1. MF DOOM - Mm.. FOOD (2004)
I don't think you can discover Mm.. Food. Like a lot of individual DOOM tracks, I think you overhear a gem, and it comes for you. They home in, and something in the harmony of each song's components slams into your ear inescapably, like in that game Missile Command, and pretty soon you're nerding out with the worst of us about everything Metal Faced.
The problem is they're all gems on Mm.. Food. Goodbye to the incessant collaborators. One or two guest producers, but everything else from the mask. A theme frighteningly well-done -- food -- from which the greatest rapper alive extracts friendship, lust, loneliness, loyalty, hedonism, the possible decline of rap, jadedness toward old ways and new music, and maybe even a jadedness toward jadedness.
The album arrived at a peak in DOOM's labors. Emerging on the heels of four concentrated years of projects (including the production of masterpieces like MF Grimm's Downfall of Ibliys and Monsta Island Czars' Escape From Monster Island), the clipped primitivism of his beatmaking productively encountered the prescience of his alter ego. MF Doom could come down hard on flamboyant younger rappers but was also perfectly situated to ape the growing culture of fronting. The admittedly softer coterie of rappers who were not the drug-dealing, gangbanging personalities of yore (though they still claimed to be) presented the perfect career bridge: DOOM could continue to make music that was all costume and personality, but it would be on his terms, wherein the rap business became a ubiquitous, impenetrable supervillain bent on destroying (our) humanity.
Instead of entering the sonic realm of big egos and black-Amex ballers (which would not have been far from the silkier textures of Operation Doomsday), he retreated as far as he would ever get into the realm of his namesake, Dr. Doom, delicately crafting an album that could (sometimes entirely with samples) tell the story of a badly disfigured glutton overindulging in, of course, rapping. There are no slammers, no singles in the classical sense, with every song so complexly layered that listening to the album in parts becomes really unsatisfying.
Mm.. Food permitted DOOM to float above, to look at rap as a veteran, though one that had not yet dried up. The antidote to shuffle-ready club tracks was not to dote on the Golden Age but to be, in an old Afrofuturist trick, totally otherworldly. Throughout he's also corny, self-effacing, and hilarious. But especially on tracks like "Kookies" -- which is about when "One lonely evening alone home / end up with carpal tunnel syndrome" -- DOOM pumps the bass. As out-there as his beats and wordplay get, his revenge against contemporary rap always seems to circle back to the gross, the mundane, and the universal. DOOM is lusty, not sexy. Hungry, not sated. Coming down, not getting high. Ultimately, he uses his powers to extol being a nasty human being with basic disgusting desires; nothing really about luxury or excess. He raps on "Vomitspit" about hip-hop then and now: "It was the shit when I first scooped it / At least I get to sit out in New York and curse, stupid."
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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