A man of great intellect scarred by horrible circumstances and driven towards abject enmity, Victor Von Doom continually threatens the Marvel Comics Universe to surrender to his will or suffer the consequences. Though his foes stand firm in his way, Doom’s genius and ingenuity service him well, making him a villain unmatched.
Of course, in the real world, there are no time machines, no Doombots, no Latveria. Metal-faced conquerors, though? Sure, why not? Tormented by the cruel and horrible world of corporate hip hop, Daniel Dumile (a.k.a Zev Love X) is rejected by the world, only to return as the bitter, jaded, probably a little stoned, MF Doom. Armed with an encyclopedic, hyper-referential flow and a crusty-*** metal mask, MF Doom will not rest until he is known as the “best emcee with no chain that you ever heard"
If it sounds a bit odd (see: nerdy) that a rapper would pattern his career after a comic book character... well, that’s because it is a bit odd. I suppose that’s part of the attraction of MF Doom, who could probably give a certain college dropout a run for the crown of the hardest working man in hip hop. Doom’s slurred, almost zen-like game is the result of years of mostly unrecognized efforts, from early 90's work with his late brother, DJ Sub-roc to his solo revival in part thanks to Bobbito Garcia’s NY-based Fondle ‘em record label. Following a string of underground releases in the past few years, 2004 gives way for three MF Doom releases, the most notable project, Madvillain, a pairing of MF Doom with another eccentric underground hip hop figure, Madlib.
Both Madlib and MF Doom have a lot in common, which makes the collaboration feel like the two have been partners for years. The love of jazz the two have is most apparent in Madlib’s production. A lo-fi affair, Madlib revisits the shades of blue he touched upon with his Blue Note-inspired/sampled release and the work of his fictional jazz unit, Yesterday’s New Quintet. Despite hailing from Oxnard, California, Madlib’s style is reminiscent of East Coast beat producers in a gritty, almost unpolished sense. It's far from minimalist but his technique here might fall somewhere between a more earthy Dan the Automator and a less apocalyptic El-Producto. This style molds perfectly around Doom’s monochromatic garble and the album is dressed appropriately for the occasion; Doom’s foreboding portrait stares back from the cover, Madlib on the back, looks on knowingly.
The duo also share a penchant for multiple personalities, many of which make guest appearances on Madvillainy
. Madlib’s helium-voiced alter-ego, Quasimoto drops some Sun Ra-influenced philosophy on “Shades of Tomorrow," a droning number that has Madlib and Lord Quas wandering through a haze of stoned meanderings like “Yesterday belongs to the dead/Because the dead belongs to the past/The past is yesterday". Whispering vocals echo behind the verses and float in the smoke along with flutes and scratches. The track is an example of sum-of-parts-greater-than-the-parts-themselves theme which perhaps defines the effort. The lyrics are very atypical, non-rhyming (and might not amount to much except to those in altered states) and the syncopated beat is a bit daunting but the track is definitely a unique twist that works fairly well as a whole.
Not to be outdone, Viktor Vaughan (one of MF Doom’s other identities) takes a few shots at his other persona on “Fancy Clown," a phone conversation between a love spurned Vaughan and his woman, who cheats on him with “tin crown face", MF Doom. As if it weren’t bizarre enough to write a diss track about your other personality, Doom tries to top himself with songs about the horrors of a chick with bad breath (“Operation: Lifesaver A.K.A. Mint Test") and declares himself America’s Most Blunted. Doom spits like he has the encyclopedia of pop culture memorized word for word. Many other rappers drop in-jokes, sneaky wordplay and references in the lyrics but Doom draws on antiquated phrases and insanely obscure name drops as a major staple of his work. Among the most dense? Try the third verse on the album closer, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy" where he alludes to Eddie Murphy, Archie Bell and the Drells, The Great Space Coaster and even the circumstances surrounding the album itself, the demos of which leaked out onto the internet over a year before the final album made its debut.
Madvillainy lays out the premise very simply: MF Doom emcees, Madlib does the beats. Each artist is allowed to focus on their strength, lyrics and production respectively. Perhaps the most astounding result of this cooperation is how trim the final product is. The album is made up of 22 tracks but only three tracks break the 3 minute mark. A few sound-collage instrumentals pepper the album and add a noir-ish, old school Fantastic Four cartoon feel, “Rainbows" has MF Doom crooning instead of rapping and “Eye" is a R&B driven diversion. While these songs sidetrack a bit, they aren't the main reason the album comes out so thin. Rather, it is the lack of catchy hooks on any of the tracks really, that remove the fat. Doom comes out on the mic, spits a couple verses and then on to the next tune. It’s fairly refreshing to hear this kind of no-nonsense structure and the formula doesn’t harm the cohesion of the album as a whole.
It’s the fact that each piece, despite sometimes ending up fragmented and fleeting, builds into a unique presentation that makes Madvillainy
a pleasure. With his work here, Madlib further cements himself into the role of hip hop visionary, continually orchestrating progressive and intriguing beats while never eschewing the more enjoyable and amusing aspects of the genre. Doom’s candid, laid-back lyricism is simplistic, street-smart and often extremely clever but perhaps takes a few listens to embrace. With that, a bit of wisdom from the man himself:
When he get the mic it's like the place get like, ‘Aww yeah!
It's like they know what’s ‘bout to happen
Just keep your eye out, like ‘aye, aye captain
Is he still a fly guy clappin' if nobody ain’t hearin’?
And can they testify from in the spirit
And living the true gods
Givin’ y’all nothing but the lick like two broads
Got more lyrics than the church got ‘ooh-lords
And he hold the mic and get your attention like two swords
(Either that) Or either one with two blades on it
Hey you, don't touch the mic like it's AIDS on it
Hooray for an album that stood up to the hype.