MF Doom has done the supervillain thing. He’s done the “herb” thing. He’s even done the food thing. So, now, the only logical step is to take on cartoons. It was only a matter of time; we’ve all known for quite some time that Doom is, in fact, a cartoon. That tin mask, the silly album covers, references to the wide world of geekdom in his rhymes—it’s destined for an animated series, or at least a comic strip. That sort of syndicated tribute may not have arrived just yet, but Doom has taken on a cartoon concept album, the Adult Swim-themed The Mouse and the Mask, a zany and colorful collaboration with Dangermouse, who, aside from being a superstar DJ, doubles as a cartoon, himself, in Gorillaz. That both figures take their names from cartoons only lends more credence to this oddball album, a 45 minute trip through hip-hop Dadaism that really shouldn’t work (and actually would be embarrassing if placed in the wrong hands), but comes off as the hip-hop album of 2005.
The reason The Mouse and The Mask succeeds is due to several factors, not the least of which is the lethal combination of Doom’s clever, witty rhymes and Dangermouse’s incredible arsenal of samples. But how the cartoons factor in is more tricky. To take the casts of Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law, SeaLab and Aqua Teen Hunger Force and put them on a hip-hop album and expect people to recognize its artistic worth is a lofty goal, and a near impossible one. Yet, Doom and Dangermouse never let the album get too serious. If you’ve ever given a good listen to Madvillainy or MM…Food?, that’s a pretty easy notion to digest. Instead, the duo replaces the typically unfunny gangsta skits from your average hip-hop record with Adult Swim hijinks, the likes of which are actually pretty funny (though, one can only hear Meatwad rap so many times).
Aside from guests of the ink-and-paint variety, Doom and Dangermouse are joined by Cee-Lo on the funky “Benzie Box,” Ghostface on the high-energy jam “The Mask,” and to slightly less impressive effect, Talib Kweli on “Old School,” a lyrical tribute to Saturday Morning `toons. Still, it’s Doom that’s the true star of this record, up to his usual shenanigans, rhymin’ about topics such as…well…rhymin’ (“Brush your teeth, rinse `n’ gargle/a true nerd who messed with new words since Boggle/an’ use slang in Scrabble/rhyme with a northern drawl, twang and babble“), Space Ghost (“Stay wavin’ that power band space cannon/even talk bad up in the face of Race Bannon“) and boozin’ (“This was when the mask was brand spankin’ new/before it got rusted from drankin’ all the brew“).
Dangermouse holds his own on the production front, dropping a mischievous violin sample (“Sofa King”), atmospheric DJ Shadow-isms (“Basket Case”) and even some Stalling-esque cartoon symphonies (“Bada Bing”). His samples keep the tone light, but let the music groove on its own, regardless of the kitschy nature of the record. Still, I can’t think of a single song in the bunch that doesn’t bump hard.
Some may not easily take to this record. Some will say it’s too gimmicky or absurd. But it’s their loss. Too many rappers (and in return rap fans) have forgotten how to have a good time. Dangerdoom rectifies that unfortunate fact with a fantastic, fun and unashamedly goofy album that, in all its inanity, actually outdoes every other hip-hop album this year (save for maybe Edan) in terms of beats and lyrics. There’s a fine line between clever and stupid, and Dangerdoom may toe that boundary, but the result, 99% of the time, lands on the former.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.