MF DOOM owned the mid-aughts. As Viktor Vaughn, he unleashed an underground classic in Vaudeville Villain in 2003. He then refined his production skills as King Geedorah in Take Me To Your Leader a few months later. Riding a fresh wave of creativity, DOOM found a kindred spirit in Madlib, who provided his perfect behind-the-decks foil on Madvillainy in 2004. Not one to rest on his laurels, MF DOOM issued Mm…Food later that same year. And in 2005, DOOM fully embraced his cartoon persona in the Adult Swim endorsed The Mouse and the Mask, his collaboration with Dangermouse (known officially as DangerDoom). And then…nothing. Well, nothing new anyway. There was that Madvillany 2 compilation, and a reissue or two, but these releases aside, Daniel Dumile remained suspiciously quiet over the past four years.
In that time, DOOM’s legend started to become bigger than the man himself. After a few odd performances, he was accused of having stand-in impostors take the stage for him. And a long-promised album-length collab with Ghostface Killah has since not come to fruition, though fans are still chomping at the bit for the album to be released. That isn’t to say it won’t, but, well, it’s still not here. Suffice to say, since DangerDoom, DOOM demand has since come to outweigh supply, a stark contrast against the hungry rapper we knew earlier in the decade.
After four years, however, DOOM finally emerges, breaking the silence on the impostors (dude says he just lost weight) and releasing his first new set in way too long. The album, Born Like This, is a refreshing reminder of what DOOM is capable of when he’s on. “Gazillion Ear” finds DOOM sounding as fired up as ever, spitting high-speed couplets over a rolling funky, jazzy sample courtesy of the late J Dilla. He spits verse about the “sickest ninja injury this century” on the fun, string-laden “That’s That,” and between silly board game jingle samples on “Lightworks,” DOOM lays down the challenge that “any street corner could be the platform.” Arguably the album’s most progressive and stunning track, “Cellz” opens with a sample of Charles Bukowski’s “Dinosuaria, We,” setting the stage for a suspense-filled free-association marathon that’s as impressive a track as he’s released in years.
As many highlights as there are on Born Like This, the album’s ratio of filler to fire is higher than it should be. “Microwave Mayo” and “More Rhymin'” sound surprisingly unfinished, and un-fleshed out, even for a rapper who perfected the art of the two-minute abstract jam. The Ghostface collaboration “Angelz” lacks the fluid chemistry and fun that the duo have shown on past tracks such as “Underwater” or “The Mask.” Thankfully, Ghostface’s Wu-Tang comrade Raekwon proves to sound far fiercer on “Yessir!” Then there’s “Batty Boyz,” a painfully juvenile throwaway that finds the narrating villain accusing superheroes of being gay (and oddly homoerotically at that).
Still, when DOOM’s on, he’s on. And on Born Like This, he issues a handful of amazing tracks that show off the absurdist creativity and artistic vigor that made his villainous brand a reliable one just a few years back. That these are also paired with a handful of tracks that are either unnecessary, or just plain bad, is unfortunate. But DOOM’s been out of the spotlight for a few years. Given a little more time under the mask, he might just pull out another classic yet.
Madvillain – Madvillainy
Ghostface Killah – The Big Doe Rehab
Jaylib – Champion Sound
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.