MF DOOM: Born Like This (Album Review)

 

7/10

 

Hip-Hop was Doom’s playground in the early 2000s. The former KMD member had reached a creative apex rarely experienced by most emcees, as witnessed by his rapid succession of critically acclaimed albums: Vaudeville Villain (2003), Take Me to Your Leader (2003), MMM..Food (2004), and Madvillainy (2004).  But something strange happened by mid-decade to Doom.

 

His output suddenly grinded to a complete halt, and the once prolific emcee became Hip-Hop’s version of J.D. Salinger, amid rumors of failing health and live show clones. Now as the decade comes to a close, Doom sans the MF prefix returns to his loyal fans and curious newcomers with his comeback LP Born Like This (Lex Records).

 

Doom starts the album in vintage form courtesy of the J Dilla-produced “Gazzillion Ear.” With several sudden rhythm changes, Doom uses the chaotic atmosphere to craft peculiar images in the listener’s mind (“Took a Jehovah’s money for an Arabic Torah / Charged an advance to translate and ignore it, sort of / One monkey don’t stop no slaughter”).

 

Raekwon handles solo duty on “Yessir,” where the self-proclaimed villain laces the Wu grandmaster with a mostly untouched sample of ESG’s classic track “UFO.” Although the production is simplistic, Rae delivers an enjoyable verse in the vein of his recent Cuban Linx II inspired work.

Madvillain comrade Madlib shows their chemistry remains in tact 4 years later with “Absolutely.” Over a subtle vocal sample of Ramsey Lewis’ “Sun Goddess” and horns that resemble TLC’s “Creep,” Doom’s satirical writ shines as he juxtaposes the corruption of street criminals with the tactics of our own government leaders (“It’s real spooky like a real trife movie / Remember the part where the Terminator killed Tookie / Absolute power corrupts absolutely”).

 

Doom’s critique extends back to Hip-Hop culture with the hilarious “Batty Boyz.” Obviously targeting the growing femininity in dress and demeanor among men, Doom creatively uses an ominous, sparse piano sample to cultivate a horror movie sense of dread on the coming epidemic of the “fabulous gay way.”

 

Still, Doom manages to throw in serious social commentary on how the issue of down low men is dangerous to all (“It’s like a leotard fest / How it got started is any retard’s guess / Regardless that’s they choice no hate debate / Becomes a problem when they try attempt to go straight / And raise the monster rate in the whole population”).

 

The social commentary loses it overt humor on “Cellz.” The track features a long, Doomsday-heavy spoken word intro from celebrated poet Charles Bukowski. Over the track’s second half, Doom again focuses on the criminality of society and offers dire albeit thoughtful critiques on human nature.

 

The remaining emcees Ghostface Killah (“Angelz”), Kurious (“Supervillainz”), and Empress Starhh (“Still Dope”) all deliver in their aforementioned guest spots. However, it is Starhh who showcases the best mastery of Doom’s production.

 

The album slows down over the second half with the Jake One produced “Microwave” and “More Rhymin’”. While the musical accompaniments are fine by themselves, their subdued melodies clash against Doom’s already stilted flow and make them chores to get through.

 

Even though Doom is notorious for using old instrumentals from his Metal Fingers catalogue, his appropriation of well known Dilla beats (“Lightworks”) occasionally makes the project feel more like a mixtape than an actual LP.

 

Overall, Doom’s long-awaited return gives fans the innovative production samples, and off-color lyrics they’ve come to enjoy from the reclusive super villain. And while Born Like This is not the home run some may have expected after such a long layoff, the LP represents a great appetizer for forthcoming projects, such as the Ghostface Killah duet album Swift & Changeable and a new Madvillain LP.

 

MF Doom

“Cellz”

 

MF Doom Featuring Ghostface Killah

“Angelz”

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