by Timothy Michalik (@timothybleached)
In the past 28 years, Daniel Dumile, AKA Zev Love X, MF Doom, King Geedorah, King Ghidra, Viktor Vaughn, and Metal Fingers, to name a few, has taken on the world of hip-hop as one of the most menacing and mysterious figures in the game. His discography is endless, his projects astounding, and his style is flawless. Not only is he grandfathered in as hip-hop legacy, but he acted as a catalyst for a sampling style that would bring old schoolers, rap-nerds, and hipsters together - cartoons. Through his anomalous relationship with Cartoon Network's late night programing Adult Swim, Doom embodied a half man/half cartoon persona. Besides these influences in his zany samples, they seem to appear on most of his artwork, alongside his most infamous feature - the mask.
Throughout Doom's prolific career and his countless alter egos, one release of his really stuck with me: The Mouse and the Mask, a collaboration of Doom and Danger Mouse, under the moniker DangerDoom, released in 2005. The initial response to this release was met with mixed reviews and was harshly overlooked. This may be due to the copious amounts of hip-hop albums released that year, such as Kanye West's Late Registration, Common's Be, 50 Cent's The Massacre, Lil Wayne's Tha Carter II, and The Game's The Documentary, to name a fraction of what was being pumped out on hip-hop radio stations nationwide. There was an emerging wave of big label releases and monstrous names coming to the forefront of hip-hop, consisting of much heavier beats and more gangster-based lyricism. The underground scene appeared to be crumbling, and artists who had previously embraced more traditional production and eccentric sampling techniques were dropping like flies. There seemed to be no room for nerdy record store pleasers, and artists such as MF Doom and Madlib were left behind for sell out artists and arena rappers. However, there was a sliver of hope left within this era, as Danger Mouse's side project Gnarls Barkley was also sky rocketing on top Billboard charts. With Danger Mouse's radio capabilities and Doom's untouchable flows, the duo created one of Dumile's most accessible and radio-savvy releases - The Mouse and the Mask.
Besides the mixed reviews and the radio pleasing hits such as "Benzi Box" featuring fellow Gnarls Barkley member Cee-Lo Green, DangerDoom had produced an all around pleaser for old fans and new. It was composed brilliantly, capturing Danger Mouse's impeccable production and Doom's outlandish flows. It hit every hole Doom fans expected him to fill, such as the cartoon based samples and his passive aggressive lyrics. However, where The Mouse and the Mask was different from Doom's previously released projects lied directly in the modern touch it was blessed with. Instead of continuing his samples of vintage cartoons - particularly that of the Fantastic Four, where the name MF Doom was rooted from after the notorious Doctor Doom, he stuck to sampling Adult Swim shows such as Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which created a loosely based concept album. In addition to the modernism of The Mouse and the Mask, the release was also heavily promoted by Adult Swim, and was released on Epitaph Records, a mostly punk based label that tossed Doom in between artists such as Descendents, Rancid, and Bad Religion. It was a dauntless approach for the duo, solidifying their place in the world of hip-hop obscurities, complimenting Doom's indie appeal.
The album begins on an aggressive note with "El Chupa Nibre," an informal diss to the previously frequent Doom collaborator MF Grimm. It starts with a simple ATHF sample, busting into a fast paced flow that takes a dark twist with lyrics aimed at Grimm such as "Once joined a rap clique - Midgets Into Crunk/ He did a solo on the oboe/ Coulda sold a million then the villain went for dolo/ And cited created differences." The song was then met by a year late response from Grimm, titled "Book of Daniel", a direct jab at Doom, accusing him of selling out.
As the album could have been perfectly suitable as a Doom solo project, he adds features from indie vets such as Ghostface Killah and Talib Kweli for good measure. "The Mask", featuring Ghostface Killah, is a rap epic in a sense - you are met with two industry legends and a frantic, thickly layered beat. However, the feature seems a bit redundant for the album, as Ghostface's flow is sloppy and careless, contradicting the detail and intelligence Doom has put into his antecedents. On the other hand, a vital feature on the track is Talib Kweli's appearance on "Old School Raps," a ferocious beer-bonging anthem sampling Keith Mansfield's "Funky Fanfare," marking itself as a highlight track on The Mouse and the Mask, with it's in-your-face flows discussing the absurdities of "street cred" and rapper's desires for criminal records in order to be taken seriously.
Within the constant animation of the album resides an ongoing phone call from Master Shake to Danger Mouse, discussing his yearning for a collaboration with the producer. The consistent theme of offbeat humor is obvious within these details, complimenting Doom's attention to detail.
As the humor settles comfortably within each song, Doom's lyricism hits it's peak on "Cross Hairs", a jam based track sampling Don Harper's "Thoughtful Popper". In front of the mind bending bass line lies Doom's ability to make the most of a couple syllables. The constant stream of consciousness with lyrics such as "Watch your six, he got a lot of more tricks/ Lyrics, bricks and sticks sure got raw-nytics/ It's a gift, don't get shot for kicks/ With the same slick used to plot sig-figs with/ Spotted at a chick flick, holding hands" acts a key ingredient to Doom's appeal. Side B remains featureless and is much more intricate than side A. Doom flips the script and dives into less sampled production and hones his old school tendencies with tracks such as "Mince Meat" and "Space Ho's," resembling A Tribe Called Quest demo beats and an overall rawer fidelity.
On the deluxe reissue, DangerDoom has added two new tracks and The Occult Hymn EP. On “Perfect Hair 2,” the electro-psych dribbles and offbeat drum patterns compliment Doom's earlier work, but act as a redundant addition to a consistently themed album. On “Korn Dogz” Doom’s trademark food-rap takes over, as he flows over the violins getting tossed between his mouth-full flows. “Mad Nice,” quite possibly the best addition to the deluxe edition, features underground legend Black Thought from The Roots and hysterical laughter from Vinny Price, who is often regarded as one of the first white emcees after he slowly rapped over the beat of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”. He then finishes the reissue with “Spokesman,” a racquetball-like solo that explores his unstoppable flows like no other, but gets cut short. Now don’t get me wrong, these additions fit snuggly in Doom’s monstrous discography, and would most likely become acclaimed songs of his if he had released it on a separate project – but he didn’t. Instead, Doom spoiled the uniform theme that The Mouse and the Mask already had and tries to finish a piece of art that had been settled more than ten years ago. In the grand scheme of things, this deluxe reissue from his METALFACE label acts as a cry for publicity, and exposes Doom’s constant restlessness.
In no way, shape, or form is The Mouse and the Mask a breakthrough album of any sort, but it is in fact a Doom classic - one highlighting his chameleon identity with his ever growing discography, and hopefully, through the appeal of indie fans and hip-hop enthusiasts alike, will gain more recognition for what it truly is - a vital release from one of the most influential and talented emcees there is: Mr. Daniel Dumile.