Satisfying, moody listen from the masked villain
The masked villain, who now goes by just DOOM, has, more or less, been in hiding since 2006. Sure, he produced and rapped for like-minded artists, including two fantastic tracks on Jake One’s White Van Music. But many of DOOM’s beats weren’t exactly original or exclusive. The majority of them appeared on his instrumental Special Herbs volumes. That minor issue was easily overlooked and disregarded, though, as the beats were mostly stellar. Then came the numerous album delays and promised collaborations that never materialized; GhostDOOM anyone? But the shit didn’t hit the fan until the British-born rapper-producer began standing up crowds at several venues across the country. And, understandably, the reaction by most was not warm. Many listeners said they would swear off buying or purchasing his music. Others, including Kno of CunninLynguists, also called out DOOM(poster) for screwing over so many people. So now, after all the drama and controversy, we finally have Born Like This, a satisfying and well-rounded follow-up to 2004’s MM..FOOD.
And after a quick intro, the album busts through the gates with the heart-stopping “Gazzillion Ear”. DOOM spits quotables over a collage of J Dilla beats that fits the villain’s flow like a glove. And that continues with the Jake One-produced “Ballskin”, which has DOOM sounding as gruff and hungry as ever. In his typical off-the-cuff style, he switches from addressing his absence to talking shit to discussing everything under the sun without as much as a flinch. Nothing on here can match this one-two punch, and in all reality, nothing released this year probably will. But other pairs do come close, such as when Empress Starhh kills it on the banger “Still Dope” after the dark and dreary “Cellz”.
Also, it’s hard to deny the swift “That’s That” followed by “Supervillainz”, which features a hilarious Autotune hook and guest spots from Kurious, Mobonix, and Slug, of Atmosphere. Neither of those pairs brings consistent heat, though, as all of them are marred by some minor problems. For example, Empress Starhh rips apart “Still Dope”, but the track would have reached epic levels with some bars from DOOM. And “That’s That” is solid, though it suffers from sharing styles sonically with other tracks. Sure, he might be spitting other topics over a different dusty, crate-dug sample. But his cadence hardly changes. This causes Born Like This to develop a moody aftertaste. In other words, once it ends, you will likely play it through again. But what changes is that in place of “That’s That”, you might be more inclined to play the Earth, Wind and Fire-flipped “Absolutely”.
Then there is the one track that stands out for all the wrong reasons, the overtly homophobic “Batty Boyz”. Over the course of the song, the masked villain verbally assaults superheroes for their homoerotic leanings, such as the relationship between Batman and Robin. DOOM’s slander is nothing new. He’s talked plenty of shit about his enemies in the past. He just never portrayed it in this way or manner. Also, many of his sentiments seem unnecessary and antiquated, especially considering superhero homoeroticism was beaten to death by Saturday Night Live’s Ambiguously Gay Duo. But, to be fair, DOOM is a villain who is simply stating the obvious to further harass do-gooders. Also, if this is his way of dissing the new breed of hipster emcees, such as Charles Hamilton and Kid Cudi, DOOM does have a point. Yet, he could have easily just hated on their tight jeans without resorting to high school insults.
All of that aside, there are also several throwaways, including “Bumpy’s Message” from legend Bumpy Knuckles/Freddie Foxxx. His point to DOOM is well-taken that he should basically maintain his battle-stance with both middle-fingers placed firmly in the up position. But after one listen, you will be hard pressed to play it again. The same goes for “Thank Yah”, which closes the album and reprises the opening beat from “Supervillain Intro”. Again, the track is effective in adding cohesion, but why not just lump “Thank Yah” and “Bumpy’s Message” together? But both are easily skippable and forgettable.
It’s not as easy to just toss aside what happened to the previously released and reworked “Angelz”. The track has DOOM and Ghostface delivering solid verses over what is the worst and most distracting snare drum heard in years. Another sometimes disappointing track is the sloppy “Lightworkz”. It would be foolish to not mention that the track has its moments, particularly the Dilla beat of the same name that bangs in the background. Yet, it’s another case of one day you will love it and the next, it might bore you. Unfortunately, aside from the obvious aforementioned highlights and a few others, that’s the consummate feeling left after spinning Born Like This. Even after numerous plays, it’s impossible to decipher just where it rests in his catalog. It doesn’t stack up to his widely and wildly heralded efforts like his masked debut Operation: Doomsday or Madvillainy, on which he and Madlib created a near-masterpiece. Born Like This is still a damn fine record, but it’s too inconsistent to do more than simply satisfy your DOOM craving.
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// Notes from the Road
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