The Year of Doom
Since I'm not a professional critic, I don't get to see every movie or hear every CD released in a given year. For that reason, making a list of "ten best" films or CDs or whatever is just silly, even if I granted that many of the choices I make about what not to sample because they're likely crap are accurate. For that reason, I'm ending the year with some comments on "notable" releases of the year. This will also allow me to repackage a bunch of half-finished posts from the past few months that're so cold I'm putting them in drinks.
This has been the year of the Metal Faced Villain, MF Doom, aka Zev Love X, aka King Geedorah, aka Viktor Vaughn, aka Daniel Dumile. Not counting guest or compilation appearances or the Special Herbs series (his beats-only collections) Doom released three albums this year. After dropping the first Vaughn album (Vaudeville Villain) in the Fall of 2003, the much-hyped Madvillainy followed in March. The Madvillain project saw Doom collaborating with fellow underground giant DJ/MC Madlib (aka Quasimoto, or Lord Quas, and Yesterday's New Quintet) and built directly on his obsessions with movie dialogue samples from the 40s to the 60s and Jack Kirby comics. Another Viktor Vaughn LP, Venomous Villain, arrived in August and MM..Food? was released under the MF Doom moniker about three months later. Usually, MCs have to die (Tupac) or go insane (Kool Keith) before a flood of material like this comes out. Unlike Tupac or Kool Keith, however, Doom's avalanche of releases is of consistently high quality and thematically linked. It's almost like a quarterly audio comic book.
The metal-faced villain's saga begins with Vaudeville Villain. As any True Believer can tell you, Victor Von Doom is the given name of Doctor Doom, the archnemesis of the Fantastic Four, whose origin story Dumile appropriates for his diabolical alter-ego. Doctor Doom's origin story serves only as a loose framework for the story, however, and as an excuse for Doom to plunder cartoons and records for terrific soundbites for extensive, sensational sonic collages. Vaudeville Villain features a collection of dense, action-packed stories of underground hip hop survival and fiendish plots to take over the rap game. The centerpiece of the VV album is the open-mic night skits, hilarious sketches featuring an opinionated host (who reminded me a lot of Star, the morning host at Hot 97 in NY at that time) introducing a variety of MCs and slam poets undoubtedly based on Dumile's experience as a masked and anonymous battle rapper upon his reemergence from the underground. Most of the production is handled by nobody I've heard of (King Honey, Heat Sensor) along with one excellent RJD2 beat ("Saliva") while Doom focuses on the rhymes and cartoon dialogue edits. The rhymes are alternatively tricky, funny and stimulating, but always highly listenable.
Venomous Villain, the second Viktor Vaughn album, seems a bit gratuitous at first. VV1 tells the story of Vik's reappearance after his bitter scarring at the hands of the industry (the story is recounted in a New Yorker review of Madvillany) but VV2 seems more openly subversive, almost like the Lost Tales of the masked villain. Doom again relegates production to others (mostly from Insomniac Records) and the appearance of more prominent guests on and off the mic makes this more like a posse album, maybe the Legion of Doom. Vaughn himself actually doesn't spit too many rhymes, but serves more as a traditional "MC" for a bunch of really off-the-chart mad scientist electronic noise tracks. Kool Keith, who released an album as Dr. Dooom in 1999, the same year the MF Doom alias first appeared on record, contributes a characteristically scatalogical rhyme on "Doper Skiller." Keith's cadence is as unerring as ever, something Doom slips on occasionally, but he has far less interesting to say these days.
Still, it's Madvillainy that has gotten the bulk of the attention, and not without reason. It's the kind of album that tends to stay in your player, or at least returns every other spin. The tracks (22 in all) never outstay their welcome, and you can always play them again. Doom's thematic concerns expand from the story of one villain in particular to the compelling qualities of villains in general, with samples dropped throughout the record about the popularity of supervillain characters (seemingly Bond villains and their like.) As an enthusiast of the title character from Mr. Arkadin and the original mad villain, Dr. Mabuse, I can sympathize. Provocative ideas, metaphors and images leap out of Madvillainy faster than you can keep track of them. The CD has a keen cartoon video for "All Caps" explicitly drawn to evoke Jack Kirby-era Fantastic Four comics.
Doom ended the year with Mm..Food, his follow-up to 1999's Operation: Doomsday (the cover of that album shows a cartoon Doctor Doom holding a mic.) Mm..Food is surprisingly light-hearted with even more skits and tracks built out of samples from Fantastic Four cartoons and records (along with some Herculoids and other stuff I didn't recognize.) Doom handles the beats and recycles some stuff from underground releases for other folks, but it's all great stuff; many of the beats feature clever use of cartoon themes (including one from the Electric Company) and the lyrics are pleasantly left-field. The theme of the album, apart from world conquest, is food and cooking (duh) with track titles like "Potholderz," "Fillet-O-Rapper," "Kon Queso" and "Rapp Snitch Knishes."
What this album could really have used is an appearance by Ghostface Killah. It seems natural; Ghostface adopted the Wu-Gambino name Tony Starks (of Starks Enterprises, of course) back in the mid-90s and used extensive samples from the Grant-Ray-Lawrence 60s Iron Man cartoon on his masterpiece, Supreme Clientele in 2000 (his solo debut album from 1996 was called simply Ironman.) He also laces his tracks with references to food; a diabetic since childhood, he clearly thinks about diet a great deal and it shows through all the literal and figurative invocations of food in his lyrics. There's even a Scooby Doo sample on "Who Are We?" a new track off of Ghostface's new Theodore Unit album.
I'll continue later with other notable releases of 2004.