Danger Doom, The Mouse and the Mask
Easy, ebullient and winning, we anoint this a new hip-hop masterpiece
Because he's been making music for 16 years, it's gotten easy to overlook just what an odd man out MF Doom actually is. He ignores the tropes of both poles of hip-hop; he's more passive than the mainstream, more abstract and oddball than the underground. He operates defiantly — and sometimes foolishly — in the service of his own muse, and leaves it to the listener to sort the gold from the grain.
Which all sounds awfully labored and academic, but fortunately Danger Doom is neither. The long-awaited collaboration between Doom and DJ Danger Mouse (who's most famous for Frankensteining the Beatles 'White Album with Jay-Z's Black Album), Mouse meets expectations by not straining to surpass them. It's easy and ebullient and winning, instantly reminiscent of masterpieces like De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and Mr. Hood, the high-concept album Doom made when he was going by the name Zev Love X as a member of KMD. It's like 1990 never ended: Danger Mouse builds his beats from old vinyl, snatching from funk and soul and soundtrack albums with giddy abandon. He loops a wah-wah porn track to create the dank backdrop of "A.T.H.F." and employs a screwy violin hook on the creaky, creepy "Sofa King." Doom sounds more relaxed than he has on any record since Vaudeville Villain, barking "Got riddles and spittles, crystal clear to the jot or the tiddle/ Came to take the cake whether there's a lot or a little" with vigor and authority.
The wild card here is the participation of characters from the Cartoon Network's Adult Swim programming block, but as it turns out the quick cameos from Brak and Master Shake don't prove any more aggravating or intrusive than, say, the skits that break up A Prince Among Thieves. They actually end up enhancing the effort: Doom's unbridled absurdism has made him a divisive figure in the past, but here, situated between soundbites from actual cartoons, his melting-clock mentality seems entirely in its element.
The record peaks at the center with the jubilant, hands-in-the-air block-party get-down "Old School." Over a triumphant marching band brass fanfare, Doom and a refreshingly un-serious Talib Kweli extol the virtues of cold cereal and classic rhymes. "It's just that I'm old school like that/ Roll that rap over soul loops like that," goes the chorus. Never has unabashed nostalgia felt so warm or exhilarating.