Contrary to what Interscope Record boss Jimmy Iovine recently told NME, hip-hop is highly politicised right now. From Kendrick Lamar using the Black Panther soundtrack to call out government corruption to Stormzy unequivocally criticising Theresa May over the Grenfell disaster at the Brits, artists are shouting about social injustice on both sides of the Atlantic. All of this, however, is a far cry from the technically accomplished new album from hip-hop legends MF Doom and Czarface.
‘Czarface Meets Metal Face’ is unapologetically old-school hip-hop built around clattering boom-bap beats, stuffed with colourful pop-culture references, and woven through with a self-contained narrative inspired by superhero comics. It’s a dream collaboration for classic hip-hop heads, comprising lyrical don MF Doom and rap trio Czarface (aka Wu Tang Clan member Inspectah Deck and lauded underground Boston duo 7L & Esoteric). Lyrically, the album is set amid a post-apocalyptic landscape, which characters MF Doom and Czarface must now navigate.
That makes it a largely self-contained affair: the focus broadly centres on this fictional universe, at one point relaying Doom and Czarface’s first encounter in the manner of a Saturday morning cartoon: “I’m Czarface! I know a guy who can change your life… Me!… What do you say we do a little team-up?” There are occasional forays into social observations on the real world, with ‘Forever People’ taking a shot at Donald Trump’s Vice President: “My mind’s bright / Yours is dense / Like’s Mike Pence’s”. For the most part, though, you’ll need to look elsewhere for your protest music. This is escapist rap, as outlandish and oversized as a gaudy Spiderman comic – and, at times, just as much absurdist fun.
‘Nautical Depth’ throbs with a brooding bassline, overlaid with chaotic cymbal crashes and tight, conspiratorial rhymes, while ‘Badness of Madness’ features a fantastically insidious, creeping piano line. Best of all, perhaps, is the understated ‘Stun Gun’, punctuated by minimalist hi-hats and funk keyboards. At a sprawling 17 tracks, though, ‘Czarface Meets Metal Face’ is often too inward-looking to resonate; like a face encased in a shiny mask, it’s tough to connect with on a personal level.