Doom Is at Hand for Hip-hop Today

“The Mouse and the Mask”
Dangerdoom (Epitaph)

***** out of 5

There is an ominous figure standing astride the Bosporus between the worlds of indie and mainstream hip-hop. His shadow is faceless except for a mask and a voice. This colossal figure is MF Doom.

With roots in the old school, Doom hails from crews such as KMD and 3rd Bass, but now he traverses the world of hip-hop and takes on many forms. He has been a part of such albums as Madvillain’s Madvillainy and Gorillaz’s Demon Days, and now is a featured artist on two monumental albums released in the last month: Dangerdoom’s The Mouse and the Mask and the recent compilation Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture.

Part I: The Mouse and the Mask

“The Mouse and the Mask,” heavily advertised on Cartoon Network and featuring samples from the [Adult Swim] programming lineup, is the type of album one may expect to be gimmicky and, well, cartoonish.

The album opens with the character Brak inquiring, “Why did you buy this album?” and quickly following up with, “I don’t know why you did. You’re stupid.” This silly attitude is quickly doused by a base-heavy, flute-driven beat devised by Dangermouse, the producer made infamous by mixing The Beatles’ White Album with Jay-Z’s Black Album.

An early line from the opening track, “El Chupa Nibre,” states with clarity MF Doom’s stance on the current state of hip-hop: “Rappers suck. When they spit I doubt ’em. The crap they sing about, you wanna slap the f—– s— out ’em.”

It is with that attitude that the rest of the album continues, and what better team to achieve the best results in an experiment like this than Dangerdoom? The album’s second track, “Sofa King,” captures in a few lines the relationship between these two hip-hop architects: “-feds try to torture him [Dangermouse for the secret recipe. He said ‘it’s no use I only know half. No speeka dee English I only do the math.'”

While MF Doom is the only consistent emcee on the album, his odd, flat delivery and mid-paced rhyme-flow sync up perfectly to Dangermouse’s quirky, string-and-synth-driven beats.

The Mouse and the Mask is a nearly perfect album. Its unique beats and idiosyncratic lyrical style place it outside the realm of normal hip-hop. The listenable song lengths and consistent use of [Adult Swim] samples lend a linear concept to the album as well as ground its off-kilter content via recognizable and familiar characters. This cartoon is too real — or maybe you just smoke too much.

Part II: Think Differently Music

“Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture”
Various artists (Babygrande)

**** 1/2 out of 5

As the title of this compilation implies, “Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture” is not your typical hip-hop compilation. This release has more big names in hip-hop than the crowd at a prize fight at the MGM.

It would be absurd to list them all here. Go get the liner notes. Among them, however, are The RZA, The GZA, Ghostface, Cannibal Ox, Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Aesop Rock and MF Doom. Produced by The RZA and a slew of top-of_”the-line producers that includes Bronze Nazareth and Allah Mathematics, the compilation has a truly epic quality.

The first single off the compilation is called “Biochemical Equation,” and features The RZA and MF Doom. The beat opens with muted violins and a soaring vocal sample. As the backbeat drops in The RZA cuts straight to the heart of the matter: “Oh, the flesh is weak. It’s a struggle for peace. It’s a daily conflict between man and beast.”

The song introduces Satan as a character and goes on to tell the story of how The RZA resists Satan and his minions who strive after the secret to his success: his “Biochemical Equation.”

MF Doom is employed to give character to Satan: “They say he rhyme like he starvin’ and sold odds and bodkins to old gods and goblins. Golly, just a pest and your worst best friend, who mend and rip space-time fabric like polyester-blend.” Doom’s smooth,unorthodox lyrical style is the perfect counterpoint to The RZA’s swift, choppy delivery. MF Doom completes yet another magnificent partnership.

To add to the merits of this compilation, there is a cut-music tribute track dedicated to ODB. It begins with a sample of the W.H. Auden poem “Funeral Blues” read by John Hannah, from the “Four Weddings and a Funeral” soundtrack. The track is laced with samples of samples off earlier “Wu-Tang” works and ends with a sample of a Richard Pryor stand-up bit.

“Think Differently Music: Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture” earns 4.5 stars. It stays on track, uniting the compilation with similarly themed samples and a good balance of skits, cut-music and full songs. In the immortal words of ODB, “Wu-Tang is here forever!” &#0151′ and it seems as though they certainly are.

MF Doom appears as a leading figure in hip-hop today, joining the weird and funny with the stern and sober. His efforts on both these albums highlight a definite advance in his own skill, and display how adaptable he truly is by matching him up with some of the most respected names in indie and mainstream hip-hop. “The Villain took on many forms.”