DOOM – ‘Unexpected Guests’
November 30, 2009 § Leave a comment
Published: The Vine, November 29. 2009.
Despite his profuse two-decade-long recording career, Daniel Dumile (aka DOOM) has spent plenty of time in the creative wilderness. Between his early ’90s work with New York trio KMD as Zevlove X – including 1994’s notorious Black Bastards, which was pulled from most record stores soon after release – his 1999 debut as MF Doom Operation Doomsday, his definitive 2004 Madvillain collab with LA beat king Madlib and this year’s noise-skittled, positively bonkers Bukowski elegy Born Like This, the metal-masked couplet-crusher has spent ample time out of sight and out of mind.
New compile Unexpected Guests plots a clutch of DOOM’s guest appearances, re-workings, productions and collaborations from his relatively quiet times; many of which were in the four years between 2005’s Danger Doom project and Born Like This. It’s a telling concept, especially considering just how many verses such a master of MCing idiosyncrasies spits on non-DOOM projects. Indeed, while hardcore fans have probably come across this material in one form or another, a project like Unexpected Guests gives some kind of narrative to DOOM’s creative trajectory throughout otherwise quiet times.
There are any number of highlights here. Dumile’s all over the spiralling hook of ‘Rock Co. Kane Flow’ – his guest spot on De La Soul’s 2004 Grind Date – eating “rappers like part of a complete breakfast / whose rhymes aren’t worth weight of their cheap necklaces”, where ‘Sniper Elite’, from the never-to-be DillaDOOM project, has him spitting verbiage over the spacious guitar line and rocketing snare of a vintage Dilla hook. ‘?’, meanwhile, sees DOOM and Kurious trading razor-sharp verses atop a shimmering disco-funk chop.
It’s not all play; there is a hardness to the collection. Cuts like ‘All Outta Ale’ have the master villain at his brooding, booze-swilling best, replete with a lurking, bass-led dirge. ‘Bells of DOOM’ is a killer, with Dumile stringing a stomping beat and horn line through a diffuse field of church bells.
But while there are some great moments, Unexpected Guests tends to lack the kind of depth that Dumile owes both himself and his fans. We all know the swashbuckling super villain who can pull off such blips of rhyming peculiarity as “pure diamond” and “torn hymen”, “poor timin’” and “Paul Simon tourin’, I’m in”, but what makes DOOM such a master is his ability to drop vivid personal and political detail amongst the outward flippancy. Who can forget his vivid, blood-spattered renderings of a crooked legal system on ‘Absolutely’ or post-apocalyptic vistas on ‘Cellz’? And that’s just going back Born Like This. Listen to Madvillainy and you’ll witness an eccentric rap storyteller of the highest order.
As such, Unexpected Guests ends up occupying something of an uncomfortable middle ground. No doubt, it’ll give fans and fresh faces a good tickle. The problem is that it will only give them half the story.
DOOM may be in-demand for his madcap guest verses, but his best material resonates for its meticulous, slow-burn detail and mastery of the craft.