2. MF DOOM - Operation: Doomsday (1999)
After living "damn near homeless," wandering around New York and Atlanta, performing with a stocking on his head, and then commissioning a mask from graffiti artist Lord Scotch, MF Doom finally released Operation: Doomsday through DJ "Bobbito" Garcia's Fondle 'Em Records, in 1999. It's absolutely massive -- a dumbfounding, room-hushing classic.
As with most of DOOM's output, you can't comprehend Operation: Doomsday immediately. It's like being close to an extremely large object: At first, you encounter its texture intimately, in the unimaginable turns of DOOM's poetry "that make a A-rab thief clap." Then the complexities of meaning and the album's emotive capabilities increase with listening, as you back away and hear the record as a whole.
Operation: Doomsday could not be smoother. DOOM limits the beats to samples from velvet vets like Quincy Jones ("Rhymes Like Dimes"), Steely Dan ("Gas Drawls"), and Isaac Hayes ("Dead Bent" and "?"). The combination with drums from notable hip-hop masters, primitively but precisely chopped by DOOM, undermines the cool of contemporaries like A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers with less jazz and funk. DOOM instead selects a flatter mix, eschewing reverb and leaving rougher source material untouched.
The performances are some of DOOM's best, reeking of uptown cool and flaunting an unbelievable variety of personalities, from menacing lyrical terrorist to laid-back hood guru to informative narrator-observer. Operation: Doomsday sees DOOM beginning to master the surprise element that has made his rhymes continue to delight listeners new and old. Every song makes you want to rewind at some point, partially because you can't believe the musical choices he makes, and partially because of the rapping.
The belligerent corn-fest "Rhymes Like Dimes" maintains the sociopathic placidity of a Bret Easton Ellis character and is decidedly as '80s. In classic DOOM swagger, he knows he's made such a great beat out of Quincy Jones' horrible "One Hundred Ways" synthesizer that the song goes on for two minutes after he has run out of rhymes, which themselves are almost too delectable: "Even if you gots to get jet-black head to toe / to get the dough, battle for bottles of Mo' or 'dro." (That's Möet champagne and hydroponic marijuana.)
Operation: Doomsday is in many ways an album about having good taste (better taste than the industry that shunned him) and the layers of music that stand for an approximation of his taste.
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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