Review Summary: bomb thrown, blow em sky-high, leave em wide-eyed
At a certain point you ask yourself if you expect golden age-rappers to be 'good' or to be 'competent'. It's so easy to set the bar low – to confuse a rapper not falling off with still being peak – and that's why once-great rappers can get away with increasingly mediocre-to-outright bad projects, as long as the downward inclination isn't too steep and they throw a few references into their 90s shit with some decent features.
My feelings about this make it all the more gratifying when great rappers legitimately stay great. There isn't a plurality of this – for every Andre 3000, a legend staying relevant by thriftily giving features only to the most interesting artists, there's three or four MF Dooms or Jay-Zs getting lazy and complacent on their paycheck. Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck, and probably Method Man if we're keeping score, found what I think is the loophole in the system. They've incurred enough goodwill through their still-excellent verses and general artistic integrity that we'll follow them through discographies that really aren't consistent, through Ghost's weird R&B years and some deeply mediocre Deck solo albums. They don't have the razor-sharp editing skills of the very best rappers, but that's okay, because after a few misfires they always come back with a Twelve Reasons to Die
or an Every Hero Needs a Villain
, shrugging off years of mediocrity like they never happened and sounding like the golden age come alive again as we bear witness.
So Czarface Meets Ghostface
isn't a Twelve Reasons to Die
or an Every Hero Needs a Villain
, but that actually has a freeing effect. It's the equivalent of a jam sesh in your friend's garage, easy-going and digestible; two vintage legends kicking rhymes with that funny guy who was beefing with El-P back in the day. At its best, on the psychedelic "The King Heard Voices" and "Listen to the Color", 7L spins beats that could loop into eternity, aptly summed up by Ghost saying "this sound like I'm in a haunted fuckin' church or somethin' right now". The rapping just spins out and out and out, less thought of competition than of the simple bliss of riding a beat, the closest Czarface have come to recapturing the crazy freeform magic of "Escape from Czarkham Asylum". Elsewhere it's more traditional – the aptly named "Face Off" is a predictable but fun back-and-forth while "Mongolian Beef" is a Wu-nerd nostalgia trip which condenses twenty years of history into four lines: "36 chambers, peace to Osiris / you can see the weakness of a man right through his iris / you can see the weakness through your coke, right through the pyrex". The album's perfectly paced at a brisk 12 tracks, learning from the missteps of Czarface Meets Metal Face
by dropping the filler and beat tracks. If there's one lingering problem it's the janky editing, like when a hypnotic swirling synth interlude at the start of "Czarrcade '87" - one of the best instrumentals on the album - awkwardly fades into another beat for no real reason.
Whereas Open Mike Eagle rocked up on Metal Face
with a guest verse that showed up all the marquee rappers, this time around it's strictly a trio operation, with some songs throwing together duos for the hell of it: Deck and Esoteric on "Czarrcade '87" and "Masked Superstars", Ghostface and Esoteric on "Morning Ritual". As always, Ghost is a proud attention hog, his ridiculous vocabulary and surreal humour marking him as one of the most innovative rappers out, even divorced of his recent aptitude for album-wide narratives. It's hard to think of anyone else who could sell something as crazy as the first verse of "Morning Ritual": Ghost first converses with his mirror, asking guidance on which shoes to rock today, before the mirror responds in a pitch-shifted demonic tone, causing Ghost to brag about eating half the Sun and sign off by screaming "I GOT THAT DOUGH" like James Brown. It's insane, but it's the most purely entertaining he's been since Fishscale
, especially when it's brilliantly punchlined by Esoteric's best bar here, "I turned around and shot the fuckin' mirror for snitchin'". Eso still dots funny punchlines all over the place - "I had to Shazam the anthem, it was new to me" - but has the recurring problem of sounding bored with his own material, bringing down the energy of a track he should be lifting up. Meanwhile Deck proves as apt a partner as Raekwon ever was: whilst his rocket-fuelled "Triumph" days are long gone, I.N.S. avoided the dreaded lazy-rapper trap by employing a relaxed flow, perfectly matched with beats like the stomping "Iron Claw". Even if he sometimes sounds like he's been recorded by a $1 mic for no reason other than the dusty aesthetic, it's the sound of an elder statesman unashamed of and comfortable in his spot.
Czarface Meets Ghostface
won't shake up any lives, and if we're being perfectly honest not too many of us will be spinning it when the year is out. That's alright, though - it's not designed as some timeless classic statement. Sounding free from the burden of expectation from their storied careers, for the first time in a long time, this is the sound of legends cutting loose a little bit. If you go in expecting something legendary you'll be looking for the exit, but if you go in to shoot the shit you might just have some fun yourself.