The last few years haven’t been kind to traditional hip-hop. As we see increasingly simplistic trap songs taking a hold on the mainstream (even the words Gucci Gang are enough to trigger a mild panic attack), the lyricism and wit of the 90s seems to be gradually fading out. Of course, that’s not to say that this music doesn’t exist – the underground is as alive and buzzing as ever – but rather that it’s fallen out of fame. It’s not what most rap fans want to hear.
Which makes this album somewhat of an oddity. Featuring hip-hop legends MF DOOM and Inspectah Deck, alongside newcomers Esoteric and 7L, the album is packed full of dense bars, boom-bap beats and worthy punchlines. In every sense, it’s an album for the hip-hop purists - the ones who still long for the golden era to return, the one who’ve been following Griselda and Pro Era in the hopes of a revival, the ones who can rank every Black Thought verse without a second thought.
And for the most part, it’s successful. The verses on here, while less dark and dense than your average DOOM thoroughfare, are incredibly consistent, with CZARFACE and DOOM trading off in even parts throughout the record. On first listen though, what truly stands out is the amount of genuinely funny punchlines. It’s been a while since I’ve burst out laughing at a bar, but CZARFACE’s comedic touch delivered, and I found myself chuckling along with the rappers throughout most of the album (a personal highlight being the phenomenal “Check for the double-cross like 2 Chainz at Sunday mass”). These, when combined with the frequent references to all things Marvel and DC, give the album an immediate lightness, contributing to the comic-book aesthetic effectively.
Likewise, the choice of features is perfect. Unlike many recent releases, CMMF isn’t crowded with features – in fact, only three artists make a guest appearance over the 16 tracks. Of course, this is a luxury afforded to an album with three rappers: the alternating verses allow for a little more creative variance. Just as you’re beginning to tire of this 3-man formula, however, along comes Open Mike Eagle, who slides onto standout track Phantoms. Eagle glides (hah) effortlessly over the track, delivering an exceptional narrative with his trademark laid-back flow. The album’s only other feature is equally phenomenal. Jedi Mind Tricks veteran Vinnie Paz kicks Astral Travelling off with a brutal 16 bars – “Listen, you’d better listen to rules / Or this british bulldog gon’ rip through your jewels / Now his tail between his leg and he lickin’ his wounds / I’m a Cus D’Amato acolyte, I stick and then move”.
Unfortunately, though, it’s not long before the flaws begin to show. While the verses and features may be consistent, the production is different story, zig-zagging from fantastic to underdeveloped as the album progresses. The album’s start is wonky to say the least, with second track Medal with Metal relying on a tinny, uninteresting military sample to carry the song forward. Indeed, uninteresting production mars many of the other tracks across the record – Don’t Spoil It’s guitar pluck far outstays its welcome, while Badness of Madness’ piano beat sounds clunky and unfinished. If CZARFACE’s last 2 albums have taught us anything, it’s that 7L is a fantastic producer, but some of CMMF feels lazy and underproduced, missing the nuance that makes for a fantastic rap beat.
The album is elevated, however, by four utterly phenomenal tracks – the aforementioned Phantoms, MF CZAR, and singles Bomb Thrown and Nautical Depth. Each of these tracks is excellently produced, featuring a variety of interesting verses and the true hip-hop spirit that this album promises to deliver. A special shout-out must be given to Bomb Thrown, however: it’s one of the best rap tracks of 2018 so far. The track begins with a gloriously-sampled vocal beat, invoking a bounciness that much of CMMF lacks. This is paired perfectly with three phenomenal verses, crafting a track that is at once lyrical and fun. Besides, Bomb Thrown features one of the year’s most iconic lines – “it’s very necessary like a Q-Tip Grammy rant”.
Overall, it’s hard to create a definitive judgement on CZARFACE Meets Metal Face. At times, it shows a flourish of true excellence, at others it meanders over half-hearted instrumentals. Make no mistake – this is not a bad album in the slightest. CZARFACE and MF DOOM have produced an incredibly solid rap project, with a variety of unique, developed and undeniably catchy tracks. But when you’re given an incredibly solid rap project in place of a potential cult classic, it’s hard not to be disappointed.