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  • Counting Down: MF Doom Albums From Worst To Best
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11. DOOM - Born Like This (2009)

With a title borrowed from the first line of the Charles Bukowski poem "Dinosauria, We," DOOM'S first album sans the MF suffers from the same problem that plagues a lot of Bukowski's poetry: In muscling one style hard, it begins to lack the lushness of his other work, instead offering only the account of a brazen militant at odds with the world around him. Where Bukowski saw a bleak dystopian humanity, DOOM seems to be at odds with some kind of frivolity he hears in modern music. "Batty Boyz" is a one-liner, unfortunately, about how Batman and Robin are gay. And whether or not the resurgence of R&B-flavored hip-hop was specifically irking him, DOOM takes aim at AutoTune, sprinkling snippets of his friends annoyingly noodling with it throughout the album, and making him seem just slightly out of touch with the lighthearted character of the technology -- if you really listen, it seems clear that even AutoTune's proponents don't take it very seriously.

The immense sensitivity of DOOM's earlier vocal performances (which allowed him to contemporaneously inhabit many characters and moods) is drained from Born Like This, leaving him heavy and slow lyrically. DOOM sounds far away, somehow, without a really clear investment in a concept, rapping relatively infrequently and producing shorter songs altogether. At the same time he's too close -- too close to the microphone and actually mixed louder than previous records -- and the gruffness can be grating, regressive even, if you've experienced the wry lightness of DOOM's best work. It's not all bad, though: Instrumentation stands out on Born Like This, with DOOM shining on loud tracks alongside top-notch guests from the Wu-Tang Clan.

Last year in the U.K., Carol Morley released Dreams Of A Life, a documentary about a woman who died in her North London apartment and was not found for three years. No one came looking. Police found her skeleton amongst Christmas presents yet to be wrapped.

The film’s press materials and many of its critics posit it as an urban dweller’s caveat — “Would anyone miss you?” — reminding us of the suffocating isolation possible even in a dense, social capital like London. But the talk surrounding the story barely hints at its most haunting detail: The television was on. For three years it chirped away, as programming changed and major news broke and Joyce Vincent rotted.

What unfurled and accumulated in that room — years of sound and light, records of London and what London was watching — that is the only possible analogue to the nightmarish cultural overflow of DOOM’s music. Every album breathes with a distinct personality, each a shapeshifting assemblage of personage and programming that sounds more like a kind of miraculous hyperlinked sound collage than rap.

A London-born recluse himself, Daniel Dumile’s path led him through New York and Atlanta — two rap meccas — from near-homelessness to the shelter of a metal mask. Along the way, he seemed to absorb everything around him. Having grown out of the most prolific period in rap music to date, starting roughly in the mid- to late-1980s, he experienced firsthand the sparkling wave of young, intelligent New Yorkers with politics that didn’t overwhelm the soul of party music. He would collect and later reuse audio from cartoons, monster movies, news bulletins, and countless other sources. After a record label dispute and the death of his brother Subroc, killed crossing the Long Island Expressway, DOOM disappeared, resurfacing years later with a stocking over his head, and then always the mask. Part gladiator, part The Fantastic Four’s Dr. Doom, it became a barrier, a platform for reinvention, a shield from the industry that he claims badly deformed him.

His lyrical feats go unmatched for sheer idiosyncrasy and insight; beyond rap enthusiasts, many of his strongest supporters are (perhaps unsurprisingly) writers and jazzheads. DOOM may not be the first rapper you’d throw on at a party, but he’s definitely the only one to be “the supervillain cooler than a million / I’ll be chillin’ / still quick to slice squares like Sicilians.” His references come from just about everywhere, but he prefers street language, old sayings, and things you can purchase at a bodega.

A master of “the microphone, beats, or the wheels of steel,” he has constantly swapped out his tools and collaborators, avoiding revision and instead choosing reinvention. Beginning with his brother, he has worked with the entire spectrum of the rap universe, with the exception of any true “luxury” rapper. After KMD, he moved into totally different territory, often producing and rapping alongside members of the mysterious collective M.I.C. (Monsta Island Czars), crafting beats that favored oddly chopped samples, psychotically left-field source material, or simply unpleasant sounds. He became MF Doom, then MF DOOM, then simply DOOM, with a host of aliases along the way.

And the samples themselves — they’re almost more indicative of a DOOM song than DOOM’s voice. They come from everywhere. You might suddenly recognize a “Kon Karne” background voice on a Frank Zappa record. And there’s an Anita Baker piano riff. You’ll find yourself falling asleep to a Godzilla movie, or was it Take Me To Your Leader?

It used to be that stumbling upon DOOM’s samples was your only experience of him outside his music, but these days he’s everywhere. Just after the release of JJ DOOM, at a moment when he’s never been so forthcoming about where he is (London), what’s happening (having a hard time getting back to the US after a customs mix-up), or what he’s working on (finishing a new Madvillain album and the long-awaited DOOMSTARKS collaboration with Ghostface Killah), we go back to rediscover a little bit of the mysterious romance that keeps us thinking about DOOM. As his collaborations are so omnipresent as to be ubiquitous, we had to limit our coverage to full-length albums with DOOM rapping throughout, that were definitively not just beat libraries or production forays on M.I.C. records.

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Comments (36)
  1. There’s a few things I don’t like but the only thing I really can’t understand is how King Geedorah ended p so high on the list.

  2. Viktor Vaugh 1 being lower than 3rd (I think it should be 1st) really, honestly, makes me question our compatibility, ‘gum.

    • I am so with you here. Vaudeville Villain should be number 1 based on the open mic skits alone.

    • Absolutely. Vaudeville Villain is DOOM’s most cohesive album. The production is top notch, giving you the atmosphere of the city he’s from along with very stylish beats, and it also displays his rhyming at it’s very strongest. I’m okay with MM.. Food being #1 though, being that I’m sure a lot of people who don’t listen to DOOM will read this and go to that album first, because in my opinion it’s the best album to start out with in his discography.

  3. I might as well save someone else the trouble and be the first person to say it. Madvillainy as low as 5th? Really?

    • Exactly. Maybe conceivably as low as 3rd, but even that’s a stretch.

      • yeah, i’d reserve #1 for operation doomsday, but madvillainy gets 2 or 3 for sure.

        unlike most of the commenters, though, i’m gonna have to go ahead and agree with the gum on MM..Food being the tits. that 3-punch combo of potholderz, one beer and deep friend frenz. feels good, man.

  4. This is great. I would have expected Madvillainy to be the unanimous #1 in this debate, but it’s great to see Vaudeville Villain and Operation: Doomsday get their dues amongst the others.

    “It’s how son became a big man from a Black Boy/ To name names, a really big fan of Dan Akroyd.”

  5. there’s no way that mm…food should be #1, though it’s nice to see king gheedorah and operation: doomsday high on the list

  6. this sounds like the work of either a) a troll or b) a person who doesn’t actually like MF Doom? Like, what? You’re going to open a writeup of Madvillainy with criticism about its use of panning?

  7. Born like This>Danger Doom? King Geedorah>Madvillainy? This list is full of wrong.

  8. Agreed on the distaste towards Madvillainy being unwarranted, but the respect to Operation: Doomsday is pretty pleasing. Curious as to why people don’t think Mmm…Food shouldn’t easily take the top slot. It is easiest Doom’s most concentrated work and in my opinion his strongest showing.

  9. If “Born Like This” is the worst record DOOM has released then he must be the best rapper alive.

    I also think Special Herbs Volumes 1-10 should have been considered. Easily my favorite collection of hip-hop beats.

    And don’t think I’m pleased with Madvillainy at #5

  10. Madvillainy is one of the best hip-hop albums ever made. Oh and DangerDoom would have been way better without the annoying cartoon voices.

  11. at this point im just an echo of the previous posts BUT MADVILLIANY AT #5? It should top the list…

  12. While nothing on this list is as egregious as choosing Vol 3 as the best Jay-Z album (a choice that bent the notion of art’s subjectivity to its breaking point), creating a list of the best MF DOOM albums and not topping it with either Madvillainy or Operation: Doomsday is still kind of baffling.

    Really, these album ranking lists are pretty damn genius. Not because they produce compelling, thoughtful music journalism (which they don’t), but because they provide an endless stream of easy, antagonistc content guaranteed to generate lots of pageviews and indulge in that classic rock critic conceit of flying in the face of stodgy, old-guard consensus and championing unlikely, overlooked, perhaps even maligned albums as some form of punk rock contrarianism.

    Mind you, I’m commenting, so I’m by no means above the cheap thrill of getting into pointless arguments about pop culture ephemera, and flinging the faux-outrage like it’s going out of style, but I at least have the decency to be ashamed of it.

    • I think these lists are great for getting people to revisit back catalog material, and I’m glad I’ve gone back and checked/rechecked some stuff.

      For some reason, for example, I’d never listened to Sonic Youth’s Goo before the Stereogum list, just skipped it. I’m a casual SY fan, so I don’t really need to have listened to everything, but to jump from Daydream Nation to Dirty (which I never liked much as a whole) was just odd.

      Or here – I haven’t listened to Vaudeville Villain in years, and between the write-up and some of the comments about stuff like the open mike stuff, I find myself amazed that I’d forgotten about such a killer album.

      That said, yeah, while good, Mm Food should be lower and Madvillainy should be higher, like top 2.

      • Just wanted to clone whiskey and kerda’s sentiments and say while often annoying, and seemingly pointless and unnecessary, these lists sometimes do have the benefit of reminding fans of their favorite bands’ catalogs they may have overlooked. I committed the cardinal sin of not having listened to Sister and claiming SY fan, quickly fixed after seeing someone argue it was better than Daydream Nation. Which it probably isn’t by the way, but the list still got me to be re-amazed by Sonic Youth, who I barely listen to nowadays. Sometimes the lists can also be good as jumping-off points to get into a new artist.

        Just especially sux when they do a band you hate.

  13. this is terrible.

  14. Either: From your shitty “article” to your shitty list, this is trash from the top. DOOM is one of the best of a generation. While most “rappers” are spitting the same trite lines over increasingly forgettable tracks, DOOM has continued (until recently) to push forward. To place Born Like This at the bottom is to avoid the fact that it has one of the strongest tracks (of any genre) of the past decade. This list also sabotages the trajectory of this guy’s career. By his nature, DOOM is an uneven and sometimes incomprehensible artist. With the exception of Madvilliany, there is not one DOOM-related album that is great front to back. However, the great moments have clearly gotten greater over the course of his career. There is only one album that lacks any great moments at all, and it certainly isn’t Born Like This. I don’t really want to belabor the point, but though I love DOOM above any other “rap” act going at this point, JJ DOOM is pretty much unlistenable and clearly the worst album of his career. Along with Why?’s forgettable p.o.s., it was the most disappointing release of the year.

    The typical Stereogum list troll move with Madvilliany is too predictable.

    Or my other comment option: “I know! Let’s make a list of DOOM albums by pulling them randomly out of my ass after having inserted them randomly into my ass. Then let’s smear the rest across the page and call it ‘music journalism.’”

    And That’s That

    • definitely agree on JJ DOOM sucking hard, and Born Like This being top 5-ish material.

      but don’t agree on the Why? bit.

      cognitive dissonance!

      • I hate to take a jab at either DOOM or Why?, but the common bond for those two releases (aside from them being disappointing) is that they just come across as lazy in comparison to previous releases. Mumps, etc. has its moments (‘Strawberries’ is pretty brilliant, as an example), but it is not what we was lookin’ for.

        • well both were disappointments for me, too, but i’m finding that mumps, etc. is growing on me. it’s a far, far cry from alopecia, which i haven’t stopped listening to for four years now, but there’s some pretty good shit there in the front half. i felt like that pitchfork review was needlessly harsh… creating “a new wrinkle in discussing what ‘career suicide’ can really mean?” fuck you, ian cohen. it really ain’t that bad. you know that they’re required to drop one of those “career suicide” bombs every once in a while, just so they can stay edgy.

          jj doom, on the other hand, has not grown on me at all. not one memorable beat on that thing.

  15. If Stereogum ranked Slint albums from worst to best, it would look like this:

    2. Spiderland
    1. Tweez

  16. Vaudeville Villain should be #1

    This list is way more off then some of the other ones on this site

  17. “The abuse of stereo panning makes Madvillainy an almost painful aural experience…”


    Madvillainy is one of the greatest albums of all time, says me!

  18. I’ve noticed quite a few of mistakes in these comments. All caps when you spell then man’s name, guys.

  19. Just so I have it right, Madlib’s production on “Madvillainy” was “too perfect?”

  20. It doesn’t matter the order, I just love that supervillian.

  21. Not only is Madvilliany the best work from DOOM, but it’s also one of the greatest albums ever made, period. I put it up there with “Kind Of Blue”, “Kid A”, “Entroducing”, “Revolver” and “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”

  22. This is highly subjective ranking indeed. How can Venomous villain be so low on the list????? Best friggin album ever!! I think most of the comments in this article are relevant, however, few people seem to agree with this very personnal ranking because underground music is very hard to rate: since it differs from usual patterns, everyone hears something different that they like about each song, album, etc.

  23. Are you from the past?

  24. Thanks for reminding me to listen to the All MF DOOM B-Side Smashing Two-Parter podcast!

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