MF Doom, a.k.a. Doom, has been dogged by controversy since it was discovered that at some shows, it sometimes wasn’t even him behind his iconic mask. You couldn’t see his face, so how did you know who was up there bouncing around? Whether intended to dispel any such concerns or not, Doom’s Expektoration offers up a complete and blistering live set which should be welcome to his legions of fans. He is among the best rappers out there, possessed of a singular style, an esoteric persona, and some of the most refreshingly oddball lyrics this side of his friend and collaborator Ghostface Killah.
On his best records (and he’s had few missteps), Doom has successfully blended funky beats with humor, darkness, geekdom, and often-obscure pop culture references to create a style which often falls totally out of synch with the mainstream. This is perhaps why he is so beloved. He is endlessly inventive, clever, and fun, but clearly has no interest in being much more than a well-respected curiosity. He hasn’t ever flirted with stardom or name recognition, and likely never will. He wears a mask for crying out loud. And this is in stark contrast with most every major figure in hip-hop you can name.
Although this record is a lot of fun, it doesn’t do much to change my mind about live hip-hop records. In general, I don’t enjoy them much, or at least I don’t enjoy them anywhere near as much as I do studio hip-hop. This is pretty out of sync with my opinion of most rock-’n’-roll, which is that (in the words of Mr. Young) “live music is better, bumper stickers should be issued.” I account for this apparent discrepancy by reminding myself that such all-important aspects of hip-hop (at least for me) as flow, intimacy and mood are often impossible to replicate in a club (let alone a stadium). The noise, boom, and echo of a rock venue works for rock-’n’-roll because the rawer a band gets to sound, often the more electric it begins to feel. This just doesn’t seem to be the case for hip-hop. The rawer it gets to sound, the more it makes me long for crisp production and clear highs and lows. Don’t get me wrong: while I’m standing there, live hip-hop is fantastic, but it doesn’t make the transition to tape the way it should. If you can name me the hip-hop equivalent of, say, the Allman Brothers’ Fillmore Concerts, then please enlighten me. I want to be schooled on this.
The show documented here was clearly a rocking fun time. The energy is high, and the track selection is fan-friendly. There’s lots of stuff from Doom’s first few records, and a bunch of material from his famed collaboration with Madlib. And, the record is certainly, and triumphantly, geek-inclined: the thematic glue here—Expektoration—refers to the guttural spitting that happens when someone tries to learn to speak Klingon, and it is none other than Michael Dorn (or ST:TNG/DSN’s Worf) who narrates certain sections. (There are even references to tribbles.) But, in the final analysis, none but the most diehard fan will find this to be a more pleasurable listening experience than any of the excellent studio records he’s put out over the past decade. It’s not bad, necessarily. It’s just inessential.