Given DOOM formerly created on average 2 albums a year, it feels like we had to wait a mini-lifetime for Born Like This, his latest album, to hit the shelves. The obvious question is, was it worth the wait? The not so obvious answer is, yes and no.
DOOM's unique mix of obscure pop culture references, witty metaphors, and non-sequitors are all present and accounted for. There is an instant familiarity to his rhymes.
He uses this album to address many issues, such as his absence, the state of the rap industry, effeminate superheroes and also the future, reassuring us that he "won't stop top-billin' till he a gazillionaire".
The cast of producers is delightfully diverse for a DOOM album; up and coming producer Jake One certainly does his reputation no damage with his 4 songs. J Dilla manages to get a few production credits from beyond the grave, and even Thom Yorke of Radiohead appears for an inspired remix of Gazzillion Ear. Last but not least, Madlib also shows up to give us a little taste of what Madvillainy 2 (the sequel to the highly successful collaborative album, Madvillainy) might sound like on the laid back Absolutely.
As is typical of DOOM's albums there are only a few guest appearances, each seems to have been carefully chosen, and they all deliver solid verses.
The standout song, from which the album takes its name, is a brilliantly dark and cinematic track: Charles Bukowski narrating the opening by reading an excerpt of his apocalyptic Dinosauria We poem before DOOM wades into a haunting, sepulchral beat.
All of this points to a great album. So why did I feel slightly let down by Born Like This? Firstly, the recycled beats were disappointing. J Dilla's 'Lightworks' is a classic beat for sure, but how many MC's have already used the beat or some variant of it? I also know I have heard Jay Electronica rhyming over the Gazillion Ear beat, and though 'That's That' showcases DOOM's idiosyncratic free-associative rhyming perfectly, anyone familiar with DOOM's Special Herbs series will recognise the beat instantly, the same goes for Thank Ya and Still Dope unfortunately.
Even whole songs get recycled! Angels was put on DOOM's myspace page literally about 3 years ago; while it was an ok song, the addition of the snares to the beat is somewhat detrimental, plus I and many others would certainly have preferred a new song in its place.
Another gripe is that there isn't much of DOOM actually rapping on this album, there are only 11 tracks on which he raps. As is customary for DOOM songs, he doesn't rap for very long. Rap Ambush (an interesting track with a minimalist beat where DOOM blasts the competition with "rpg: rhyme propelled grenades") for instance comes in at a paltry 1 minute 28 seconds. 2 of the tracks with rapping in them don't even feature DOOM at all! As much as I like Empress Stahhr and Raekwon was it necessary to give them their own tracks?
I always say that comparing an artists present work to their past work is a pointless endeavour, even though, its worth mentioning that there seems to be a distinct lack of effort on this album; its hard not to feel short changed listening to it. I also found it lacking in replay value, surely a large factor in deciding whether to part with your hard-earned cash.
As a long time fan, I have come to expect better and would only give this album a 6 out of 10. But as a neutral, looking at it objectively, there is enough substance here to maybe justify a 7 out of 10.
'Born Like This' is DOOM's (previously MF Doom and many many other pseudonyms) most recent album which was released on Mrach 24th 2009 on the Lex Records label.
This album continues Doom's approach of playing a cartoon-esque supervillain and he is joined by various other characters throughout the album thanks to some awesome cameo appearances.
The man behind the mask produces the majority of the album himself (ten of the seventeen tracks) but guest production comes from Jake One (four tracks), Madlib (one track) and te deceased J Dilla provides the backing track for two songs on here.
1. Supervillain Intro
Short intro to the album sees Doom boasting over his own Coca Leaf beat (which will be used again later on in the album).
2. Gazzillion Ear
First tune proper, this is a great track. Produced by J Dilla, this uses a wide range of samples but, as you would expect, all are crafted perfectly. Doom rhymes over this one more aggressively at the beginning but the track switches to a more laid back electronic groove which allows him to chill out a bit before returning to the haunting beat seen at the beginning. This is an excellent introduction to the album. Its funky in its own way.
This track provides the title of this review. Its only a short track but Doom raps continuously, twisting words and phrases expertly. There are some very clever lyrics in this song as Doom calls out those rappers who make false claims in their own songs and who brag without backing it up.
Featuring Raekwon this track is based around a sample from ESG's UFO. This sample has been used extensively in Hip Hop music over the years but it is put to very good use here, building up a moody and gloomy atmosphere. Both rappers provide excellent verses on this one, both proving their longevity in the industry is deserved.
This track is more political minded. It compares the governments behaviour to that of street criminals. 'Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely'. Simple really. The beat on this track is awesome, really laid back with a subtle groove, I like the fact that there are pops and crackles as if you were listening to an old vinyl record.
6. Rap Ambush
This track starts as a police report explaining an operation thats not really gone to plan. Doom's lyrics on this compliment the beat well. This is only a short track at 1 minute and 28 seconds but its full of impact.
Sampling J Dilla's 'Lightworks' and the Raymond Scott song of the same name, this is an upbeat track with a quick tempo. There are some interesting sound effects used here too. Doom rhymes over this fast beat effortlessly.
8. Batty Boyz
This is one of the best beats on the whole album as far as I'm concerned. The subject matter of this should be seen as a light hearted dig at superheroes but some people have taken it as an insult to homosexuals. I admit that its easy to see it that way but in the context of the album is just a joke track. The lyrics on this are well written and performed, I love this track.
Featuring Tony Starks (aka Ghostface Killah) this track could have easily come from any of the Wu-Tang albums. It has a really classic feel to it. Both rappers deliver their verses as perfectly as you would expect from such seasoned professionals. Apparently these two are doing an album together, exciting times. There are some Mr. T samples thrown in for good measure, always a treat.
This track features a spoken word intro from Charles Bukowski. It talks of the impending doom mankind faces and the way society is corrupt. To say this is really quite depressing is putting it mildly. The track itself is well produced and has a really intimidating feel to it.
11. Still Dope
This one features Empress Starhh who delivers a wicked verse. I'm not really a big fan of female rappers but this one is good. The beat is produced by Doom and suits Starhh's bragging lyrics perfectly.
12. Microwave Mayo
Produced by Jake One, this has a subdued feel to it but Doom's lyrics add some energy to the proceedings, there is no chorus on this one, just two and a half minutes of frantic rhymes.
13. More Rhymin
Another Jake One song, this has an excellent piano-led backing track, it has some really haunting sound effects and feels eerie in parts. This is really well produced. At just over a minute and a half long, this has no room for a chorus either so Doom raps his way through the whole song relentlessly.
14. That's That
Doom again uses one of the beats from his huge back catalogue on this one (Hyssop is the track in question) and boy, it works well. Doom raps his way through the whole song before singing at the end 'Can it be I stayed away too long? Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone?'. There was a three year gap between his last album and this one, I hope the gap between this and the next is much shorter.
This one features Posdnous and Prince Paul as P-Pain and Filthy Pablo respectively. A stuttered beat and some interesting horn work completes this track. Posdnous mimics T-Pains singing voice and overuse of autotune to great comic effect throughout the song. Kurious, Slug and Mobonix also provide guest vocals on this one.
16. Bumpy's Message
More of an interlude here, this is basically played as a voicemail message left by Bumpy Knuckles (aka Freddie Foxxx) for Doom. Nothing too exciting going on here to be honest.
17. Thank Yah
This uses the same 'Coca Leaf' sample as used in track one of the album and also contains the same 'Thank Yah' chorus too. A simple but effective outro to the album.
This is a fantastic return from Doom (albeit with yet another nickname) which flows easily from one track to the next. There is a distinct lack of 'filler' songs here, each and every one is a winner. Go and get this. Now.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Supervillain Intro
2 Gazzillion Ear
4 Yessir - MF Doom & Raekwon
6 Rap Ambush
8 Batty Boyz
9 Angelz - MF Doom & Ghostface
10 Cellz - MF Doom & Charles Bukowski
11 Still Dope - MF Doom & Empress Starhh
12 Microwave Mayo
13 More Rhymin
14 That's That
16 Bumpy's Message
17 Thank Yah