Thursday, February 20, 2014

The DOOMed Years

The mask. It rivals Tupac's bandana, Kanye's shutter shades, and Slick Rick's eye patch in terms of notoriety. But the legend and story behind the mask may very well never be known. Over the past decade thousands have attempted to piece together the very fabric that holds together the life of Daniel Dumile in a bid to discover the true past of the iconic rap figure known as MF DOOM. The mystery surrounding his life, the past events and current endeavors, are laid out intentionally by Dumile himself, choosing not to reveal his reasons for the madness, further perpetuating his alternate persona of the masked villain, one whose intentions are purposefully never fully explained.

DOOM stood out as a beacon of hope for Hip-Hop in a time when originality was slipping. Outkast, known for standing apart from the crowd to create unique music, released their double album, Speakerboxxx & The Love Below, their most accessible, the same year as DOOM's outburst. While I could make an argument that Kanye West, in 2004, took the reins from Outkast as the outcasts amongst the mainstream Hip-Hop community, it's was MF DOOM who formed his own path in the underground, standing apart as the villain who wasn't grounded by any sense of normality.

Nowhere in the early aughts could you find a rapper who could talk about serious political issues in one song, a stream of food references in another, while rapping about masturbating using strictly metaphors over a Sesame Street sample in the third, in the same year none-the-less. DOOM was the first rapper to truly transcend and breakdown the stale rap barriers that stood the test of time of the previous two decades by creating music where music, at least Hip-Hop, had never existed before. The tales he told, and the ways he told them, by using incredibly oft-kilter, multi-syllabic rhyme schemes has led to some of the greatest verses ever laid to beat. Fans of the often sporadic rapper must suffer through strenuous bouts of silence, lasting years, before an explosion of music graces the eardrums of his fervent following. His first explosion, following three years of silence after dropping his debut album, Operation Doomsday, lasted two years and contained his most famous and acclaimed works to date. These, are the DOOMed years. 

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June 17th

It was over four years since MF DOOM released Operation Doomsday and many were wondering if he had vanished as quick as he arrived, leaving but a single trace of his moniker. Instead, and without a notice, MF DOOM dropped one shtick only to continue another. This time taking the form of King Geedorah, a three-headed golden dragon space monster who mans the boards, choosing to only appear on five tracks vocally. The album is a tour-de-force of DOOM production, featuring some of his most notable beats including Fazers, Anti-Matter & I Wonder. Initially a turn off for most, DOOM's trademark use of obscure samples, this time focusing around Japanese monster flicks, would soon land him, once again, in uncharted territory in the rap community. Having your longest song on your album, Monster Zero, be entirely comprised of these samples, and to last for over five minutes is a testament to DOOM's 'listen to no one' attitude.

Not since the Wu-Tang Clan, with their focus on chess and kung-fu, had an artist combined two foreign concepts to create something entirely original. It was DOOM's use of sampling on Take Me To Your Leader that landed him with the likes of Madlib and J Dilla in terms of sampling skills. Don't be fooled though, for this was also the beginning of DOOM's slow transfer to his more abstract rhyming ability, best shown on closer The Fine Print:
Hear ye, hear ye! How dare ye
Go up against the king who do his thing tri-yearly?
They're too carefree with their mouths around here
Off with his head, and display it at Town Square
On top a seven-feet spike, make sure it's on tight
In light of when the peasants throw stones with all their might
Skull get smashed for weeks
'Til vulture beaks eats the last meat off your cheeks
 It's best heard to be appreciated. DOOM is often times criticized for his sometimes hard to digest flows, making it very difficult for some to rap along. Regardless, the style he uses is yet again another aspect of DOOM's persona that is unmatched in the business. It took until 2010 for someone remotely similar to come about, that being Earl Sweatshirt, with his extensive use of internal rhyme schemes of multi-syllabal words. The small sample on Take Me To Your Leader led some to scoff off DOOM as only a producer, not capable of holding a beat. Little did they know what was to come of the following year. But first, now having mastered his production skills, DOOM decided to turn a completely different turn with his next LP. 

September 16th

The polarizing figure that was MF DOOM at the time refused to idle by with standard procedure. So instead of returning to his former moniker, or continuing on with his previous one, he decided to create another entirely new one. Viktor Vaughn, a drug dealer beat scientist who gets stuck in the 90's after a time traveling incident gone wrong is every bit as bizarre as it sounds. For this project Dumile decided to forgo everything he's already accomplished production-wise by creating the entire project off the backs of other beat makers. Shockingly this works out to a tremendous degree, with this being easily the most accessible and easy to listen to DOOM project. 

With basic street rap conquered on Operation: Doomsday and production conquered on Take Me To Your Leader, DOOM set out to expand his lyrical ability through the use of comedic story-telling, something which hasn't been accomplished in Hip-Hop since Slick Rick. The best examples of his prowess are on Modern Day Mugging where Vik recalls his attempted bank robbery, Never Dead which follows Vik and his schoolmate in a search for his stolen Donkey Kong game, and the genius Let Me Watch, a back and forth prose of Vik's failed hookup. In all three cases, and many more on the album, DOOM proves to all that his story-telling expertise matches his superior level of beat making. And while he sets aside his oft-beat rhyming patterns on here, a potential lack of lyrical ability is far from present, with some of his most clever lines taking place throughout the album. My personal favorites come on the aforementioned Modern Day Mugging & Change The Beat
never let a handy fiend fix your broken window
Alotta y'all ass out like gay runaways
Yet again another facet of DOOM's highly stylized skill set. It's a shame that at this time, not only was he not well know, even within the underground community, but he wasn't appreciated for what he was doing. Vaudeville Villain and a few records to come will prove timeless classics in the long line of Hip-Hop and the mystery surrounding DOOM will continue to grow before he becomes one of the most renowned rappers in history. 

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March 23rd

One of the most celebrated underground rap albums put to record with one of the most haunting and iconic album covers in all of music, which currently resides on my bedroom wall. Madvillainy, DOOM's pairing with famed sample searcher Madlib, stretched boundaries in the Hip-Hop community and stood as the crowning achievement to the underground movement the genre was currently going through. While I prefer Vaudeville Villain as a whole work there's no doubting the impact Madvillainy had, influencing and forever changing the landscape that surrounded the bubbling of rap's underground. The piece has stood apart from anything before or after it for its unique take on the construction of an album. Throughout the 22 (!) track opus no song lingers for more then four minutes, seven don't feature any rapping, seven don't even feature DOOM. All of this takes place in under 50 minutes as the album takes on a rapid train of thought, similar to that of comic strips. 

What makes the album such a peculiar piece is the masterwork of Madlib, pairing together oddball samples with sounds unnatural to a Hip-Hop record. Take Accordion for example. One can assume what the track entails but with a lingering baseline lurking beneath the skin to boot the accordion taking center stage plays an even larger role. But stealing the show once again is DOOM, finally choosing to go all in on his now trademarked oft-kilter rhyming schemes, choosing to rhyme multiple words within a single sentence. It makes for a fascinating listen, my favorite of which closes out the album on Rhinestone Cowboy 
It's made of fine chrome alloy
Find him on the grind he's the Rhinestone Cowboy
Taking a closer look at that verse you can easily witness the greatness of DOOM that leaves him unmatched in terms of creative writing. There are four interweaving rhymes. Fine | Rhine, Chrome | Stone, Al |Cow, Loy | Boy. The line itself isn't that complex in comparison to some of his other works, but it does clearly show what DOOM is all about, especially here on Madvillainy. His most highly regarded work put DOOM on the map immediately as the leader of the underground, causing a salivating lust for anything and everything related to the masked villain. What followed next further solidified his 'I don't give a fuck' attitude. 

August 3rd

Rather then realizing his accomplishments and critical acclaim by following the route of what worked, DOOM chose to once again take up his Viktor Vaughn alias, this time constructing a simple 35 minute album, Venomous Villain, where he raps for a total of 9 minutes and 30 seconds. The piece works in much the same way as Take Me To Your Leader, except in this case substitute stellar DOOM production for the work of others, mainly no-name producers. This would be all well, as it was on Vaughn's previous entry, if it weren't for the fact that DOOM wasn't doing much of the vocals either. It seemed as though DOOM's slow transformation into the true villain of the Hip-Hop game was beginning to form. Little did anyone know that the metal face would soon send imposters to his shows and refuse to release or complete already finished material. This was the first step in MF DOOM's laziness. Thankfully he had a few more quality releases up his sleeve. 

Separating the tracks from the whole however, puts the quality of the piece into perspective. A handful of songs are notable additions to DOOM's catalog, it's unfortunate that many of them fall short. Back End, Fall Back/Titty Fat, & Doper Skill are the best three, something you shouldn't be able to make a claim to over an album with such ease. Many of the beats are largely uninspired and feel as though they're being taken from the Vaudeville Villain trash bin. The one exception to this is previously mentioned Fall Back/Titty Fat where DOOM spits his usual multi-syllabic rhymes, this time backed by five separate beats that flow through the track as DOOM effortlessly coasts over them. 

Many, including myself, don't consider VV2 an official release, for it seems true that in all likelihood the beats and content used here was likely recycled material from VV1. Thankfully DOOM fans, after being treated gloriously to Madvillainy and enduring the worry that was VV2, were relieved to know another high quality release was right around the corner. 

November 16th

With many fans clamoring to hear what DOOM provided next, knowing nothing they could prepare for would be exactly what was released, listeners rejoiced in MM..Food?, MF DOOM's proper sequel to his debut album released 5 years prior that revolved entirely around, you guessed it, food. Nearly every title on the record features something food related, including the opener Beef Rapp which opens with, per usual DOOM procedure, a minute and half hodgepodge of straight-to-TV anime clips formed around DOOM's arrival. What follows is some of the villain's most hardened lines and clever lyrics, beginning with the opener:
Beef rap, could lead to getting teeth capped
Or even a wreath for ma dukes on some grief crap
The amount of skill observed in this one line is astounding. Throughout the entirety of the song DOOM is using food as metaphor for phony rap battles, or beef rap's, where two rappers create a beef in order to gain sales. Here DOOM shows us that creating these beefs can lead to you getting punch and your mom will be forced to grieve, all while maintaining the illusion of literal beef causing your dentures to be capped. Combine this with the multi rhyme schemes (Beef, Teeth, Grief | Rap, Capped, Crap) and you have successfully formed a DOOM line. Throughout this track, and many more on the record, similar styles are used. But it's here, and the closer Kookies, where the song-long metaphor DOOM employs is on full effect. The latter, as previously mentioned, is one of the best examples of DOOM's oddball rapping content where, throughout the course of the track, he uses a multitude of metaphors to explain his night of debauchery lying next to his wife masturbating. It's a hilarious track that should be appreciated as a work of art, really. 

The rest of the record, however failed by many standards to create a lasting impact to his debut, mainly due to the pacing. Directly in the middle of the album DOOM, rather jarringly, decided to place four instrumental tracks composed mostly of a single-use sample of a man in the woods back-to-back-to-back-to-back. It nearly eliminates all momentum the record had up to that point. While Take Me To Your Leader in some ways applied the same formula, there, the beats backing the comic samples actually held their own. Here, they easily become thrown to the wayside. With tracks like Hoe Cakes, Guinesses, & Rapp Snitch Knishes competing with the previously mentioned for best songs, MM..Food? succeeded in what DOOM had set out to accomplish, a record that had never been done before.

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 October 10th

It had been nearly a year since receiving a DOOM album, which during the DOOMed years was quite a long stretch of time. No one feared however since it was long announced that famed Grey Album producer Danger Mouse would be working with MF DOOM on a full length record, composed entirely of his beats using samples from various shows on Adult Swim, a programming block on Cartoon Network, which helped popularize many underground rappers to the 'stoner' crowds. The record was heavily promoted by the program and catapulted the Mouse & The Mask to #41 on the Billboard Top 200, besting DOOM's most popular album by 138 spots. 

Thankfully for DOOM's mass appeal the record was easily digestible, thanks in large part to Danger Mouse's more stylistically clean beats and featured some of DOOM's most straight forward rhymes. The intricacy's were still there within his lyrics, but with a more simplistic beat backing him, unlike on Madvillainy, the accessibility of the record provided the duo with a greater range of potential listeners. Luckily the pair worked together wonderfully, creating a consistently great project, something DOOM hadn't been apart of since Vaudeville Villain. This meant that while there were no noticeably poor songs, there also weren't any breakout ones. famed veterans Talib Kweli (Old School) & Ghostface Killah (The Mask) both appear on the album, the former providing one of his best verses, the latter one of his worst.

In many cases considered a nice touch of cohesion the similarities between Danger Mouse's beats causes the album to become stagnant in many places. Tracks aren't easily recognizable, and DOOM's most straight forward banter to date doesn't make that any easier. Another piece littered throughout the album is Aqua Teen Hunger Force's various characters speaking to DOOM about different topics. The one used most often, unfortunately, is Master Spark who pleads with DOOM through phone calls about allowing himself to work with the mighty villain. The gimmick gets old quick and the voice becomes rather irritating to bear once you're past your tenth listen.

And then, after creating his most pleasing album for the masses to engulf, it finally felt time for DOOM to reach new heights. To avenge his brother's death as the newly formed villain out to wreck havoc on the world through his uni-linear musical style. Instead, in typical villainy fashion, he disappeared once again into the underground only to re-emerge four years later a changed, depleted old man with a belly that seems to have put down a lot of guinnesses. Six records in the matter of two years would put a toll on any seasoned veteran. Nearly every one of them has been regarded as a classic in some form. It seemed that what DOOM set out to do was finally accomplished. The villain, who had been playing us all along, finally threw in the towel and retreated, leaving six astonishing records to his name. The DOOMed years were over.


  1. This was an awesome read, thanks a lot for the effort! Here's hoping 2017 is the year of DOOM.

    1. Happy to hear you enjoyed it! Still one of my favorite pieces. And yes seriously, we're in desperate need of more DOOM!