Want to hear something cool? This was released April 18, 1999 and recoded in the years prior. MF Grimm says this on “Tick, Tick…”: “Chop that ass in half like Obi-Wan Kenobi.” Star War: The Phantom Menace was released May 19, 1999 – where is your God now?
Anyway, this is MF DOOM’s most overrated record. But I guess it’s the kind of easy background hip-hop that goes over well with the collegiate sets: lyrics-wise, MF DOOM is extremely knotty (he basically starts the record off by claiming himself a “6’0, sicko psycho who likes to throw his dick around” and not only is that one of the greatest one-liners in hip-hop ever, he sets a bar that he matches for the rest of the album. BUT, production-wise, this is painfully standard stuff for a rapper who is anything but; almost always relying on the hard thwack of a drum on every other beat + synth popularized throughout 90s’ east coast hip-hop that preceded it. And the end-result is MF DOOM’s most normal release – not a good thing! Not only that, add standard song structures (that he would abandon soon) and consistent mid-tempo beats to the unvarying style over the course of MF DOOM’s longest album at over 60 minutes (which is about 10-20 minutes longer than any MF DOOM album that followed, including the two released in 2003 under different monikers and Madvillainy as well) and it just gets wearying. You know what albums are better than this? Every MF DOOM album released up to and including 2009’s Born Like This; Ghostface’s Supreme Clientele the next year that does everything here but does them better. Also, The Roots’ Things Fall Apart.
To be clear, very little of this album is outright bad, although because he keeps with standard song structures, he re-uses the entire first verse of “Rhymes Like Dimes” as a chorus (instead of opting to, I dunno, not have a chorus at all) before handing off the mic to his friend/label founder Cucumber Slice to ad-lib/sabotage the song (the mellow jazz beat has no way of carrying this thing for 4 minutes); the high-pitched-synth throughout “Hey!” is kind of annoying, and the song would easily be one of the album’s worst if it weren’t for the rapping (“Who got more snottier flows than snotty nose? / And holds mics like he knows karate body blows?”); “The Mic”’s drums and Pebbles’ book-ending singing are both grotesque. And the drums are similarly problematic on “The Finest” and “Red and Gold” but at least the former has Tommy Gunn and MF DOOM trading great bars throughout and the latter has the most detailed beat on the album (a staccato synth melody and then a sitar and then a soul sample!). Oh, and “Hero vs. Villain” is the sort of shit that would normally have the parenthesized “Bonus Track” following the title.
But at the same time, very little of this album matches the quantity or quality of highs that we get on later DOOM albums: there’s “Doomsday”’s lovely synths (Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen describes them as “autumnal, twinkling backdrops”) and forward-moving scratches, to say nothing of Pebbles’ soulful musings; “Tick, Tick…”’s sample of one of the Beatles’ most psychedelic songs (“Glass Onion”) that adds another layer to the album’s own psychedelic-by-tempo-switching song; the unmistakable Isaac Hayes sample-as-hook (who is also sampled on “Operation: Greenbacks”) on “Dead Bent” (“Emcees whose styles need Velamints / And once the smoke clear, tell ‘em it’s / The super motherfucking villain, nigga came through raw like the elements…”).
It’s just not enough and too normal! Way too fucking normal! Give me an accordion! Give me saliva! Give me one beer and some hoe cakes!
B+ (And that’s probably being kind.)