Monday, February 20, 2017

Czarface Review

A Fistful of Peril
Silver Age Records
(Originally posted at RapReviews)

Comic books and hip-hop have a long history together. The Wu-Tang Clan melded kung fu and comic books with hardcore gangster rap, with several of their MCs taking on comic book alter egos. DOOM borrowed his persona from the Marvel villain Doctor Doom, and created a series of other characters inspired by comic books. More recently, Wu-Tang member Inspectah Deck teamed up with 7L and Esoteric to create Czarface. The supergroup continues the Wu’s tradition of combining gritty street rap with comic book themes. “A Fistful of Peril” is their third effort, coming on the heels with a collaboration with Marvel Comics.

Czarface’s mission statement seems to echo what Run the Jewel’s was about on their first album: make trash-talking raps over heavy beats, and have a good time doing it. There isn’t much political on this album, and lyrically it never gets much beyond battle rhymes. It’s all Esoteric and Deck and friends going off over 7L’s boom-bap beats. It is a proudly old school approach, with no acknowledgment that hip-hop has changed all all in the last 20 years. No singing, no hooks, no message beyond “I am a better rapper than you.”

And damn if they don’t have a point. After an instrumental, they start things off with a bang on “Two in the Chest,” slaying sucker MCs with their rhymes. Or, as Esoteric puts it:

“The price of death never been cheaper

And you ain’t gotta notify your next of kin neither

You can't sleep 'cause the inn keeper is the Grim Reaper

I'm a sin eater, Czarface the ringleader

Bust a nine millimeter rhyme at your two-seater

Crush your spine with a lethal line, you're an easy bleeder”

Inspectah Deck never got the fame that some of his fellow Wu members got, but he was always a consistently strong MC, if not a particularly showy one. It’s nice to hear him drop bars without having to compete for airtime with Ghostface and Method Man. His rhymes are sharp, with no sign that he is content to rest on his laurels, even if he does quote old Method Man lyrics on “Revenge on Lizard City.”

“I came to bring the pain, hardcore from the brain
And damage your mind like bad cocaine
The flamethrower started the game, it's game over
I Holly Holm's rappers while signing your face poster
I'm way colder, you need gloves tryna touch the kid
The Terminator with the flow, let nothing live
Voice shining, you could hardly steer
Like a judge, been handing out bars for years
Yeah, the team make cream while you daydream
Futuristic, our names up in laser beams
I make a scene on Broadway in broad day
24/7 365, man, I'm all day
Get it right, sir, I global mogul
Flex superpower like I changed in a phone booth”

The biggest criticism I can make of the album is that sometimes it feels samey and one-note, being that it is basically 11 different versions of the same musical idea. But while there are a couple points on the 35-minute album where it starts to feel plodding, on a whole the album delivers. “A Fistful of Peril” is two skilled MCs rapping over hard-hitting beats, and definitely worth the price of admission.

Tristate x Oh No Review

Tristate x Oh No,
3 Dimensional Prescriptions
Oh No has been producing quality hip-hop albums for albums for going on 13 years. He dropped his first album in 2004, and his first beat album, “Dr. No’s Oxperiment,” in 2007. Since then he’s gone on to produce or co-produce numerous releases, both under his own name and as with the Alchemist as Gangrene, with whom he scored Grand Theft Auto V. “3 Dimensional Prescriptions” is his latest release, with Gold Chain Music’s Tristate.

Oh No is Madlib’s little brother, and his production style has always contained elements of Madlib’s esoteric crate-digging. There’s no genre too obscure or out there for Oh No. Whether it is Ethiopian jazz, Turkish funk, or rare R&B, Oh No is a master at mining odd snippets of music for loops and breaks. Oh No differs from his older brother in that his beats are more grounded in hip-hop rather than in outer space. An Oh No beat always hits hard, and he always keeps one foot firmly planted on earth. That tradition continues on “3 Dimensional Prescriptons,” which is  14 tracks of solid hip-hop.

Tristate has a gruff voice and an even, measured flow. It’s the kind of voice that would usually be used to deliver grimy, tough-guy rhymes, and while Tristate is no wimp, his lyrics are more intricate than his flow suggests. He’s rapping about hooking people on his rhymes on “Latest Drugs,” reminiscing about an ex on “Tears on My Nautica,” comparing his rhymes to a spaceship on “Spaceship,” and dropping artistic references on “Exit Thru the Gift Shop.” It’s a nice combination of grittiness and lyricism.

Oh No’s jazzy, funky beats are a nice pairing with Tristate’s more meat-and-potatoes rap style. Oh No keeps it grimy, but adds just enough weirdness to keep the record from falling into retro boom-bap worship. The nimbleness of the music brings out the nimbleness of the rappers, and as a result the album is full of lyricism without being boring or monotonous. Hus KingPin, Lyric Jones, Westside Gunn, Casual, Brotha J, Bro AA Rasheed, Xiomara, Planet Asia, Rogue Venom, Washeyi Choir, and evidence all offer their skills on the album, proving worthy sparring partners with Tristate.

Maybe I’ve just been listening to too many rappers who sing or too much cross-genre hip-hop, but “3 Dimensional Prescriptions” felt like a breath of fresh air. There’’s little singing, no one raps in odd voices, there’s no guest spots by indie rock musicians, no production assists by EDM DJs. Not that any of those are bad things, but sometimes you just want to hear some dudes rapping over flipped soul and jazz samples. “3 Dimensional Prescriptions” may not break new ground, but it’s unapologetically old school sound is well executed.

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