Review Summary: DOOM may not say a word on this release, but his influence and guiding metal hand are as obvious and as strong as ever.
The term 'instrumental hip-hop' is one that seems to be clouded somewhat. To me, the phrase suggests simply the beats and musical backing of hip-hop, minus the rapping and the lyrics. Obviously not though, as artists like Flying Lotus, Bonobo and Blockhead make a living from sample heavy, glitch ridden electronica; a style of music that would
pass as hip-hop backing, but that is ultimately not sonically limited to just that.
In that case, MF DOOM's Special Herbs collection must surely rank amongst hip-hop fans as the definitive, and one true instrumental hip hop album. It is quite simply a collection of 80 tracks compiled by DOOM himself to back his own raps, released in collections and now compiled in a hugely expansive boxset. No other concept, no original work, just his maddeningly infectious and ultimately wonderfully constructed beats and excellently sourced samples.
It's bizarre to think why he released Special Herbs at times though. Was it simply so fledgling MC's could practice in their bedroom without the hassle or worry of having to become the next J-Dilla? Or was it even more simple - a huge showoff ploy for DOOM, one that enables him to show everyone just how good he is at beat construction, from the most abstract and esoteric sources?
Regardless, Special Herbs is a huge piece of work, over four and a half hours in length, and it goes without saying that a single listen would be not only bizarre, pointless and impossible; it's simply not built to be listened to like that. Indeed, following on with a strange Herbs theme, DOOM couldn't have picked a better loose concept for his song titles, as each one when picked feels like a daring culinary experiment ('Oh go on, I'll try Saffron. Oh bloody hell that's the instrumental of "Doomsday"..Excellent').
It's that simple: tracks can, and are picked from random, and generally throw up an excellent experience, one of wonder at his skills, amusement at some of the vocal samples ('Before we go any further', from Myyrh, the backing track to Deep Fried Frenz) and general amazement at such consistency of the artist in question. Indeed, it's a testament to this album's depth that upon listening, respect for Dumile (somehow) manages to skyrocket. He does everything in his own warped world, from the production, the excellent lyrical wordplay he manages to untangle all over the twisted and somewhat deliberately untuned and low-key style, to the clear passionate research he undertakes into Godzilla and Fantastic Four comic books.
DOOM's beats are so easy to appreciate that it's at times so joyous to see them being constructed so easily - but it's also extremely irritating that he is able to do it so seamlessly and seemingly by chance. DOOM is a talented rapper, absolutely no doubt at all about that, but it is when he's saying nothing at all that you truly realise what a talent he is, his overbearing and sometimes uncomfortably weird backing tracks sound isolated, glorious and nude without his lo-fi flow and bizarre stream of consciousness lyrics, and that is why this is an essential instrumental hip-hop collection.
Eucalyptus (Herbs 1&2)
Saffron (Herbs 1&2)
Mullien (Herbs 1&2)
Shallots (Herbs 1&2)
Nettle Leaves (Herbs 1&2)
Galangal Root (Herbs 5&6)
Coffin Nails (Herbs 5&6)
Pennroyal (Herbs 5&6)
Burdock Root (Herbs 9&10)