On New Years Eve we learned that the legendary underground rapper, MF DOOM, born Daniel Dumille, had died earlier in the year. A sad loss musically, it is sadder still given the losses the rapper’s family have previously been through, losses that MF DOOM carried through into his lyrics and persona. In honour of one of the most compelling, imaginative and influential voices in Hip Hop, we look back at ‘Mm..Food’ as our classic album of the month.
Selecting just one classic album from MF DOOM’s discography is a challenge. His solo debut ‘Operation: Doomsday’ rewrote the script for characterisation and narrative in Hip Hop, and the 2004 collaboration with Madlib, ‘Madvillainy’, saw him score the closest he got to a mainstream breakthrough. Elsewhere, works under aliases like Viktor Vaughan and King Geedorah feature much of his finest work and collaborations on albums with Danger Mouse, Czarface and Janeiro Jarel can’t be overlooked. However, ‘Mm..Food’ stands apart as the album that shows DOOM could do it all, on his own terms.
While Dumille had several albums under his belt by the time of ‘Mm..Food’s 2004 release, it was technically the follow up to his debut record ‘Operation: Doomsday’. That it was conceived of as a follow up is clear as the opening skits declare “Operation Doomsday complete”. Released within months of ‘Madvillainy’, his much lauded collaboration with Madlib, this completely self-directed effort would show DOOM could hit the highest levels all on his own. Beginning with the album title, an anagram of MF DOOM, the creative flexing is unceasing as a narrative played around food puns draws out. As with all DOOM albums, there are samples pulled from cartoons, in particular an episode of Spider-Man featuring the villain Dr. Doom, whom MF DOOM based part of his character on. Elsewhere there are vocal snippets of Dr. Dre, saying “hot shit” and others pulled from Frank Zappa about “snacks”. The uninitiated could be forgiven for finding it all a little trite. While the concept and threats of skits and samples are very much part of the DOOM sound, it’s the beats and the bars that really help ‘Mm..Food’ stand alone as a classic.
Having just dropped an album featuring beats from one of the wizards of Hip Hop production, Dumille took little chance that listeners could think he was relying on others here by plundering his own back catalogue of instrumental albums, ‘Special Herbs’, for backing tracks and breaks. Elsewhere he sampled from Sade, on ‘Kon Karne’, and from Bryan Ferry. An idiosyncratic beat maker, here credited as Metal Fingers, Dumille channels boom bap while leaning on piano-based instrumentals that recall the family-friendly production music of film and TV. The result is an album that is musically complex, deeply layered, and surprisingly accessible. Most interestingly, this is the album where DOOM’s cut and splice style, pulling from 80s and 90s VHS tapes, his own beats and those of others in an often staccato fashion, really comes together. Treated with a healthy dose of reverb when needed to create space, and often panned aggressively, the attention drawn to the splices between samples turn into the solid but unseen frames of the comic strip that is the MF DOOM sound.
Lyrically, DOOM has been recognised as having one of the broadest vocabularies in Hip Hop. His flow is like no other and his dense rhyming schemes often loop through split lines making a mockery of conventional 16 bar structures. By building stutters and glitches into both his beats and rhymes, DOOM adds complexity without ever interrupting flow as on ‘Kon Queso’ where he takes aim at lesser MCs and their limited lyricism, “He told 'em they flows is bitch talk and ayo's, His whole crew walk with pitchfork and halos”. It’s enough to say that lines and rhymes like these can be plucked almost at random from ‘Mm..Food’, and from DOOM’s entire discography, and that this is not the place for a close reading of this most dense and rewarding of lyricists.
In terms of standout tracks, ‘Kon Karne’ makes impressive use of the aforementioned piano sample from Sade’s ‘Is It a Crime’, while album opener ‘Beef Rap’ castigates the Hip Hop community for tearing each other down while at the same time lifting DOOM to new heights. Much loved and discussed, ‘Rapp Snitch Knishes’ takes aim at rappers foolish enough to admit to criminal activity in song, while also proclaiming love for a traditional New York Jewish doughy snack. Featuring bars from Mr. Fantastik, who has never been officially identified, DOOM draws out lines referencing or alluding to Tears for Fears, traditional Gospel spirituals, and the Wizard of Oz.
What really makes ‘Mm..Food’ such an important album is that it really is simply the sum of its parts. Released when DOOM was at his most prolific, and given that he spent long periods in virtual self-exile it is a notable time, this album acts as a snapshot of the power behind the man in the gladiator inspired metal mask. DOOM will be remembered as a dramatic and inspired cartoonish character, a deeply talented and sought after lyricist, and an accomplished and tantalizingly left field producer. ‘Mm..Food’ is not his magnum opus. Instead, it offers a snapshot of a talent at its peak and each listen should encourage further exploration of a discography that is broad and should be mined deeply. Few can write an album about food, spend much of their time trashing their contemporaries and the genre they work in, and then turn the tale into a comic book escapade that furthers their own career and goes down as a classic. MF DOOM could, and he did.