The Cipher: DOOM’s Born Like This is a collaborative review between Pete D’Amato and Andrew Cominelli. DOOM, formerly MF Doom, released the album on March 24th, 2009.
Pete: First of all, the first part of “Supervillain Intro” is so ill. It just gets me pumped up for what's to come, but I think the dialogue on this album, the clips of the characters talking, is a lot weaker and forced than on past albums. In the past he found clips that were relevant by just mining from the old cartoons and stuff. The scripted stuff is weak.
Andrew: Yeah I agree with that. I think the album in general is more in your face than a lot of his releases. The scripted stuff is definitely a little disappointing. I have to say that his characters are always a big draw for me, though.
Andrew: It's another reason to listen to him. Even on this album. You can listen for the beats, or you can listen for the lyrics, or you can listen for the mystique and the mood that he creates and just zone out on that.
Pete: What do you think of the production of “Gazzillion Ear?” (The beat for “Gazzillion Ear” is two chopped together beats from J Dilla).
Andrew: I really love it. It hits hard when it comes in. I like the beat switching up. It's a big contrast. Two different soundscapes, with kind of just a rolling beat, and then something a little eerie and evocative.
…In any event, it's fake like wrestlin' / Get 'em, like Jake the Snake on mescaline / Elixir for the dry throat, tried to hit the high note / Villain since an itsy bitsy zygote / By remote, send in the meat wagon / Braggin' emcees packed in with their feets draggin' / These stats are staggerin' / Had his PhD in indiscreet street hagglin'…
Pete: This rap stuck out to me, but there are tons of highlights just on this track.
Andrew: So nasty. That’s what I've come to expect from DOOM. Both a sick flow and that cartoonish imagery. I like "Raps on backs of treasure maps stacked to the ceiling fan."
Pete: “Ballskin” was produced by a dude named Jake One who's done beats for DOOM, Freeway, Slug, and your man, Brother Ali. Real nice, though the beat wouldn't hold up for a longer song as it is a little repetitive
Andrew: It's definitely a good DOOM beat and it suits his no-hook style. It's funny how Jay-Z has a whole song about having "No Hook" when guys like DOOM do that on the regular.
Pete: Whoa, whoa, whoa. That song had a hook, fuck that “no hook” shit.
Andrew: True. (laughs).
Pete: I liked the idea that here you have DOOM doing so much on this album. He's holding down emcee duties over someone else's beats, he's rapping with a partner over his own beat, he raps solo over his own beat, and he makes the beats on some tracks but backs off the mic to let another emcee take a go. There’s every possible combination.
Andrew: I like “Yessir!” because, like you basically said, it's DOOM being unselfish on his own album. It's him featuring a hardcore legend and letting him do his own thing. It just says a lot about DOOM and his take on what hip hop should be.
Pete: I feel that, but one of the problems with that is I think that DOOM didn’t really work hard enough to craft a track that suits the emcee’s style. Rae doesn't seem to do well when he's alone, and this track doesn't provide enough structure as it is.
Andrew: Actually, the “Yessir!” beat sounds to me like it was tailor-made for Rae. It's raw and kind of haunting. It sounds kind of stripped down instead of funky or layered like a lot of DOOM beats. A little like RZA’s sound. I don't know if that was a conscious thing on DOOM's part.
Andrew: “Absolutely” is a pretty toned-down track, but it's also some of the most socially conscious rap I've heard from DOOM. I like the fact that he showcased his ability to do that, it's an essential element of hip-hop, even though it's obviously not the reason that I listen to DOOM.
Pete: The first time going through and listening to “Batty Boyz,” it seems homophobia-laced. It’s disappointing because DOOM isn't exactly a man you would call an ignorant emcee. But then you listen to it again; the point can be made he's calling out the emcees that use homophobic lyrics as a cover to hide their own insecurities about their manhood.
Andrew: Yeah it's hard to tell. I'd like to say he's trying to make a point, because he's such a smart guy and because he's so antithetical to pretty much every attitude you see in the mainstream. This is kind of a tangent, but the song reminds me of Nas's It Was Written. Nas raps as a materialistic, murdering gangster throughout that album and was criticized for it. But my take on that album is that he's schooling his listeners to the problems with the projects and the people responsible.
Andrew: Lines like ‘Queens'll be the death of me,’ and ‘Life's a bitch, but God forbid the bitch divorce me,’ define that album more than the talk about guns and drug dealing to me. He's just bringing all the problems to life while throwing in bits of commentary. I think this track “Batty Boyz” is so tough to decipher though.
Pete: I’m going to post the original version of “Angels.”
Original version of Angels feat. Ghostface
Pete: Tell me which beat you like better, the original, or the one from the album.
Andrew: I think I like the original beat a little better. The drum track on the album almost sounds tacky in comparison. Not something I would have noticed without the contrast, though.
Pete: That track “Angels” was floating around on various mixtapes for almost a year. DOOM doesn't even remix it except for those really fake drum machine kicks and snares. The “Lightworks” beat is recycled, too - another Dilla beat - Talib Kweli and Q-Tip rapped over it on a compilation called Peanut Butter Wolf Presents 2K8 B-Ball Zombie War. I have a problem when it gets to the point that artists seem to be having a hard time coming out with enough material for both mixtapes and studio albums. Still, you hadn't heard the mixtape version, so maybe artists are worried about throwing away material that might not have been heard by a majority of their fans.
Andrew: Yeah, I don't pay attention to too many mixtapes.
Pete: The first half of “Cellz” is actually a clip of Charles Bukowski reading "Dinosauria, We."
Andrew: I fucking love “Cellz.”
Pete: The beat is so disastrous…in a good way.
Andrew: Hell yeah. It gave me goose-bumps the first few times I listened. Bukowski reading over that apocalyptic backdrop is incredible. The rest of the track is good too, but I'm always a little disappointed when the beat switches and DOOM comes in. Only because of the start of the track is so unique and theatrical.
Pete: It probably could have been two tracks. The second part of the beat is definitely pulled from the old superhero cartoons.
Andrew: Yeah! I didn't get that but definitely. That's cool. I think it could have been two tracks. I really like both parts, but I don't think DOOM's shit fits with the mood he created behind Bukowski. I find myself wishing that DOOM's beat/verse was elevated to the same epic level of the top of the track, but that might be impossible. To me, Bukowski over that noise is the centerpiece of this album.
Pete: At first I liked the next track, “Still Dope.” I still do, but now I wonder if it messes with the flow of the album. Still, one of the biggest problems for the album is its overall lack of flow, so to argue about one instance might be pointless.
Andrew: True. It's a patchy album. I like the beat on “Still Dope” and Empress Sharrh is pretty ill on it. But yeah, I thought the album was generally top-heavy, so not too much going on at the end. The last two tracks were disappointing: a Bumpy knuckles phone call and then DOOM replays the beat from the intro, which was itself already on Special Herbs.
Pete: If you're gonna recycle material, make sure you're recycling it for a reason.
Andrew: Yeah there was no reason for that beat getting tagged onto the end. Good beat, but at least spit a verse or something.
Pete: It was a good album. I think DOOM crushed it on “Batty Boyz” and “Gazzillion Ear,” but he did some things wrong. Album flow being one, recycling - and sometimes ruining material like on "Angelz" - being the other.
Andrew: For me, definitely not DOOM's best. My favorite MF Doom albums are probably Operation: Doomsday and Vaudeville Villain, which he didn't produce. I think Born Like This reflects the best and worst of Doom. You got plenty of dope rhymes, a fair share of good beats, and that cool as hell super villain theme. But you also get some incoherence and some question marks. Still, this album is definitely worth the listen.
Pete: Yeah, and you can get the album for like 13 bucks. So go out and buy it and get your money's worth, like Andrew and I obviously did.
Andrew: Yeah. And that's like a quarter of my paycheck.
Pete: Ya'hearrrrd. What's your rating?
Andrew: Beats: 8 Lyrics: 8.5 Overall Listen: 8.5
Pete: Beats: 7.5 Lyrics 8.5 Overall Listen 7.5
Born Like This was just released on Lex Records. You can cop it on the cheap from Amazon.com or iTunes. GET LEGS