Monday, April 23, 2007

MF Doom

Patterning his persona and logo after the Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom, the man behind MF (Metal Face) Doom's iron mask is actually Daniel Dumile, aka Zev Love X, a member of former Big Apple hip-hoppers KMD. First featured on the 3rd Bass single "The Gas Face," the London-born, Long Island-raised Zev made his debut with KMD a couple of years later, along with his younger brother and musical partner DJ Subroc. The 1991 album Mr. Hood, released on Elektra Records, was part of a short-lived trend of Islamic Five Percent Nation hip-hop outings, along with efforts by groups like Poor Righteous Teachers and KMD's labelmates Brand Nubian. However, Subroc was fatally injured in 1993 when he was struck by a car, and when Zev and KMD returned the next year, it was with the even more serious and miltant Bl_ck B_st_rds, an album whose cover art alone (featuring a Little Black Sambo-ish cartoon character being hanged) spelled the end of the group's contract with Elektra. With the album in limbo, Zev went underground for five years, "recovering from his wounds" and swearing revenge "against the industry that so badly deformed him," according to his official bio, a reworking of Dr. Doom's origin. Meanwhile, Bl_ck B_st_rds was heavily bootlegged and Zev Love's legend grew, but few knew at first that the rapper who began showing up at the Nuyorican Poets Café in 1998, freestyling with a stocking covering his face, was actually Zev. The imaginative MC finally ended the mystery in 1999, resurfacing in his new identity as MF Doom and making up for lost time with a critically praised new album, Operation: Doomsday, on indie label Fondle 'Em Records. The following year saw the long-awaited official release of Bl_ck B_st_rds (complete with Sambo-style cover art), as well as several singles and an EP with fellow rhymer MF Grimm. In 2001, SubVerse re-released Operation: Doomsday and Bl_ck B_st_rds. A wealth of bootlegs, compilation appearances, mixtapes, and instrumental albums (the beloved by DJ's Special Herbs series) surfaced over the years but no follow-up full-length until Doom introduced his alter ego, Viktor Vaughan, in 2003 with Vaudeville Villain. His team-up with the multi-talented Madlib became Madvillain and their April 2004 release, Madvillainy drew rave reviews. Four months later Venomous Villain marked the return of Viktor Vaughan with the second MF Doom album, MM… Food?, appearing in November the same year. The formerly promo-only Live From Planet X got its aboveground release in March of 2005 with Special Herbs, Vol. 9-10 following in July.

MF Doom - Operation: Doomsday (1999: Fondle Em)
Simultaneously hailed as an underground classic and cast aside as poorly produced backpack rap, Operation: Doomsday inaugurated the reign of MF Doom in underground rap from the early to mid-2000s. The pretext for the album is very similar to that of Marvel Comics supervillain Dr. Doom; after MF Doom, then known as Zevlove X, had been devastated by the death of his brother and K.M.D. accomplice, DJ Sub-Roc, in the early '90s, Elektra dropped his group and stopped the release of its second album, Black Bastards, due to its political message and, more specifically, its cover art. Doom was left scarred with a lingering pain that didn't manifest until the late '90s as hip-hop's only masked supervillain on Bobbito Garcia's Fondle 'Em Records. Carrying the weight of the past on his shoulders, Doom opens and closes Operation: Doomsday with frank and sincere lyrics. In between, however, many of the villain's rhymes are rather hard and piercing. On his subsequent material, he developed a more steady and refined delivery, but on this debut, Doom was at his rawest and, lyrically, most dexterous. The out-of-left-field edge of Doom's production — which features '80s soul and smooth jazz mixed with classic drum breaks — is indeed abstract at times, but his off-kilter rhymes are palatable and absent any pretentiousness. In fact, the album arguably contains some of the freshest rhymes one might have heard around the time of its release. There are more than enough obscure but fun references (i.e. "quick to whip up a script like Rod Serling" on "Go with the Flow" or "MCs, ya style needs Velamints" on "Dead Bent") and quotable jewels from the "on-the-mike Rain Man" to feed on. Nevertheless, one would be hard-pressed to overlook the low-budget mixing that mars some of the LP's presentation. For the hardcore Doom fans, the recorded-in-the-basement quality is appealing and representative of his persona as the underdog who "came to destroy rap." In contrast, given his contributions to hip-hop during the 2000s, the masked villain offers this explanation on "Doomsday": "Definition: supervillain/A killer who loves children/One who is well-skilled in destruction as well as buildin'." Even though this album is certainly not for everyone, you can easily respect from where the man is coming.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 1 & 2 (Nov 12, 2002: High Times)
Containing instrumental versions of previously released vocal tracks (everything from MF Doom's Operation: Doomsday to his work with K.M.D. and Monster Island Czars is represented here), a handful of previously vinyl-only cuts and some borrowed guest tracks from the likes of DJ Spinna, DJ Cucumber Slice, and Doom's long-lamented little brother DJ Sub-Roc, Special Herbs, Vol. 1 & 2 is a mish-mash of prog-inflected beats and crackpot schematics that wavers between being a little overlong and flirting with divine inspiration. Longtime fans shouldn't be fooled by the seemingly fresh track titles, though — in keeping with the album's theme, even the most familiar beats have been renamed. In spite of MF Doom's signature production, which casts prog music's liquid tones on a variety of organic instruments, a few of these recycled cuts ("Arrow Root," "Mullein") suffer from repetition when unveiled in instrumental form. Sandwiched between some of the more trying loops, however, are some dazzlingly inventive offerings, namely the '70s cop-drama squeal of "Coriander," the rolling crush of "Fenugreek," the wiffly flutes of "Nettle Leaves," and the plush, liquid soul of "Monosodium Glutamate." Even the much-maligned low-budget game show cheese of "Zatar" deserves a nod, if nothing else than for its sheer imagination.

Victor Vaughn (aka MF Doom) - Vaudeville Villain (Sep 16, 2003: Sound-Ink)
Daniel Dumile (aka MF Doom) concluded a prolific 2003 with this paranoiac collection of warped city tales, released under the alter ego Viktor Vaughn. Having relegated production duties to a committee consisting of RJD2 and relative unknowns King Honey, Heat Sensor, and Max Bill, Dumile's full attention is left for the mike. With his mush-mouthed delivery as currency, the charismatic MC delivers a phone book of impressionistic rhyme trails, barmy anecdotes, and twisted punchlines that siphon humor into the grayest scenarios. Vaudeville Villain's story-raps are just as brilliantly spun — the immaculate "Let Me Watch" features Apani B Fly guesting as Vaughn's vestal romantic foil and ends on a note that strikes just the right balance between Vaughn's comedic and sordid qualities. Grubby and excitable, the album's production is no less superb, with RJD2's "Saliva," Heat Sensor's "Never Dead," and King Honey's title track standing out as high points. Dense, bright, and packed with ideas, Vaudeville Villain is Dumile at his absolute best.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 3 & 4 (Sep 23, 2003: Nature Sounds)














MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 5 & 6 (Mar 23, 2004: Nature Sounds)












MF Doom/MF Grimm - Special Herbs + Spices, Vol. 1 (May 11, 2004: Day By Day Entertainment)
MF Grimm shines on these previously used MF Doom beats. The Metal Fingered Villain aka Viktor Vaughn aka King Geedorah produces beats that flow perfectly with Grimm's style. Fatman Scoop introduces the record with gusto, and Grimm and Doom match styles like peanut butter and jelly, alt-rock chicks and lunch boxes, and very definitely head-nodding and jazz tobacco. MF Doom uses some of his best productions to showcase another rapper's style. Potentially, the record could have ended up stale and sounding like a re-run, but Grimm and Doom are too good to be denied. Assembled in a kind of mixtape style, the free flow suits Special Herbs + Spices perfectly. Even though MF Doom is retracing ground, in regard to production, it's MF Grimm who makes the record worthwhile even for MF Doom's legion of devoted fans. The beats are out there and the rhymes have that uniqueness that gives the collaboration added freshness. MF Doom continues to bring the goods to his backpack-wearing fans, giving them one more thing to buy besides trees and snacks.

Victor Vaughn (aka MF Doom) - Venomous Villain (Aug 3, 2004: Insomniac, Inc.)
Kicking out the moody, quirky jams, MF Doom returns with his crafty alias Viktor Vaughan (Victor Von Doom was the birth name of Marvel comics character Dr. Doom, true believers). If you're following the Dr. Doom legend, this would be MF Doom before the evildoers got to him, or maybe a more personal Doom, mask off. It's both with some tracks coming off as hungry K.M.D. material and the rest being introspective tales of darkness. Despite his hectic release schedule, Doom keeps the quality high on the album. Lyrics are tight, clever, and darkly humorous, but it's the production that hits you first. Digital errors and glitches pop out the murk, and it's jarring. Vocals fold up and disappear while cell-phone voices emerge out of the dark before you go under the bridge and they also vanish. Doom often creates his own beats and he's come off as a mad scientist before, but never has the producer/rapper one-two punch worked so well, creating an album that's fully thought out. Doom has also been this dense before, but not so subterranean. Being so shadowy means the album needs time to linger in your player for full effect, but there are two out-of-the-box classics to add to Doom's repertoire. The busy "R.A.P. G.A.M.E." is the first, with an unavoidable, hooky chorus and sweet beats from Session 31. Doom's view of the state of rap, Kool Keith's skewed comments on the same, plus doper-than-dope scratching from DJ Sure Shot should keep "Doper Skiller" in every freak's MP3 player for at least a year or two. The rest of the album is hard to separate, which is a compliment to this noir-flavored journey. Too much roam and wander for some, but Doom-heads looking for the perfect downer couldn't ask for much more. Hoody, headphones, Venomous Villain — now you're ready for a long walk in the rain.

MF Doom - Special Herbs, Vols. 7 & 8 (Sep 21, 2004: Shaman Works)













MF Doom - MM..Food? (Nov 16, 2004: Rhymesayers)
You could call the proper follow-up to 1999's heralded Operation: Doomsday highly anticipated if it weren't for the wealth of side projects, pseudonyms, bootlegs, and mixtapes MF Doom unleashed afterward. Still, every bit of Doom output has the underground's tongue wagging, and as usual, the metal-fingered villain doesn't disappoint. Part of the reason for this is that MM..Food? is unconcerned with the hype and doesn't try too hard. It's actually one of Doom's least ambitious releases and a lot more fun than his previous ones, especially anything released under his dark Viktor Vaughn moniker. Food references and a ton of samples and scratches from old Fantastic Four read-along records keep the album light as Doom takes tired hip-hop topics like "keeping your hoes in check" and turncoat friends and screws with them. Backstabbers get their due on the Whodini-sampling "Deep Fried Frenz" while guest Mr. Fantastik gives fakes a proper whooping on the excellent "Rapp Snitch Knishes." Doom's behind every beat here, whipping up a busy brew of screw-loose samples and late-'90s beats. The mostly instrumental middle of the album is a fantastic, playful ride and more fresh evidence the man is never swayed by fads. Fans looking for his next big statement might be let down at first listen, but MM..Food? is as vital as anything he's done before and entirely untouched or stymied by the hype.

MF Doom - Live from Planet X (Mar 8, 2005: Nature Sounds)
Originally titled Live at the DNA Lounge and given away with pre-orders for the instrumental collection Special Herbs, Vol. 5-6, Live from Planet X isn't the most vital release from MF Doom but it will satisfy both the faithful and familiar. Doom has added some "space sound effects" to this new version that fit perfectly with the album's feel since this isn't your usual live release. There's little room ambience and crowd participation is fairly absent on this straight-from-the-soundboard recording, but Doom himself is all the way live, rattling off two studio albums' worth of rhymes without ever sounding spent. It's an underground lyric lover's dream, and there are early-era hits aplenty with the best of Operation: Doomsday and some assorted singles getting righteous workouts. The flow is from the street to outer space as the rapper gets looser as he goes and the show ends in a trippy cacophony of melting sound effects and turntables grinding to a halt. Bummer that it's all on one track on the CD, but if Doom's making a point, point taken. Live from Planet X has its highlights, but if the listener has the time, it is better taken as a 40-minute journey. Doom's relentless verbal attack is overwhelming this way and while any of his more mind-altering studio albums are better introductions to the artist, Live from Planet X works just fine as Doom purchase number two, especially if you're all about the venomous verse.

Metal Fingers - Special Herbs, Vols. 9 & 0 (Jul 12, 2005: Shaman Works)
The villainous one returns with another set of instrumentals and backing tracks used previously on his proper releases. While it's a great way to study the groovy loops and the perfect edits MF Doom creates, newcomers should know that tracks are untouched for the most part, not mind-blowing turntable workouts or grand remixes. That's cool for Doom fans, since his lyric-filled albums require mucho attention to really work their magic. Instead, the Special Herbs series provides those cool Doom grooves as background music, perfect for practicing your pimp walk, your MC skills, or your ability to adhere to the "puff, puff, give" policy. In fact, Special Herbs, Vols. 9 & 0 is less manipulated than usual; arguably the most dryly presented volume in the series. This works just fine for Doom's breezier beats as of late, with the loosest and most languid given extra time to stretch. The first half of the album rolls along nicely till the Laibach-meets-human-beatbox "'Untitled' (Meditation)" mashes things up. The second half ducks and weaves a bit more along with being funkier and firmly '70s. The risky bits come at the end with the frantic "Coca Leaf" hiccupping up a wailing diva, while "Peach Extract" brings the show to a close with a campy, Brazilian tickle. It adds up to the best flow the Special Herbs series has ever displayed and a great way to introduce Doom's unique production style to the groove-friendly.
Enjoy! till the next posts ;) As Salaam Aleikum...

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

fantastic great job man great job

Vee said...

Good Drop.
I think I will actually go purchase some of these MF Doom's CDs.

Anonymous said...

best post ever.

eska one said...

although i have all these albums myself, 80% on *real* vinyl, rest on mp3 i still took the time to read most posts.
its very interesting to read your thought on the productions.

great post!

Anonymous said...

I am seriously thankful for this, big ups. I was fiendin for some Doom.

Mystik Journeyman said...

Thanks for the post. It prompted me to listen to his discography. You missed out King Geedorah – Take Me To Your Leader though!

Anonymous said...

Shiet... once again i just had to say that this just makes my week

SKITZO said...

Heard MF DOOM a few years back and got hooked on the sound immediately ....one of the few rappers you could put on and let the whole album spin...that mellow flow jus sets the mood...late nights...rainy days....or lazy summers...

wicked post man...keep em comin

Anonymous said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0rvirkTyJ8k

track said...

Nice one... forgot Dangerdoom and Madvillainy.

Anonymous said...

thanks for the post man. i'm a big doom fan an i didn't know of some of these albums. so thanks for making me become aware that there is still more mf ..king-ghee ..madvill ...viktor v... m.i.c... and all that jazz that Dumile dun made that must be heard!

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