Czarface. What does it mean? Let’s break it down into its two constituent parts in order to shed light on its meaning. A ‘Czar’ is the eastern bloc equivalent of an emperor or supreme ruler and a face is…well…you know, it’s a face! Not sure that that’s made anything clearer at all but every journey to enlightenment has to begin somewhere and that was as good a place as any.

Czarface2_wordisbondSo, aside from having the face of a supreme ruler what else should Czarface mean to you and I? In this instance it should mean a shiny, new, collaboration album from Boston’s 7L & Esoteric and Shaolin’s Inspectah Deck. So why call the project Czarface? Inspectah Deck says “We called it CZARFACE because a czar is someone who is pretty much idolized by certain people no matter what he does or what he’s done. At the same time, he’s looked at like some type of martyr.” His lyrical partner Esoteric adds: “CZARFACE is a vigilante. He’s an anti-hero character who serves as the face of the project and his focus is on annihilating the hip-hop media darlings the mainstream caters to.”. So there you have it. A martyr-idol bent on annihilation.

If you’re anything like me you’ll be satisfied by the crazy, comic book style, cover artwork alone (by New York artist Lamour Supreme). But  wait, there’s more! Don’t let your eyes be the boss of you. Your ears need to feel love too. Be a pal and let them wallow in the sounds of an accomplished hip hop album.

Truth be told,I was expecting Czarface to be much more of a fleshed out concept album and I’ll admit to be a little disappointed that it wasn’t a hip-hop-eratic confection for me to tuck into. It’s hard not to think of Madvillainy or Operation Doomsday when you look at the cover and see a comic book supervillain bursting forth. That’s pretty stiff competition to pit yourself against and Czarface definitely wouldn’t be the victor in a deathmatch with either album. What it is though is fourteen tracks of solid beats and accomplished braggadocio rhyming.

7L’s production on this album is no frills boom bap of the highest order. If I was arranging my record collection by style this would nestle in nicely alongside Dilated Peoples’ ‘The Platform’. That’s no small praise and should give you some idea of just how good this album is. It really is no filler and all killer.

Which brings us nicely to the rhymes. After listening to this album I am left in no doubt of the brilliance of these emcees and if you haven’t formed that opinion for yourself there are fourteen tracks of emcees telling you that so you get the point. It seems that it’s not only the beats that are harking back to the heady days of the boom bap. This is brag rap. I guess that’s partly what left me a little disappointed. These guys went to all the trouble of coming up with an awesome concept for their collaboration, got some awesome artwork and then sat back and wrote fourteen raps about how awesome they are. I was sort of hoping for more of an idea of who this Czarface character is. Why is he a “martyr”? What does he do? How did he end up looking like that?

AirEmOut_wordisbondThat said this is brag rap of the top percentile. Intricate of metaphor and delivery. You won’t find yourself bored with the skills on show. As an extra bonus there are some stellar guest appearances from the likes of Ghostface Killah, Vinnie Paz, Cappadonna and Mr Muthafuckin Exquire.

All in all this is worth spending your money on. This is high quality hip hop and the only thing I can criticise is a missed opportunity to flesh out an intriguing concept but that fills me with hope for Czarface 2. Although that would be an instance where I wouldn’t be too disappointed if the sequel was just more of the same.

CZARFACE is out today on Brick Records. Purchase from Get On Down / iTunes

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