Sometime between 1989 and the turn of the century, a very weird thing happened. We called it the 90’s. Many people feel the 90’s were a golden era for rap music, likely due to its ubiquitous appeal that spawned subgenres for almost every disposition. East Coast rap at this time was characterized by a fusion between the elitist haute culture of suburban lament and the rough and rugged unapologetic posturing of urban irreverence. A New York rapper would bring New York to your earphones, not excluding pizzerias, bearded orthodox Jews, brutal police, Rudy Guliani’s smut cleansing, and kung fu vhs rentals. With the turn of the century, music genres seemed to have resegregated to some extent, leaving rap in search for substance and egoist hipsters within their inoculated trendier-than-thou frame.
Czarface is an album that seeks to court and bring back some of that suburbanite energy (and perhaps dollars as well), reigniting a long lost romance between the gritty urban styles of hip hop and rap and the assuring pseudo-intellectualism of bourgie* ambivalence. Inspectah Deck of Wu Tang Clan notoriety teams up with indie, underground veterans 7L and Esoteric and include a lineup of well recognized established players in the East Coast rap game, among them, Ghostface Killah, Action Bronson, Roc Marciano, Oh No, Mr. MFN eXquire, Cappadonna and Vinnie Paz.
By adopting the decade’s style, the album instills a nostalgic air and perhaps points the way to the future. The MCs hop through syncopated soundscapes with lyrics that are hard while maintaining an informed and smart awareness of current events. The vocals are backed by muffled compressed rhythms, relying less on the synthesizer innovations developed in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s (characteristic of the West Coast) and focusing more on the samples and the beat’s pace. Not only are these styles evocative of 90’s hip hop, they are also rooted in the regional origins of rap itself, the East Coast. Your bass will likely be a real four stringed bass, either a studio musician or more likely, a record sample, as opposed to a digital sound-wave manipulation. These are sounds that inspire the donning of puffy coats in winter, walks down concrete jungles, or catching a train uptown.
“Cement 3’s,” featuring Roc Marciano, was for me one of the strongest tracks. Like the rest of the album, MCs don’t skimp on content and style, words and the rhythms of their sounds. Where style is concerned, a lot of new rap music is characterized by an intentional laziness with respect to the way in which vocals and beats mix rhythmically. It’s a matter of precision and being conscious of the accents, the MC must not reproduce the patterns on the beat so much as complement them. Further, there is a style and swagger that is definitive of doing it right. Fast or slow, without this swagger, content is lost to a clumsy delivery. None of this is an issue with Czarface. MCs spit rhymes that slide off the beat like interlocked gears on a can’t-fuck-with-this machine.
Another strong track is “Savagely Attack.” It features Wu Tang legend Ghostface Killah who’s reference to recent news stories (e.g. the bath salts zombie) seemingly positions the listener in two different times simultaneously, the 1990’s and 2012. The DJ goes full on, old time Wu Tang with heavy emphasis on the first beat and lyrics that stomp over the fourth. Strongly worded cautionary tales, jabs at enemies, and descriptive litanies of victories warn any would be challenger of the dangers involved in testing the lyricist.
I’d like to keep talking about this album, although I’ve more than exceeded the editor’s word count. Let me conclude by saying that Czarface has a lot of potential to lurk in your iPod for years to come. Although taken as a whole, the dampened beats may come off a bit lacking in stimulation towards the end, more than a few songs are choice pickings for a multifaceted cross genre playlist. I would recommend this album for any old timers in past reflection mode but also, it serves as an entry point for newcomers wanting to get a feel for the era that put the last nail on the “rap is a fad” coffin.
* That’s the technical spelling!