DOOM, Born Like This (March 24, 2009)
MF Doom has long touted himself as a Marvel-sized supervillain. But lately, life has imitated comic book art, from unfounded rumors of his death from alcoholism to accusations of using lip-synching “doom-bot” impersonators to perform his concerts. On Born Like This, issued under the starkly capitalized emblem DOOM, the enigma also known as Daniel Dumile doesn’t apologize for past misdeeds. Instead, he launches a “Rap Ambush” with “rhyme-propelled grenades.” Sardonic references to blood-drenched combat and Ray J sex tapes float amidst loops so rickety they nearly run off-beat. Raekwon and Ghostface Killah (under the pseudonym Tony Starks) show up to pay homage. On “Angelz,” Starks warns, “That’s right, this not a Hardy Boys mystery neither.” At the center of Born Like This’ self-portrait is Charles Bukowski’s “Dinosauria, We,” which DOOM samples on “Cellz.” “Born like this, born into this…We are born into the sorrowful deadliness,” intones Bukowski, the late patron saint of literary wastrels. But while Born Like This isn’t exactly a memoir – like most DOOM albums, Born Like This is essentially a game of word puzzles, which he calls “lightworks” – it manages to illustrate the deranged man behind the mask. DOOM deconstructs his personality on “More Rhymin’”: “He talks to himself when he needs someone to hate on/The black McCain negative campaign debate-athon.” Throughout, he gives a performance both infuriating – on “Batty Boys” he delivers a homophobic harangue against “fruits in thigh-high boots” – and intoxicating, as his knotty linguistics draw you into his malcontent mind. At the end, DOOM closes with “Thank Ya” and its gospel-like exhortations, hopeful that an audience will not only absolve his sins, but help him earn “a gazillion grand.” In addition to DOOM, producers include J Dilla, Jake One, and Madlib. Lex Records.
John Robinson, Who Is This Man? (November 7, 2008)
Who Is This Man feels world-weary and casual. Two old friends, John Robinson (better known as Lil Sci from Scienz of Life) and MF Doom collaborate with ease. MF Doom cooks up uncomplicated loops from familiar-sounding sources — on “There She Goes” he uses Ramsey Lewis’ “Julia,” which All Natural also used on its indie classic “50 Years.” Meanwhile Robinson calls himself a “mic gladiator like Spartacus” on “Shrink Rap.” But why does he waste energy criticizing mainstream rappers and “corporations caking off the mis-education, from the TVs to your radio station,” when the near-collapse of the recording industry, coupled with a vibrant independent network of labels and musicians, has rendered it artistically irrelevant? And if he’s so angry about it, why not call out some of its villains by name instead of weaving aimless generalities? In a hiphopdx.com interview, Robinson claimed that the album was recorded back in 2004, and was subsequently delayed for a variety of reasons before German label Project: Mooncircle issued it last fall. (In January, a U.S. edition appeared via High Water Music.) In the interim, Doom re-used its beats for both legal (Ghostface Killah’s Fishscale) and semi-legal projects (Trunks’ Internet EP Unicron). But Doom’s penchant for recycling beats is only part of the problem. Few of the album’s tracks pop and crackle with excitement. (One exception is “The Truth,” where Robinson builds with Stahhr and Invizible Handz over a track made out of hard bass and maniacal giggling voices.) Robinson proudly explains that hip-hop “is throwback music, jazz, soul, blues, whatever you choose it” on “Outta Control.” But save for “Black Gold,” an intriguing number where Robinson discusses the tyranny of the oil market over an Arthur Veroçai sample, the duo sticks with classical “true school” production values and hoary anti-establishment clichés. As a result, they sound just as narrow-minded as “the true bloodsuckers of the poor.”
Danger Doom, The Mouse and the Mask (October 11, 2005)
Danger Doom’s The Mouse and the Mask pays homage to Adult Swim, the late-night block of programming shown on US cable channel Cartoon Network that is nominally geared towards adults. The most popular shows on Adult Swim – Aqua Teen Hunger Force, a comedy about anthropomorphic fast-food novelties (a hamburger, a milkshake cup and a bag of fries); and Space Ghost Coast to Coast, a bizarre talk show hosted by Sixties cartoon hero Space Ghost – deal in irreverence, spewing jokes about sex, drugs, random “cartoon violence,” and toilet humor. Sometimes, the shows are hilarious; other times, they’re just obnoxious. It’s perfect material for MF Doom, the hardest-working man in hip-hop, and producer Danger Mouse, who recently led a successful revival of another elaborate cartoon project, Gorillaz. Impressively, Doom really seems to get into the spirit of the thing. “Dude, leave your girl around this man whore and she’s too screwed/Just in case she’s in a what you want to do mood/Bring your plate to the metal face and get your food chewed,” he raps improbably on “No Names (Black Debbie).” On other albums (particularly the Viktor Vaughn albums), Doom has burnished a reputation for dark narratives that lead down unexpected paths, but The Mouse and the Mask finds him at his most discombobulated, filleting images that change every four bars, and oftentimes less. As the musical composer for Doom’s verbal illustrations, Danger Mouse virtually copies Madlib’s template from last year’s Doom-Madlib affair Madvillainy. It’s not entirely original, but it’s functional. He achieves some highlights, from a wah-wah guitar lick shifting from mono to stereo on “Aqua Teen Hunger Force,” to the heroic theme ballast of “The Mask” with guest Ghostface Killah. Tailing Danger Doom are Space Ghost (George Lowe), Harvey Birdman (Gary Cole), and, most frequently, Aqua Force Hunger Team’s Master Shake (Dana Snyder), Frylock (Carey Means), and Meatwad (Dave Willis) from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Their manic interpolations turn The Mouse and the Mask into a frenetic comedy that honors its frat-boy origins. Other guests include Talib Kweli on “Old School” and Cee-Lo on “Benzie Box.” The latter track cemented Danger Mouse and Cee-Lo’s friendship, and the duo went on to form the best-selling pop-soul group Gnarls Barkley. Epitaph.
MF Doom, Operation: Doomsday (1999)
“I sell rhymes like dimes/The one who mostly keeps cash but tells about the broke times,” MF Doom sighs on “Rhymes Like Dimes” from Doomsday as a yearning, 80s era adult contemporary track accompanies him. For him, hard times could refer to his former, failed career as Zev Love X, one-half of 90s cult group KMD; his late brother and DJ Subroc, to whom Doomsday is dedicated; the suppression of KMD’s second album, Black Bastards, by his then-record company, Elektra; and the the years-long depression he suffered as a result. Just as seminal 60s comic series The Fantastic Four finds super villain Dr. Doom seeking revenge on master scientist Reed Richards through world domination, MF Doom, a paragon of underground rap “well-versed in destruction as well as building,” wants to take over the record industry. Accordingly, Doomsday is filled with plot devices charting Doom’s various machinations. In between lies seventeen prose poems, plainspoken and filtered through Doom’s coarse vocals. Sifting through trash piles of pop culture, he uncovers zingers like, “Doo-doo-doo-doo-doo/That’s an audio daily double/Rappers need to fall off just to save me the trouble” from TV game show Jeopardy on the title track, itself backed by Sade’s “Kiss of Life.” R&B hits like the S.O.S. Band’s “The Finest” and the Deele’s “Shoot ‘Em Up Movies” are lovingly sampled, while Doom’s friends MF Grimm, Kurious, Bobbito, Megalon, and several others drop in to add their two cents. Together, they share memories of street corner escapades, drinking 40s and smoking blunts, and making early inroads into the recording industry. “Nobody knows the trouble I see,” Doom says on “Hey” over a loop from cartoon classic Scooby-Doo before recalling, “They locked Lex Luthor up in Greenhaven/Since then, a nigga never really been too clean shaven.” There’s no crazy drug deals, avant-garde hip-hop production, outlandish sex stories, or amazingly ornate rhyme deliveries to dress up these world-weary takes on everyday life and the incessant cipher sessions that makes living tolerable. Fondle ‘Em originally released Operation: Doomsday in 1999; it has been since been reissued by several labels, including Sub Verse Music and Doom’s own Metal Face Records.
MF Doom, Mm..Food (November 16, 2004)
The long-delayed MM…Food is the third release from Doom this year after Madvillainy and his uneven pairing with a team of producers as Viktor Vaughn on Vaudeville Villain 2, not counting miscellaneous instrumental records such as his Special Herbs and Spices series. MM…Food is split into three courses (with no dessert). The first course, a five-part meal titled “Appetizers,” is simply brilliant. The beat for “Hoe Cakes” blends J.J. Fad shouting “Super,” the opening bars of Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love,” and a random beatboxer. Doom’s “Special Recipes” are equally strong, allowing him to explore his knack for chopping up vocal snippets from various sources over thematic numbers such as “Gumbo” and “Poo-Putt Platter.” The “Entrees” aren’t as impressive as the earlier courses, but there’s still much to recommend among them, from the staccato, early Seventies keyboard loop on “Kon Queso” to the smooth R&B heaven that is “Rapp Snitch Knishes,” a mike-trading session between Doom and Mr. Fantastik. “Doggone it/Do the statistics/How he bust lyrics is too futuristic for ballistics,” raps Doom on “Kon Karne,” “And far too eccentric for forensics/I’m dedicating this mix to Subroc, the hip-hop Hendrix.” Mostly produced by Doom, but Count Bass D handled the excellent soul-jazz number “Potholderz,” and PNS from the Molemen took on “Kon Queso.” Avoid the meandering track “Guinnesses” if possible. Rhymesayers.