This is one of those albums that people had made up their minds going in which doomed (not intended, actually) it to the eternal damnation resulting from the faint praise that is lukewarm critical reception – a four year hiatus after fans were graced/spoiled with two releases minimum per annum does that.
Here’s Tiny Mix Tapes’ Ajitpaul Mangat, telling it like it isn’t:
“Will the real MF Doom please stand up? From missed shows to unfulfilled projects (his longtime promised collaboration with Ghostface Killah, for example) to simply not releasing an album for four years, rap enthusiasts were seemingly willing to let nearly anyone grab the mic and take the throne for a while there. (How else do you explain the popularity of Immortal Technique?) But, now, with BORN LIKE THIS, DOOM has returned. However, gone is the MF, leaving one wondering if DOOM had gone the route of his hero (Doctor) and decided to switch consciousnesses? But such is not the case, as his newest release is all classic Doom, not for better but unfortunately for worse.
It’s not that classic Doom is bad. After all, this is the man who along with Madlib graced us with the singular Madvillainy. It’s just that, after four years, you can’t help but want something fresh and clean, not classic and been-there-done-that. And, when your major touchstone is overtly Ghostface’s (who appears as Tony Starks on the mediocre “Angelz”) nearly decade-old Supreme Clientele— peep its structure and comic-book sound bites — your work can’t help but sound dated. But, even worse, numerous times we get something much less than classic Doom.
in the end, BORN LIKE THIS is simply not as forward-thinking as his best works.”
Catch that? This is a mediocre album because of other things: this is a mediocre album because you had to wait four years for it, because the existence of Madvillainy which thou must compare this to, because this isn’t as “forward-thinking” as his previous albums. (Puzzling: it’s not like the majority of his works discounting the obvious Madvillainy were forward-thinking.) Thesis: this is a good album – much better than what its reputation would have you believe.
That being said, Mangat does make a few good points: the posse cut “Supervillainz” (which features Atmosphere’s Slug and De La Soul’s Posdnuos on hook duty) is a so underwhelming, you’d struggle to remember if anything happened other than MF DOOM’s autotune, which sounds worse than the stuff it’s supposed to be parodying (protip: just because something is a satire/parody doesn’t make it good by default); “Bumpy’s Message” and “Thank Yah” are pure filler, and capping this album with a three-song run of mediocrity does indeed leave a sour taste on your mouth. And yes, it does seem weird to have a track called “Still Dope” with MF DOOM completely absent.
[Sidebar: a lot of the people here – including MF DOOM and Jake One, who contributes four beats – and also Slug and Posdnuos – were last seen together on Jake One’s White Van Music, the previous year. That one was an underrated producer’s album – you should check it out if you haven’t already.]
But Mangat’s point – that this album cops Supreme Clientele – makes no fucking sense. MF DOOM had been using “comic-book sound bites” since Operation: Doomsday (released a full year before Ghostface’s great album). Moreover, Supreme Clientele was more song-oriented than Mangat thinks; the revolving door of short songs throughout Born Like This’s direct ancestor is Madvillainy.
Enough chit-chat. Two beats are produced by a three-year-departed J Dilla: “Gazzillion Ear” and “Lightworks,” are both are some of Dilla’s best: the former kicks the album off with Dilla’s signature alarms and a thick mixture of synth and bass, while DOOM does what he does best over-top. But the beat switches for the second verse and things get louder before switching back to the first beat. It keeps you on your toes the entire time, and I don’t think I remember hearing another Dilla beat that was (so fluidly) bipartite. And “Lightworks” is great no matter how familiar it might be to Dilla fans by 2009: a hooky-as-hell sample (“The name of the game is lightworks!”); cavernous water-dripping for percussion throughout the verses.
Other highlights: Raekwon hooking up MF DOOM was a great verse on “Yessir!” (even if MF DOOM’s beat is simultaneously overpowering and nondescript) despite the imminent release of Raekwon’s “comeback” later that year; Jake One’s playful beat on seeming throwaway but actual highlight “Rap Ambush”; the comic book-synth theme of “Batty Boyz” (which you’ll need to help you navigate through the cringeworthy lyrics like “The man with no beard is more weirder than a she-male”; blech); the thin string line handing off to a horn response on “Angelz”; Jake One’s “More Rhymin'”‘s piano loop and wafts of vocals; the East Asian string line throughout “That’s That” (the album’s last good song).
Surprisingly, Madlib’s “Absolutely” – warm vinyl cracks and cigarette smoke – ain’t much, and the 4-minute “Cellz” (the longest song here) is – like Mm.. Food‘s “Beef Rapp”: nice the first time but not ultimately replayable due to a third of the song focused on furthering the album’s “concept” (a Charles Bukowski sample, where the title of the album is derived from).
Altogether, a ‘B+’. It’s better than Mos Def’s second good album and Raekwon’s overrated sequel that same year (which took even more than four years to make, but got better reception); both of which were inspired by MF DOOM.