The “Marvel Greatest Crossover Of All Time” meme has reached its irony peak, the Twitter-search Shangri-La of 80s daytime cartoons meeting obscure, shrivelled-up rockstars. There are some earnest crossovers out there, but they’re not funny so what’s the point. Earnest crossovers have no game in #Numbers, but outside the cut-throat discourse they can be damn exciting. So what would an earnestly exciting crossover look like? It’d look like Czarface Meets Metal Face.

Czarface’s contingency of Wu-Tang alumnus Inspectah Deck and long-term duo 7L & Esoteric stand toe-to-toe with underground rap’s godfather MF Doom as some of the most gifted bar stewards working, and they share incredibly similar rap philosophies. Both artists are inclined to sample-heavy and lo-fi production, plenty of skits, cohesive narrative concepts, and, most vitally, the bbbbaaaaaaarrrrrssss, man. To them rapping is both art and science, poetry and chemistry, an avatar of free-form expression and a meticulously rigid construct. Quintuple rhymes and metrical feet patterns is a heritage that comes naturally but one still rigorously refined. They’re also weird and nerdy as fuck, not just manufacturing super hero identities as rap monikers but world-building an entire canon around themselves, and writing concept albums about three-headed space monsters, or subconsciously associating foods with events or aspects of your life; the latter of which, Doom’s Mm… Food, I’d argue stands among the most fully realized in its arena.

Yet for all the talent and eccentricity behind CMMF, it’s strangely stale. There’s little agitated energy or smirking quixotism. Rather than competing against or vibing off each other, they’re content with cordial jabbing and gentle hi-fiving. Which is fine, but you expect better than fine.

Benign bass and rudimentary percussion underplay a disappointing majority of the tracks, particularly prominent in its early gears. The crocodile-creeping bassline and brash cymbals of ‘Captain Crunch’ and the gurgling synths of ‘Phantoms’ offer some abrasive respite – and since the latter features Open Mike Eagle it resembles underground rap posse cut fan fiction – but there are few production hooks that are memorable or inventive. It’s like latter-day Simpsons; the beats are uncannily familiar but just not as compelling. Equally, the skits are serviceably frantic and amicably nerdy but don’t really expound or subvert the central album stories told as so often happens in their solo stuff.

There are stacks of bars, an expected quality but a welcome one nonetheless. Vinnie Paz’s opening verse on ‘Astral Travelling’ flaunts some A* internal rhyming – “Money should have done the opposite and listen to you/ I’m dissin you too, you do the shit a pidgeon do” – and Doom’s peerless penchant for marrying and political commentary is showcased on ‘Forever People’; “Move over a smidgeon to avoid collision/ Villain one truth, won’t argue no religion/ Or promote no division, big business like prison.” In isolation there’s a lot of good stuff to decipher, laugh, and ponder, but the verses don’t interact and aggravate with the others like great collaborations tend to do. This is entirely conjecture, but it’s almost as if, at least lyrically and narratively, each artist’s work is so singular that despite their face-value similarities the demands of compromise have anesthetised their creative potential.

While the group’s mutual wit and sense of lyrical structure could elevate the flattest of records, the kineticism and gleeful weirdness of their individual work is bafflingly absent. Czarface Meets Metal Face is polished but never makes good on the thrills promised by their teasing enterprise ‘Ka-Bang’ off Czarface’s 2015 record Every Hero Needs A Villain. Saying that, Inspectah’s insistence that he’s a “modern day Gil Scott Heron” makes some sort of perverse sense. Think about it.