Thursday, December 29, 2011

Album Review: MF DOOM - "Born Like This"

Art by Shaun Edwards -

"Can it be I stayed away too long? Did you miss these rhymes while I was gone?"

After pretty much disappearing off the scene for a few years, DOOM (who dropped the "MF" from his name) released this short but densely rich little album in early 2009. With a total running time of just 40 minutes, four tracks where he doesn't even appear, and plenty of short solo tracks, it's a minimalist approach but then again his previous solo record MM..Food played less than 50 minutes long and was stuffed with lengthy skits and interludes. This is just his style. Madvillainy and DangerDoom were short records too, each one was also eminently replayable.

This album is the same way. The overall beat collection is relatively superb but the highlight is without a doubt DOOM's consistently ridiculous and mesmerizing multi-syllable flow which carries lyrical content that is some of the wittiest shit ever heard from the Doomster. Decades deep into his rapping career, he's evidently focusing on elevating the rhyming craft to new levels.

While there is a nice bunch of superb tracks, there's certainly a few annoyingly lame ones and the album quickly tapers off at the end leaving it feeling like an EP instead of a full-length album. Nevertheless, this release stood up there as one of my favorite albums of the year 2009 and I found myself playing it over and over for months at a time. This is arguably some of the best stuff we've ever heard from hip hop's metal-masked poet.

Album cover:

Overall this is an outstanding piece of artwork, a four-panel folded cardboard booklet laced all over with funky designs that look like alien inscriptions, along with chunky graffiti lettering spelling out DOOM. Interesting theme to it with the solid stone statue of the DOOM mask and slabs of strange hieroglyphic writing. The same cuneiform is on the CD itself and I tried for months to decipher if it was spelling out "Born Like This" but eventually gave up on the possibility that it's not all just gibberish. Absolutely great album cover and I really like the new symbol/logo for DOOM with the two O's forming the eyes in a mask. I hope they stick with that for a while.

1. Supervillain Intro
prod by DOOM

A Special Herb introduces the record before an extremely corny-sounding skit featuring your average Doom-tastic supervillain talk, provided this time by some random dude yelling shit like "Doom's got a plan that's gonna shake the heavens!". I wonder whether or not this was originally supposed to be some kind of old radio or cartoon sample and they had to replace it at the last minute.

Best thing about the intro is that, because it opens with the same beat as the outro, it carries over perfectly from the end of the album and you can spin the cd over and over again in smooth transition.

2. Gazzillion Ear
prod by J Dilla

This is flat-out one of the best DOOM songs I've ever heard. Three verses, 4+ minutes of the metal-faced bard unleashing a variety of rhymes over the sounds of the late J Dilla's classic soul sample chops. DOOM certainly tried to make up for the long absence here at the very beginning, making it clear that not only does he have new lyrical flavors on this album, he's also got a "chip on his shoulder with a slip-on holster" (which perfectly conjures Bruce Willis gunning down an entire gang in "Last Man Standing") and this aggressive approach continues throughout pretty much the entire record. He delivers a ton of astounding rhymes and images in this song and even briefly takes a break to clear his scratchy throat: "elixir for the dry throat, tryin to hit the high note, Villain since an itsy-bitsy zygote." This clearing of the throat is frequently heard on most of DOOM's material nowadays, his raspy voice starting to fade while he attempts to make up for it with ever increasingly complex and visual rhymes. "Raps on backs of treasure maps, stacks to the ceiling fan."

There are a few witty and well-weaved tales of "indiscreet street haggling" here including this beauty:

"Once sold an inbred skinhead a n---- joke
plus a brand new chrome smoker but the trigger's broke
I thought I told him firing pins were separate
he find out later when he tries to go and rep it"

And if you listen closely, all three verses begin with the same theme (reap the benefits of his artform) repeated three different ways:

Verse 1 "won't stop rockin til he clocked in a gazzillion grand";
Verse 2 "do a deal for kicks and get rich quick";
Verse 3 "his agenda is clear: ending this year with dividends to spare."

The three verses are tied together even further than that, too. Doom is lyrically on fire all throughout this album and this opening flame ball is a great way to set it off. "Split, the wick's lit!" he warns in the final line.

3. Ballskin
prod by Jake One

There's very solid and consistent production on this album as he relied mostly on Jake One, Dilla, and himself (with one excellent contribution from Madlib). After clearing his throat in the opening, Doom rolls out a lengthy and uninterrupted verse, showing the same energetic style he's bringing through the majority of the record.

He's also always good for weaving some old-fashioned parlance into his rhymes like "Don't get keelhauled in, villain always been---thee real genuine ballskin." He summarizes the whole DOOM approach and message pretty well on here, first explaining the unifying element of hiding his face behind a mask ("when he dogs his face, each and every race can enjoy the bass in the place to be") and the standard approach of awakening listeners and making them think ("came to help the people with they minds in they asses").


4. Yessir! feat Raekwon
prod by DOOM

Rae puts the Wu stamp of approval on the record over a classic (overused?) beat break provided by DOOM. Would have been nice to hear DOOM get on the track with him but as it stands it's a nice little interlude from the Chef who was at that point in time (2009) preparing to release Cuban Linx 2 and smash the game.

3/5 [only because of DOOM's absence]

5. Absolutely
prod by Madlib

Like most DOOM releases, this album has a nice flow it to it. It feels like an album, with skits and movie or TV show samples transitioning between songs. In the previous track, after Rae does his thing, a SWAT team clip plays in which the cops are trying to bust into someone's house when shots are fired at them. "They got the villain surrounded," DOOM begins...

Over a vintage Madlib beat with crackling vinyl, a deep muffled bass and neck-snapping drums, DOOM twirls together one of the most villainous verses I've ever heard from him. Only the metal-face villain can so thoroughly outline plans for a crime syndicate with this much lyrical dexterity. He details every part of a vast plot, the payoffs of cops, the contingency plans if anyone's caught, and all the other dark schemes in a perfectly poetic way that sounds DOPE.

"Get bagged, you on ya own, acted alone
back home, your family provided for while ya gone"

One of my favorite joints on the album and a definite Madvillian classic.


6. Rap Ambush
prod by Jake One

The SWAT team raid theme comes up again here and DOOM is ready with RPGs: "rhyme-propelled grenades." Another awesome song, DOOM goes absolutely nuts and proves once again why he's one of the best emcees in hip hop.

"Old to the new know who holds the hat
custom tailor-fitted, big since first born
head stayed same size, well-spitted game-wise"

Whereas on the previous song he details every aspect of a vast crime sting, here he's basically fighting a lyrical war with land-mine rhymes exploding all over the battlefield. The only artist I can think of who can do something like this is Killah Priest. DOOM basically takes out an entire army in one verse.

"Drag the remains into the open by the bootstraps
dog tag attached to explosive human booby-traps"

Track is short but every bit incredible.


7. Lightworks
prod by J Dilla

Never really thought of this beat as a battle-joint but DOOM continues a streak of bringing his best with every track so far. Here he's smashing opponents like it's a wrestling or UFC match and he's whooped ass before the match even started. "Welcome to the octagon, lay a player flat before the trainer felt his clock was on."

He stomps out an imaginary opponent for about 1 and a half verses in another pretty short track. This beat is so familiar and well-known already I think he should've opted for a different Dilla joint.


8. Batty-Boys
prod by DOOM

Seemingly a typical DOOM joint, rinky-dink cartoonish beat, lots of sampled quotes, and humorous, witty lyrics. In calling out the gayness behind many super heroes I don't think he's necessarily being a homophobe at all, he's kind of drawing attention to the rampant homophobia in society, except he's doing it in an extremely creative way. He's basically playing the role of a supervillain, talking shit about his enemies (Superman, Batman) and then in the second verse there's a funny scene where he busts in on Batman and Robin getting intimate. "Y'all already got ya belts on the floor so....kick them shits over there and click off the porno. Alfred come home and find 'em both naked, handcuffed to each other just as he had suspected."

Not one of the album's highlights but very creative rhymes on it. DOOM's got a helluva gift for social commentary through funny poetry. (In a similarly controversial way, the latest Madvillainy joint "Travis 911" does this too.)


9. Angelz feat Tony Starks
prod by DOOM

Great track from the DoomStarks combo. This version is actually tweaked a bit compared to the original one that dropped way before this album, seems like Doom added some extra snares in there, he also changed a few bars from his verse. Lyrically I prefer this version, beat-wise the original was a little better.

It's a great track, nonetheless. Both emcees tell stories, recreating their own episodes of classic 70s TV shows. Ghost delivers an episode of Tony's Angels entitled "Death to a Brooklyn Man," the highlight of which is definitely his impression of a Chinese guy (Mr. Lee) yelling out the window. "Three pay now, you fucking weed head!!"

Doom's verse is Three's Company and the episode is called "Family Jewels," told with ridiculous wordplay ("Feelin woozy, no Uzi, who's he see in the lobby?") while bringing in multiple characters to tell the story. I love this track but I'm still trying to figure out what exactly is going on in Doom's story.

10. Cellz
prod by DOOM

This track opens with almost 2 minutes worth of dystopian, gruesome ("radiated men will eat the flesh...of radiated men") scenes delivered via Charles Bukowski reciting his poem "Dinosauria, We." With Doom's ominous tones and sound effects blaring behind the poetry, it almost seems like Bukowski was there in the studio recording this piece for the album, but he's has been dead for almost 20 years. His poem stands as a great, though lengthy, intro to this track in which DOOM raps ferociously while crafting scenes of a frightening future society with "savages scavenging for scraps, perhaps road kill, if that" and android women, "dimes quiet as mimes, by design mighty fine."

As is the case with most of the album, DOOM really blasts off lyrically here. The flow and spinning of syllables is amazing, so much so that it's been pretty difficult for me to ascertain much of the lyrics and what he's getting at most of the time. He even pokes fun at this inevitable confusion among his listeners, "Don't know what he saying, but the words be funny." With the dark opening poetry and the quote that separates his verses ("Every human being is responsible for his actions, or that being is still a beast--not yet human!") it's obvious that DOOM is touching on profundities in ways we've never heard from him before. The second verse is almost entirely a lashing out against ignorance and a warning about the dangers of living a life of crime:

"Crime pays no dental, nor medical
unless you catch retirement, county, state or federal
You're heard like roaring waters in a seashell, if a tree fell
you couldn't tell from three-cell, be real careful"

On further consideration, seems like maybe he's toying with the word "Cellz," envisioning a scary scenario of science gone out control in the first verse, and turning that into prison cells in the second verse. The rhymes, the complex image he paints, and the flow make this a track that rewards multiple listens.


11. Still Dope feat Empress Starhh
prod by DOOM

Disappointing that he followed up the heights of the previous track with this relatively weak track. Don't get me wrong, this woman can absolutely rap, but it's strange to hear "I'm still dope even if the bag ain't Coach" after the ferocity DOOM wrought in "Cellz."

The beat is nice, one of the best DOOM provides on this album, but his generosity in giving new emcees a chance gets annoying sometimes as a fan. Would be nice if one day we can have an album of just DOOM rapping for 14 tracks, no outside interruptions. This is the second track on the album in which he doesn't even make an appearance.


12. Microwave
prod by Jake One

Now we've got three straight excellent tracks before the album sort of abruptly ends. All three of them are similar and each are like microcosms for the overall approach of the album (and, perhaps, most of DOOM's material). They're relatively short (around 2 minutes each) but compact and densely drenched with heavy rhymes.

"His own way was strange but it matters not, tuned into a frequency tone that shattered rock."


13. More Rhymin
prod by Jake One

Over a dusty piano loop that sounds like hip hop in its purest form, DOOM unfurls one of the more impressive showings of rhyme on the whole record. Whereas tracks like Gazzillion Ear, Absolutely, Rap Ambush, Angelz, and Cellz all generally revolved around a certain theme, these next two are simply artful displays of rhyme-spinning brilliance. Wordplay that is like juggling knives while tiptoeing on a tightrope. The only theme to be found is that DOOM has major skills and could seemingly do this all day.

"Get the message by bird mail or turds flail
Villain man best nerd male ya heard wail"

This beat is perfect for DOOM and he brings "excited writin', triflin' times ten" with mind-bendingly witty rhymes before closing with this gem:

"Get your ticket from the telepath
wicka-wicka-wicka on electroencephalograph"


14. That's That
prod by DOOM

"Rings of tinkerbell sing for things as frail as a fingernail"

This is the final great track on the album, consisting of one long verse over a nice little violin loop plucked out of MF's special herb garden. Once again DOOM showcases a long-winded flow of witty wordplay and multi-syllable rhyme patterns, at one point he spits this whole thing out in one breath:

"Sickest ninja injury this century enter plea lend sympathy to limper simple simon rhymin emcees"

The lyrical display is jaw-dropping on this track, he's teaching a class on how to dismantle a fake emcee: "Give an emcee a rectal hysterectomy, lecture on removal of the bowels, foul technically." The key point of it all is always to provide that raw organic and healthy food-for-thought, "drop degrees [or knowledge] to stop diseases."

DOOM is at his very best on this track. (Except for the Michael Jackson impression at the very end, that is.)


15. Supervillianz feat Kurious
prod by DOOM

"That's That" pretty much marks the end of the album for me. This song is by far my least favorite and the next two joints are skits. DOOM's got a wild rapid-fire flow but just one short verse while everyone else takes over the song. The beat is absolutely terrible and the gibberish-spewing Autotune chorus is unbearable. I almost think they made this song as a joke aiming at the horrific excuse for music that passes for rap nowadays. A complete flop in comparison to the first classic DOOM and Kurious collabo.


16. Bump's Message
prod by DOOM

A voicemail singing DOOM's praises. The album's basically over at this point.

17. Thank Ya
prod by DOOM

The same Special Herb beat that opens the record, except now we realize the voice is screaming "Thaaank ya! Thaaank ya!" over and over again. This smoothly transitions back into the opening and this CD is infinitely replayable with its rich rhyme collection.

OVERALL 8.5 out of 10
Lyrics 4.5/5
Beats 4/5

It's hard to give an overall rating to this album because if you consider the full 17 tracks there's a nice chunk (at least 4 or 5 tracks) of skippable stuff here. There are also also at least 6 absolutely incredible songs including one of the best DOOM tracks ever (Gazzillion Ear). Out of the tracks I rated, the average rating amounts to 8 out of 10. But because the lyrics are so damned good and the beat selection one of the most consistently solid from DOOM, I give it an 8.5 out of 10.

These are a few of the DOOM joints that came out around this same time period that I thought were just as dope as some of the best tracks on this album:

Sniper Elite (prod. by Dilla)

Fire Wood Drumstix (prod. by Dilla)

Mash's Revenge (prod. by Dilla)

"need me? I'll be peeing in the pool, ka-splash
you might feel a slight drizzle
villain give a squealer a candlelight vigil"

Trap Door (prod. by Jake One)


  1. If you're going to use my artwork, Id appreciate credit somewhere on your post. thank you
    Shaun Edwards - Ed Words Design

  2. Fixed. Thanks for letting me know. And great work.