom” back in boom bap, as well as Ghostface’s trademark voice and energy, which was sorely missing from the group’s previous album, Czarface Meets Metal Face.

Inspectah Deck holds his own on the record as an MC, but his braggadocious bars too often end up telling you, rather than showing you, that you are either bad at rapping, or have less money than him, or what have you. This crutch is no more prevalent than on “Czarrcade ‘87,” where he raps, “I'm grabbin' every bag like I'm plannin' a trip/You know the flow undisputed like Shannon and Skip.” It hurts to see a legend sound so juvenile by overusing “like” as the fulcrum of a line, especially between two predictable comparees that telegraph every verbal punch.

Every clip on the album is a great song in its own right, but every one feels like it’s “almost there,” usually because all three rappers aren’t at peak performance at the same time. But for Inspectah Deck, anyway, the redemption tour begins on “Super Soldier Serum,” presumably named after whatever Eso, Ghost, and Deck chugged before recording it to deliver the most balanced attack of any track on the record. Ghostface also delivers arguably his best bars off the album, rapping, “I'm low key like a government official/Deep under the surface like a piece of bone gristle.”

Not to be overlooked, Boston-based MC Esoteric, arguably the least well-known of the ensemble, goes bar-for-bar across the entire superhero-themed record, dropping one of his many Marvel references to support his claims on “Face Off”: “Flow so worthy it could hold Thor’s hammer.” He also channels his inner Eminem on “Czarrcade ‘87” and “The King Heard Voices” with assonance-heavy lines that favor internal rhyme over its more conventional, outward-facing counterpart.

Wherever the album’s twin pillars of wordplay and verbal bravado do crack, 7L’s percussive production keeps the album steamrolling along, from the synth-heavy bass lines to the tension he allows featured vocalist Kendra Morris to build on “Iron Claw” and “The King Heard Voices.” On the former, the stripped-down beat allows Ghostface to stomp around and flex the same type of aggressive, in-your-face wordplay that made him so revered as a member of the Wu-Tang Clan.

“The King Heard Voices” is another example of how something (or a lack of something) stands out on every track. In this case, surrounded by solid but unspectacular rhymes, that something is 7L’s beat. As Ghostface observes in the middle of the first chorus, “[It] sound like I'm in a haunted f**kin' church or somethin' right now.” Bingo. Sonically, the production pulls 7L away from his specialty, but sends him straight into his CZARFACE-themed bag that he’s lived in more comfortably after each successive album as a part of the collective. It’s creepy and alien -- a true villain’s anthem -- and allows Morris’s vocals to serve as the ghostly cherry on top of the spectral sundae that is “King.”

If absolutely nothing else, this album is fun for the sake of fun, which you don’t often see done well in rap nowadays. CZAR and Ghost are a bunch of old-school guys having a great time being unabashedly old-school. As MCs they’re not quite where they used to be, but lines like Eso’s “I turned around and shot the f**kin’ mirror for snitchin’” off “Morning Routine,” aside from being one of the hardest lines I’ve ever heard, prove they still each have a killer edge that can slice buildings and scorch egos. Guys like Deck and Ghostface revel in, and through projects like the CZARFACE collabs have perfected, being the grumpy old men of hip-hop.

Steven Norwalk