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.”