by Seamus McAvoy
Like any collective of superheroes, CZARFACE can seemingly assemble at a moment’s notice.
The rap “supergroup,” quotes employed only because it’s a laughable term and not because the talents of Wu-Tang’s Inspectah Deck and Boston-based duo 7L and Esoteric fail to meet that standard, have been prolific since forming in 2013. The Odd Czar Against Us, their latest project, is their third of 2019 alone, preceded by the lo-fi instrumentals of Double Dose of Danger and the excellent collaboration with Deck’s Wu-Tang running partner Ghostface Killah, Czarface Meets Ghostface.
Perhaps most impressive about CZARFACE’s run to date has been that their reimaginations of an admittedly aged format of comic book-idolizing, old school-inspired hip-hop, have never felt stale. That’s surely aided by impressive collaborations with the aforementioned Ghostface or the iconic, mysterious, and positively legendary MF DOOM (remember all caps) as on last year’s Czarface Meets Metalface, which extracted from DOOM easily his best performance in a handful of years. CZARFACE has historically been at their best when taking contributions from rap legends, themselves often larger-than-life characters akin to spandex-clad, radiated-yet-principled do-gooders, and bringing battles of a “Godzilla vs. Mothra” level into the verbal scale of the cipher circle.
So why mess with a good thing? The sheer talent of the group’s trio certainly helps, and it’s interesting to hear CZARFACE place their latest effort definitively in the year 2019; if not musically then certainly lyrically. The pivot is clear from the album’s opener, “Bizarro,” the initial sample inquiring “Is your, uh, computer operative?” and transitioning to a beat emptier and darker than the group typically produces, abrasive sound effects of blaring telephones buried in the mix. “Call Me,” further rooting the album in the sphere of technology, comically relates a story of a narrator struggling to communicate over text with a less-than-articulate partner, wishing instead to talk over the phone. The second verse responds with the other side of the argument: “Nah, I can’t cause I’m drivin’/C’mon man, you know how busy I been/Can’t you just say it with a meme?” Fair enough.
“Dear Computer” is the most blatant departure from a conventional CZARFACE track; it’s difficult not to let out a bemused laugh as singer-songwriter Kendra Morris’ vocals kick off the song’s simple but catchy and well-produced hook atop a bouncy techno beat. It’s as lighthearted as expected, but the lyrics hold an unmistakable derision toward the track’s themes: “What would you do to go viral?/For 10 minutes of fame, when everybody likes you/Most know they hook, no denial/Your followers are up, but your life is in a spiral,” raps Deck on the opening verse. But it’s odd — isn’t the concept of going viral antiquated by now? Why, in 2019 of all years, is CZARFACE of all groups, tackling “10 minutes of fame,” an idea whose own 10 minutes of fame have probably expired by now?
One would think that the inherent bad-ness of the internet is already ingrained with one’s experience of it. We’re long past the point of worrying about getting toddlers addicted to screens, but not because of vague notions of eye strain or ominous “blue light.” It’s in part because the utility of the screen for selling people things necessitates their unavoidable omnipresence, but also because it’s the content of the screen that’s unimaginably worse than the screen itself. Open up Twitter on any given day and you’ll see what Esoteric mentions in his verse, “Let me get some, uh, inner city riots/Mass shootings, death, cute cats, and trendy diets.”
That’s about as close-to-home as the record gets. CZARFACE gets back to their usual fantastical, page-flipping capers on “The Problem With Frank” toward the end of the record, a track replete with cartoonish samples as the group takes on Punisher, a Spiderman villain, in outrageous musical fashion. The Odd Czar Against Us taken as a whole is another entertaining effort from CZARFACE, even if the attempts at placing certain songs in the “now” lack profundity and come off as a bit confused when considered next to the lighthearted tracks of old. But as Esoteric says on “Dog,” “Fuck a fucking critic.”