Look, whoever you are, stop rapping. It doesn't matter how much you want to rap, how good you think you are or how much you've been paid or who knows your name, it doesn't even matter if I already like you. Just stop, there's no point. So long as MF DOOM is still among us, he's the only rapper I'll ever need.
While there will always be a place in my heart for Kanye West and his killer debut, Das Racist and their stunning second mixtape, Mos Def and his unforgettable 1999 heavyweight, and especially the cyberpunk concept album masterpiece that is Deltron 3030, it's easy for me to choose the Metal-Faced Doom (Daniel Dumile) as a favorite. The man is prolific like you wouldn't believe, he's adopted a myriad of different personas and stage names … and come on, he wears Doctor Doom's mask from Fantastic Four.
My first encounter with MF Doom was his appearance on “November Has Come,” a downbeat track from Demon Days. Doom had been busy long before the second Gorillaz LP: from the late '90s onward, he did three albums (two studio, one live) under his own name, two albums as Viktor Vaughn, an album as King Geedorah, an Adult Swim-themed album with Danger Mouse under the moniker DANGERDOOM, two dozen guest appearances on various tracks, and no less than ten instrumental hip-hop albums as Metal Fingers. Like I said: prolific.
For my money, his all-time greatest awe-inspiring slick-beat rhyme-rich work-of-art is Madvillainy, a collaborative album with the highly talented Madlib (Otis Jackson Jr.), joined under the name Madvillain. Madlib and MF Doom are incredibly well-suited for one another. Both gentlemen are rappers as well as producers, and both of them release much of their work under pseudonyms: Madlib has two albums as rap duo Quasimoto (for which he raps both voices) in addition to some LPs and EPs as the jazz group Yesterday's New Quintet (for which he plays each alias's instruments). Also they both have talent streaming from every pore in their body.
Madvillainy may seem awfully quirky to a first-timer; even after DANGERDOOM's hilarious The Mouse and the Mask, I was still unprepared for Madlib's fluctuating production and Doom's glittering creative rhyming. “The Illest Villains” sets the tone with cleverly arranged sampling, and Doom begins the next track by weaving wicked rhymes over … an accordion. He actually ends the song with the following rhyme: “Slip like Freudian / Your first and last step to playing yourself like accordion.”
I cannot begin to praise MF Doom's lyricism enough. For every song he raps on, he flexes his vocabulary in ways you wouldn't believe. One of my favorites from track 3, “Meat Grinder,” is as follows: “Grind the cinnamon, Manhattan warmongers / You could find the Villain in satin congas / The van screeches, the old man preaches 'bout the gold sand beaches / The cold hand reaches for the old tan Elleses / ...Jesus.”
He also excels at humor — look no further than his roll call on track 4, “Bistro.” Over the mellow violins, groovy bass, and sexy backup singing, Doom proclaims, “Live on the beats, we have the one and only Madlib … we also have King Geedorah on the mix … Yesterday's New Quintet is here … Viktor Vaughn … Quasimoto … and I'm your host, the Supervillain.” Remember the laundry list of pseudonyms I mentioned earlier? What we have here is a 6-way shout-out referring to the same two people.
Laced tastefully all throughout are Madlib's lovingly laid-out instrumentals, his bifurcated Quasimoto rap, even some instrumentation à la Yesterday's New Quintet. Halfway through “Money Folder,” Doom spits the following — “I don't think we can handle a style so rancid / He flipped it like Madlib, did an old jazz standard,” at which point Doom stops rapping, Madlib cuts the beat, and they play 12 seconds of instrumental jazz (the kind you'd hear on a Yesterday's New Quintet album) before resuming the rhymeflow.
When he isn't exhibiting his unpredictable freeform, Doom's lyrics are head-and-shoulders above the typical, tired topics of average rap. To be sure, he's not averse from rapping about street life, his own talent, or the inferiority of others — these are traditional, universal rap topics. But be sure to look for these other subjects: poverty in “Curls,” weed-induced creativity in “America's Most Blunted,” bad breath in “Operation Lifesaver,” violence and wartime in “Strange Ways,” and a prolonged breakup saga in “Fancy Clown.” It may not be not as far-out as “Vats of Urine” from The Mouse and the Mask, but it's certainly varied enough for most listeners.
And man, these guys finish strong for a 22-track album: the relaxing “Great Day Today,” the victorious closer “Rhinestone Cowboy,” and as for the hit single “All Caps,” well, why not watch for yourself?
This is the rap I like best: flexible, inventive, capable of ridiculous, unexpected rhymes that are rolled over all sorts of weird beats and out-of-context samples … rappers who see opportunities to have fun with lyrics, and producers who see ways to bring fresh sounds and unique rhythms … music so startling and offbeat it defies any age and era.