Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DOOM / "Born Like This"

Daniel Dumile was once not only one of hip-hop's greatest working artists, he was also one of its most prolific. Hell, in a two-year span he dropped three of the most original and striking albums the genre has seen this decade ("Take Me to Your Leader" as King Geedorah, "Madvillainy" as Madvillain, and "Vaudeville Villain" as Viktor Vaughn). Then after 2005's mediocre-by-his-standards "DangerDoom" collaboration with Danger Mouse... nothing. But here he is, four years later, and finally making a return to the studio. The problem is, it just doesn't feel right. "Born Like This" is Dumile all right, with yet another moniker, but at the same time it doesn't sound like the artist I remember. There's something missing besides just the MF.

For one, the production is lousy nearly all across the board. I counted two songs out of seventeen ("Rap Ambush" and "Cellz") with beats that didn't sell DOOM short. Compared to the revelatory production on "Madvillainy" and the nearly as impressive production on "Leader" and the first Viktor Vaughn album, nothing here would even cut it as a B-side. Quite frankly, these beats wouldn't have sounded relevatory in 1989, nevermind 2009.

But, hey, people don't tune into a DOOM album for the production anyway. His main draw is his labyrinthine and ludicrously great rhyme flow. After all, Mos Def said he'd "bet a million dollars on DOOM against Lil Wayne." If we're comparing DOOM circa 2009 to Wayne circa 2008, I think Mos Def would be losing money faster than AIG at this point. I've listened to this album through eight times now. Maybe two or three lines stuck with me, and those were for all the wrong reasons, and all on the same track, "Batty Boyz." The song is the first time DOOM has ever sounded this vicious, but his anger is not directed at other MCs, but rather at homosexuals. Opening with a variety of homophobic sound bites from various sources (I think I even heard a Jeff Dunham puppet in there. What?) it goes on to basically spew hate-speak and bigotry for three minutes straight.

Now, I'm not naive. I realize homophobia and hip-hop have been bedfellows for some time now, and some of the most bashing albums are actually among the genre's best (see: "The Marshall Mathers LP"). But with Eminem it's expected, and it's all part of his persona, like it or leave it. It's never been part of DOOM's repetoire, and the track leaves a confused and slightly bitter feeling with the listener.

What's saddest about "Born Like This" is that "Batty Boyz" is really the only thing I remember about the whole album. While its remaining sixteen tracks aren't bad (well, maybe a couple are), they leave no discernable impression upon the listener. No "America's Most Blunted" or "Never Dead" to be found here. Five years or silence and instead of that long-rumored Ghostface collaboration we get this? Perhaps the man himself spells it out best on "Ballskin": "Don't believe the hyperbole." Generously, this is a poor man's "Supreme Clinetele"; realistically, it's a barely above-average album by an artist who has proven time and again capable of so much more. Hopefully it won't take him another four years to redeem himself for this misfire.

Rating: 6.1

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