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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

There's no masking MF Doom's skill

Albert Pujols is amazing; each year of his career, he has added something to or improved something within his superstar repertoire. But while he can rack up mind-numbing statistics, he can't win by himself. To win a World Series, the Cardinals need to surround him with a team that plays to his strengths, complements his abilities and picks up the slack when he isn't perfect.

Enter "The Mouse and the Mask" by Danger Doom, the collaboration between masked emcee MF Doom and producer Danger Mouse, inspired and supported by Cartoon Network's Adult Swim.

MF Doom is also amazing. He wears an intense iron mask onstage (MF stands for metal-faced) and refuses to be photographed without it. He raps in a lazy baritone, like he's lounging on a chaise in the studio being fed grapes by beautiful half-naked Arabian princesses. He loves comic books and obscure television cartoons, and pens bizarre, hilarious rhymes with a penchant for antiquated colloquialisms and super hero references.

On his solo albums he spits gems, but he seems to save some of his A-material for collaborations. On 2004's Madvillain union with Oxnard, Calif. native Madlib, Doom (real name Daniel Dumille) reached his lyrical apex, swirling his laidback ironic wit and Japanese monster-movie jargon with self-deprecation and introspection, turning in one of the decade's best rap performances.

While such superlatives do not quite apply to Doom's work on "The Mouse and the Mask," they barely miss. On each of the album's 14 songs, he weaves massive tapestries of pop culture nods, arcane disses, scene shifts and cartoon allusions that are so intricate and immense you need to consult the liner notes to make sure you don't miss anything.

Though choosing snippets does no justice to his songs' lyrical expansiveness, "Crosshairs" is an adequate example: "When he's on the mic he's like the triggerman, fig jam / Doom, not to be confused with nobody / Especially since the flows he used was so nutty / Never to woozy to go study / crews got no clues / Like old cruddy, officer McGilicuddy."

The album's Adult Swim theme, which admittedly sounds really lame, is wholly appropriate for Doom, whose very moniker is derived from a cartoon (Dr. Doom is The Fantastic Four's nemesis). He crams shout-outs to a variety of the bizarre programming's characters into his verses with the most vocal energy of his career.

On the brilliant "A.T.H.F." which opens with the mucus-y voice of Meatwad spittin' gangsta' to sex offending neighbor Karl, Doom's rhymes are bouncy, even youthful. If it were a less avowedly cartoon-loving emcee rapping about a household of quirky, animated food products, he or she would almost certainly sound pathetic.

Sadly, despite Doom's outstanding performance, this album is short of excellent. On "The Mouse and the Mask," the mask carries his weight, but the mouse lets him down.

In 2004, Danger Mouse incurred all kinds of copyright-related fines by blending The Beatles' beats from "The White Album" with Jay-Z's lyrics from the "Black Album" into "The Grey Album;" a notable achievement, but nothing to swoon over.

Nonetheless, Danger Mouse somehow became a hip-hop commodity. He produced a song on Sage Francis' "A Healthy Distrust," and in May, produced Gorillaz' "Demon Days." Again, both were solid outings by the producer, but nothing to suggest that he should succeed the incomparable Madlib as MF Doom's collaborator.

And, as it turned out, he probably shouldn't have. His parts on "El Chupua Libre," "Bizzy Box" and "Mince Meat," for example, are toothlessly subdued and technically unimpressive, and if someone wasn't rapping over them there would be no incentive to listen. With his tiny beats, it's as though Danger Mouse wants to stay out of Doom's way.

But that's not what the masked superstar needs. He needs someone to set a stage suitable for his unique and massive talents, not afraid to steal the show when the Frylock rhymes go stale. Danger Mouse shows fleeting glimpses of this, most notably on "Perfect Hair," where syncopated bass drums drive flute trills and keyboards from '50s TV. Sustain it for an entire album and you've got yourself a classic.

Danger Mouse may well end up an excellent producer later in his career, but the problem on "The Mouse" isn't necessarily the quality of the beats, although they often suck - it's chemistry that's a problem here. Madlib knew exactly how to get the most out of Doom, and though his beats weren't always mind-blowing, the album was. Danger Mouse needs a better understanding of Doom's abilities if the two are going to try this again.

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