More often than not, highly-anticipated collaborations between musicians who are on the top of their game are perennially some of the most disappointing albums of the year. There’s a natural expectation when two great artists are combined that they will produce something mind-blowingly transcendent that will change the way people look at music and life forever. The end result, however, more typically ends up being a stale sounding side-project that could never have lived up to the hype in the first place.
The Mouse and the Mask, the long-awaited joint-venture of Danger Mouse and MF Doom, is neither of these. The prolific duo, who dug deep into the barrel of creativity to come up with their alias for the project, Danger Doom, came forth with an effort that won’t drop jaws but will undoubtedly keep the heads of Halo 2 tournament participants bobbing with satisfaction for months to come.
Keeping true to MF Doom’s penchant for themed albums (see MM..Food? or Vaudeville Villain), The Mouse and the Mask is centered around cartoons. It specifically tandems with Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, bringing in characters from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, The Brak Show, and Space Ghost Coast to Coast for cameos and skits throughout the record. Doom has been one of the most effective users of comical interludes in the past and doesn’t disappoint this time around. However, while the skits are funny and entertaining through and through, its difficult not to feel the air of seriousness wafting away as the album progresses.
That’s not to say that all albums have to be serious though, and musically The Mouse and the Mask isn’t short on talent and style. Danger Mouse’s production is consistent, fresh, and rarely falters. Danger utilizes a combination of ‘70s funk and music that could have only be found in advertisements, television shows, and movies more than 20 years ago. A clear testament to the benefits of hours of crate digging, Danger supplements the unique array of melodies with his own brand of thick, cleverly chopped and manipulated beats and strings.
The chemistry between Doom and Danger Mouse is clear, and Danger lays a solid base for Doom’s most impressive outing since 2004’s collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy. Doom’s flow is flawless in its absurdity and he proves that his recent less-than-impressive outings were not something to expect on a regular basis. His flow dances from shrewd (“The fans demanded, handled it, swallowed it/ His own brand of shit if only he could bottle it”) to crude (“Now we’ll be right back after these messages/ Fellas grab your nutsacks, chicks squeeze your breasteses”) and remains steadfastly smooth throughout the record.
The Mouse and the Mask also enlists the services of Ghostface, Talib Kweli, and Cee-lo as guest MCs. Each of the three perform exceptionally on their respective tracks, suiting to a tee the feeling Danger Doom engineered for the album. Kweli, in particular, murders his cameo on standout track “Old-School”. Kweli artfully rhymes about not needing to live a lavish lifestyle to find inspiration—“Me and my friends break bread, sit and smoke/ The conversation rich but that depends on what you consider broke/ I draw on anything for inspiration/ A fond memory, a piece of paper, walls in a train station”—marking one of the hip-hop veteran’s finest performances in recent years.
Even though the album maintains a barely serious attitude from start to finish, it’s impossible to doubt the talent and style present. The Mouse and the Mask isn’t going to turn heads for being a pinnacle of artistic enlightenment, but hey, it’s still a pretty freakin’ good record.