In 2004, Daniel Dumile, better known as MF DOOM, released two of the most impactful underground hip-hop albums of all time: Madvillainy and MM.. Food. Together they built up the now legendary mythos of rap’s biggest supervillain. Fueled by the sentimentality of MF DOOM’s reign, supergroup CZARFACE — consisting of producer 7L and rappers Esoteric and Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck — rose to prominence in 2013 and took on a superhero persona set to rival MF DOOM’s villainy. The villain and hero have come together for a nostalgia-ridden collaborative album, Czarface Meets Metal Face.
Czarface Meets Metal Face is somewhat like a time capsule. The sensibilities that were popular in the heyday of artists like Quasimoto, Del the Funky Homosapien and J Dilla come springing back to life over the 44-minute runtime of the album. The comic-reference heavy, sample-driven record takes that same style and gives it a modern twist with cultural references.
7L’s production does an excellent job of mixing boom bap with weird details. Arcade sound effects and cartoon samples pop up sporadically, adding even more layers to the already deep beats. Overall, they set an ominous backdrop for the masked villain and the superhero to duke it out with their lyrics.
Deck’s rhymes throughout the project are consistently some of the best from the trio. Filled with wit and a nonchalant delivery, he comes out on top on most of the tracks. On “Captain Crunch,” Inspectah Deck raps, “So many haters among us, though I never surrender/ I’m like Jeremy Renner, silent weapon, Avenger.” Esoteric’s wit and relevance in his bars rival Inspectah Deck’s. On “Badness of Madness” he spits, “The way I kick bars and darts/ You’d think I mixed Marshall’s art with mixed martial arts.” In addition, his entire verse on “Bomb Thrown” is near-top-tier lyricism. DOOM is back with his woozy, lazy flow, but his punchlines aren’t as powerful as they were in his mid-aughts-prime. Nevertheless, he revives a sense of evil that serves as a crucial counterbalance to the good-guy, raucous energy of Inspectah Deck and Esoteric.
With three heavy-hitting lyricists collaborating on a project, there’s not much room for other voices. Open Mike Eagle is one of the three features on the record, and he makes sure to stand out among the legends surrounding him. He raps, “I fought a ghost in my apartment, he had too many hitpoints/ He bested me and told me I should’ve invested in Bitcoin/ And then he lit joints and offered me a Fanta can/ He drove a Phantom then he started singing Phantogram.” He fits in like he could be a fourth member of the collab project — spitting with the same proficiency as his idols.
Had Czarface Meets Metal Face been released 15 years ago, perhaps critics today would be talking about this album as if it were a groundbreaking, bar-setting rap record. No, this album probably doesn’t have a place at parties. It definitely doesn’t have a place on the radio. But there’s a reason albums of this style are still so revered: They’re timeless and wildly entertaining.
Each song has its merits, and the skits in between give the album its comedic punch that’s necessary to pull off a record that’s unapologetically nerdy. It fits perfectly into the lives of those looking for a dense, hysterical and often dark body of work that shows the inextricable link between hip-hop and comics. Czarface Meets Metal Face is an updated continuation of the comic-book-rapper lore that’s been built up over the years, and it should be treated as a welcomed one.