The lore of the supervillain is in many ways parallel to that of the rapper: an origin story of a struggle against oppressive powers, the flaunting of one’s strengths/accomplishments, and a fiery winner-take-all attitude. Though the concept has been somewhat played out (Ghostface’s Tony Stark, MF DOOM’s Madvillain, etc.), there is a necessary resurgence in light of media trends in recent years (Marvel Studios’ box office domination, the success of Batman Arkham video games, etc.).
Lo and behold, Inspectah Deck, 7L and Esoteric’s supervillain-themed collaboration: Czarface. With a debut album in 2013, the trio shocked us with their out-of-left-field approach to their album release, as well as an infatuation with WWE wrestling, comic books, and a return-to-form boom bap sound. So what do we get with their second outing, Every Hero Needs A Villain? Well, everything is bigger, louder, and ultimately, better.
7L holds the reigns on 16 tracks, leaning toward nostalgic boom-bap, the style Inspectah Deck and Esoteric cut their teeth on in the mid-90’s. Sounds range from loud, crunchy guitars on tracks like “Czartacus” and “The Great (Czar Guitar)” to wonky, low-key synths on “Red Alert”. The heavy use of samples is blatantly homesick – yet, even in the millennial generation, they still bang louder than most trap beats. The track “When Gods Go Mad” uses a cinematic score redolent of 70’s James Bond films to create a haunting, dominant sound in spite of its archaic methods. Also impressive is 7L’s A.D.D. beat-changes, most evident on the 8-minute track, “Escape from Czarkham Asylum”, where a total of 4 beat changes occurs. The result is a fresh, epic song reminiscent of Beastie Boys’ B-Boy Bouillabaisse, or MF DOOM’s Change The Beat, that justifies its length.
Another technique Czarface resurrects is the punchline. Similes and metaphors are in abundance, adding a layer of energy and playfulness to the project without coming off passé. “I’m hungry like Olajuwan, playing through Ramadan” (“Ka-Bang!”) and “Bring fire to your camp like kumbaya” (“Lumberjack Match”) are personal favorites. Naturally, references to The Flash, Predacons, Nightcrawler and other nerd mythos are strewn throughout, maintaining an overall sense of a larger-than-life image of the powers and abilities of Czarface.
While the old-fashioned sound is successful, the group’s flow may not be enough to hold the attention of the average millennial audience. The modern tendency to rap at lightening speed (à la Tech N9ne or Kendrick Lamar) is so desirable nowadays, that the more traditional, deliberate execution of these veterans may sound dated. That being said, if the flow doesn’t grab you, the number of features certainly will. The ante has certainly been raised from Czarface’s first album when it comes to the guest appearances: legends like DOOM, GZA, Method Man, R.A. the Rugged Man, and Large Professor unite in the same way a super villain collective like The Sinister Six does – with a shared purpose to cause as much chaos as possible. Impressive verses all across the board.
Inspectah Deck’s solo efforts – though with marginal degrees of praise – never truly attained Cuban Linx or Supreme Clintele-calibur of prestige found in his fellow Wu confidants. With RZA production essentially nonexistent, the Rebel INS desperately needed a faithful producer to wed music to his vocals. The Czarface project is very much a long-awaited victory that nobody could have expected. It’s a comeback of Run The Jewels proportions: Deck just needed to find the missing link in 7L and Esoteric. The album bangs, the lyrics are fire, and in a year already so full of hot releases, Every Hero Needs A Villain has a lot to offer.