I really want to give this album the highest rating possible. I really, really do. It features four names known to true Hip Hop heads, including my all-time favorite lyricist, MF DOOM. But I took a long time to review this album–for many reasons. First, it was leaked so I heard it real early. Second, there wasn’t nearly as much DOOM as I was expecting, so I had to get over that. I’m over it now.

Czarface, which is everyone on this album except DOOM, have been releasing solid rap for years now. Most of it very good, some of it excellent, but only a few Czarface songs are still sticking with me. And unfortunately, that’s where I end up with this collaboration. This is a really good album, with some moments approaching greatness, but not enough of them–and only about a third of the songs have bars that make your jaw drop the way all these artists used to do on every song. .

There are definitely some keepers here, and “Nautical Depth” is one of them. Bombs Thrown is another. Captain Crunch.

But when Open Mike Eagle blows them all away on Phantoms, it brings home the point that DOOM isn’t where he used to be. And maybe it’s the result of so much pain in his life: The death of his son, his being exiled from the United States…Something has to put fire back in his belly, and although there are glimpses of it here (mostly on the songs named above), there are also too many lazy bars that sound more like someone imitating DOOM than the genius himself.

In fact, Inspectah Deck is the real star here. With some tremendously random pop culture free associations and a flow that truly seems timeless, Deck doesn’t sound like he’s aged a bit since Protect Ya Neck. The Inspectah was the Wu Tanger who laid back in the cut, letting guys like Ghostface and ODB take all the swagger and bring the bluster, so it’s great to hear him taking a lead role here–he’s still got a lot to say, he’s still great to listen to.

Esoteric is still emphasizing dis bars and battle raps, and he’s still very good–but harder to translate on a team effort like this one, which has three lead rappers and several guests on top of it. But he keeps it going and adds punch to several cuts. His verses on Badness of Madness were particularly impressive.

Also: 7L’s production is still terrific, but there are a few too many moments where the record gets muddy, like on Captain Brunch, which should be MF DOOM’s moment to shine, but the grinding samples behind him almost drown him out. On the other hand, it’s one of his weaker appearances on the album, so this may have been on purpose…

Don’t get me wrong: This is a very, very good rap album. Most of my being underwhelmed is due to the fact that MF DOOM is my all-time favorite, a rapper who can’t possibly live up to my expectations.

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