Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Operation:Doomsday is a classic

And this is why I took the time to write this silly post. First, I would like to direct your attention to a much shorter yet generally accurate review of the album here.

Newer hip-hop fans may not know this, but there was a time when MF DOOM was not an indie sensation. There was a time when he did not have his own line of Nike SB Dunks, a time when was unknown to those watching Adult Swim, a time when he couldn't afford to send impostors wearing DOOM masks to his live performances in his place. There was even a time when MF DOOM rapped and was not MF DOOM. Instead, Daniel Dumile was first known as Zev Love X, an Afrocentric MC who made music with his twin brother DJ Subroc and friend Rodan under the moniker KMD (Kausing Much Damage). Tragically, during the recording of their 1994 sophomore LP Black Bastards (not to be released until 2001 due to its political content, a source of frustration for Dumile), Subroc was hit by a car and killed. This loss profoundly shook Dumile, who has admitted that he was "damn near homeless" afterward, "walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches."

Fast forward to 1999. Daniel Dumile has finally started to rap again. Zev Love X, however, is no longer; MF DOOM has now taken his place. DOOM does not release an incendiary follow-up to Black Bastards, but instead drops Operation:Doomsday, a loose concept album relating the story of Dr. Doom to MF DOOM, ultimately portraying DOOM as half-street smart/half-comic book nerd supervillain. The concept would make it a remarkable record in its own right, but in light of Dumile's history and stunning transformation, it strikes me as even more fascinating. I've been bumping this since late April and I seem to find more to love about it on each listen and yet I never see it mentioned when people talk about the best hip-hop albums of the 90s. Of course, one could easily respond by saying "well, that's because it ISN'T one of the best albums of the 90s," and from a purely technical standpoint, that may be true. Still, I think DOOM deserves a lot of credit for his originality and creativity; he created one hell of a persona for himself within the course of 19 tracks. And while DOOM the MC may be overrated in a few circles, DOOM the producer is most certainly underrated by about everyone, and he shows that he can give even Prince Paul competition when it comes to sampling creativity. So, I think I'll grace my two or so readers with a detailed track-by-track write up on Operation:Doomsday (I hope you aren't scared away by its length!), mainly because it appears to be so overlooked by hip-hop fans.

While he was no longer Zev Love, DOOM was still undoubtedly influenced by the unfortunate events in his recent past during the making of Operation:Doomsday. DOOM does not only refer to Subroc throughout the LP, but there is something different about his delivery on this album vs. both his earlier AND his later work. A lot of people tend criticize DOOM for having a monotone voice and off-beat/boring flow, although I think his low-key delivery adds to his mystique as a laid-back, successful supervillain. I think his performance on this will silence those critics, however, as he sounds a lot more lively and urgent on this disc anywhere else. I'd like to think that his identity was still somewhat in flux during this time; he was done being Zev Love X, but how would he let his audience know that DOOM was an entirely different creature? That his new DOOM incarnation (with the mask and all) wasn't just some marketing gimmick? To erase these doubts, he steps to the mic boisterously and confidently without sounding self-satisfied.

Okay, so onto the actual music. MF DOOM himself doesn't narrate the story of Dr. Doom, but relies on Fantastic Four samples to do the job for him, weaving his full-length tracks in between them. He doesn't necessarily directly relate his songs to these skits, but they work to make the LP more cohesive and provide a general sense of where DOOM is coming from. I don't really know where to start, so I think I'll go with a track by track rundown on this (don't worry, I won't dedicate a whole paragraph each to every song). I'm not a big fan of the format, but it's the only way I can provide links to SAMPLES for each song! Ooh, I know you crate diggers out there must be getting excited (though I didn't do any digging of my own, these were found courtesy of the-breaks.com).

This is a bit long, so first I'll just tell you songs that I consider MUST reads/listens if you're strapped for time (alternatively, you can jump to the end for a summary):

Doomsday
Go With the Flow
Red And Gold
Dead Bent
Gas Drawls
? feat. Kurious
I Hear Voices, Part 1


1) The Time We Faced Doom (Skit)

This isn't your typical bullshit intro skit, as it actually sets the tone for the remainder of the album. The Fantastic Four are beginning to tell the story of how they beat Dr. Doom when Doom suddenly calls in to tell the story himself.

2) Doomsday
"Definition 'super-villain': a killer who love children
One who is well-skilled in destruction, as well as buildin"

I love love love this. This captures MF DOOM's character in a nutshell. He really goes all over the place as far as lyrical content this track, and yet somehow you get the feeling that you understand his style more and more with each line. There are really too many quotables on this to go through the entire thing, as there is practically no hook and he raps straight for 3+ minutes. There is a short refrain that appears twice in the track that I find especially moving, though:

"On Doomsday!
Ever since the womb til I'm back where my brother went
That's what my tomb will say
Right above my government, Doom will lay (probably a play on his last name, Dumile)
Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who's to say?"

The beat fits DOOM perfectly. Mellow drums, a jazzy keyboard loop, somber female vocals, scratching, it's all there. Did I mention that he produced the entire album? Anyway, here's the track for you to listen to:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=zfl7lhJuTis

He samples singer Sade Adu's "Kiss of Life" and makes her voice work in an entirely different context. Peep the video around the 1:20 mark: http://youtube.com/watch?v=zfl7lhJuTis

3) Rhymes Like Dimes

The first time I heard this track I was underwhelmed (mainly because Doomsday put me in such an incredible high), but it's grown a lot on me with repeated listens. DOOM rides this strange game show sounding beat really well (or perhaps doesn't ride it at all, depending on how you look at things), with some quotable lines again:

"I sell rhymes like dimes
The one who mostly keep cash but brag about the broker times
Joker rhymes, like the 'Is you just happy to see me?' trick
Classical slap-stick rappers need Chapstick
A lot of 'em sound like they in a talent show
So I give 'em something to remember, like the Alamo
Tally-ho! A high Joker like Spades game
Came back from five year layin' and stayed the same"

You can listen to the track here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=rgZX71tbr3w

He samples James Ingram's "One Hundred Ways," again unpredictably. Check this: http://youtube.com/watch?v=H3v3vWNp-YU

4) The Finest feat. Tommy Gunn

Alright, I think I'm going to start highlighting my personal favorites after this lest I get repetitive. Another good track, DOOM and his partner just trade hard and humorous battle rhymes:

"I know about going paid to broke, to next day well-off
To bust a shell off, to 'Dick-riders! Get the hell off!'"
The song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=UHKIg17oHPI&feature=related

Samples The SOS Band's "The Finest" pretty straight forwardly: http://youtube.com/watch?v=2Pn9zDVyPHM

5) Back In The Days (Skit)

6) Go With The Flow

Another one of my favorites. DOOM samples Kool G. Rap's "Truly Yours" and The Spinners' "Ain't No Price On Happiness" to create a beat of magic here, one that can "make a Arab thief clap/With no hands, I chop these drums off Truly Yours, G rap." There's no need for me to quote anything, just listen to it: http://youtube.com/watch?v=NK4YB64XT0c

Sample - DJ Polo and Kool G. Rap: http://youtube.com/watch?v=cHdCVipO1mY

Sample - The Spinners: http://youtube.com/watch?v=ztuPbFZ-r9o

7) Tick, Tick Feat. MF Grimm

I didn't really like this track at first until I looked up the original Beatles sample. DOOM plays with the actual tempo of the beat throughout while Grimm does his thing. I thought it was annoying at first, but seeing just how much he altered it… you'll have to hear for yourself; it might even take you a few listens to pick up on the sample.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=I_wWbcWfxZA

Sample - The Beatles' "Glass Onion": http://youtube.com/watch?v=sCTbO5w-m4o

8) Red And Gold Feat. King Geedorah

Okay okay so I know I said I'd stop highlighting every track, but as I go through the tracklisting, it's hard to find one that isn't notable in some way. Although the title says it's featuring an MC named King Geedorah, King Geedorah is actually just another alter-ego of Daniel Dumile based on King Ghidra, Godzilla's three headed nemesis. How fucking ill is that? I'll leave it to you readers to do a little research on the full premise of Geedorah, but just know this is another serious contender for favorite track/best beat on the album. These drums are HUGE, and MF DOOM creatively interpolates a seemingly simple cheesy 80s sample yet again. Everything is just perfect here. Quotes don't do Geedorah's lyrics justice, but what the hell:

"No science-fiction to no theater near you, coming soon to
Fuck with you frequently like how phases of the moon would do
You could gather 'round like it was an eclipse
Just don't look directly to the bitch, you may be blinded by the crips"

Just listen to this PLEASE: http://youtube.com/watch?v=nepVH1FI_Tg

Sample – The Deele "Shoot Em Up Movies": http://youtube.com/watch?v=IWT9MEPLWFE

9) The Hands of Doom (Skit)

10) Who You Think I Am? Feat. Featuring King Caesar, Rodan, Megalon, Kamackeris & Kong

The album's posse cut. DOOM samples jazz musician Yusef Lateef's "Eastern Market," which is actually a really good standalone piece, probably a better track than DOOM's. Still, some of the guest verses are pretty good, so it's worth hearing.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=wKKeQMXPfPM

Sample – Yusef Lateef's "Eastern Market": http://youtube.com/watch?v=Z-2bT8_x_Dw

11) Doom, Are You Awake? (Skit)

12) Hey!

Cool little diddy, DOOM talks about drug dealing in his own way over a Scooby Doo sample.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=aCB8xg7J4PE

13) Operation: Greenbacks Feat. Megalon and King Geedorah

"What a fella! Like Salt, Pepa, Spinderella
I came to spark the deaf, dumb and blind like Helen Keller
If I'm not with George of the Jungle, if he not with Stella
Or either Priscilla, I'm doing dips on Godzilla
…Though y'all know he don't play, right?"

How he (now King Geedorah/Ghidra again, not MF DOOM) was able to incorporate lines like these into a song about getting money, I'm still not sure. People say Weezy F. Baby's strength relies on his ability to string together rambling incoherent boasts for the sake of fun, but guys like Dumile have been doing it for years. Really ill soulful beat on this, too.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=aLMNxtKpzdQ

Sample - Isaac Hayes' "Our Day Will Come": http://www.last.fm/music/Isaac+Hayes/_/Our+Day+Will+Come

14) The Mic

Very solid, if slightly abstract storytelling track about DOOM doing live performances and meeting women. Like all other DOOM songs, repeated listenings allow you to pick up golden lines like these:

"Myself and two a alikes had ran through this crew of three
In my earlier days they showed me things new to me
So we knew mad brothers who they had hit off
They even used to watch each other just to rock they shit off"

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=n1srVcu25t8
Sample – Atlantic Starr's "All In The Name of Love": http://youtube.com/watch?v=B2MYRh2syx4

15) The Mystery of Doom (Skit)

16) Dead Bent

The way he flips Isaac Hayes' "Walk on By" here is just ridiculous. He effortlessly turns a bluesy, soulful ballad into an aggressive, edgy beat.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=hL5cun2kQ6M (this is actually a quite clever video)

Sample – Isaac Hayes' "Walk on By": http://youtube.com/watch?v=0XIIivxCtzM

17) Gas Drawls

Between Doomsday and this, it's really hard to choose the album's best cut. DOOM is really on some other shit here. It features some of my favorite lines on the album:

"the super villain-
cooler than a million
i be chillin
still quick to slice squares like sicilian
dont make me have to hurt them feelins
ill ruin you in the dirt that i be doin in my dealins
sendin spirits through the ceilin'-
chrome peelin'-
dome blown
within the comforts of your own home
grown big
wheelin' and high rollin'
I hold the lye-
it keeps the sty on my eye swollen"

Beyond examining particular rhymes, it's really hard to describe any of these tracks just because he can spit from 13418 directions within a single verse. And really, you have to actually hear his flow for the lines to be compelling. Anyway, he scratches the laid back vocals from "Black Cow" by Steely Dan into the track to create what may be the best beat on the album (only Red And Gold gives this competition, IMO).

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=_g3D_05Hd_Y&feature=related

Sample – Steely Dan's "Black Cow": http://youtube.com/watch?v=kS9Ll02CNjU

18) ? feat. Kurious

You get the feeling that the entire LP was leading up to this point, as the beat has already appeared on several skits. Dr. Doom announces that “the last thing to fit... was the mask” before MF DOOM spits:
“He cleans his metal mask with gasoline
Then after I'm last seen
Pullin' a chick like a fiend
Pull a fast one
Can't put shit past him
Got niggas on his own team mad enough to blast him”

This is the first time DOOM uses a Fantastic Four skit to lead directly into a track. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that he waits this long to assert that he and Dr. Doom are essentially the same; he uses all of the preceding tracks to establish how the music industry and personal tragedy have forced him to become like said supervillain. This is reinforced on the last verse, containing DOOM’s most detailed and heartfelt lyrics concerning Subroc’s death:

“By candlelight my hand will write these rhymes 'til I'm burnt out
Mostly from experience, shit that I learned about
...
You know I know
These hos be asking me if I'm you
Like my twin brother we did everything together
From under ? to coppin butter leathers
Remember when you went and got the dark blue Ballys
I had all the different color Cazale Cazales
But SubRoc, you shoulda went with the Ruby and the old Ock
Truly the illest dynamic duo on the whole block
I keep a flick of you with the machete sword in your hand
Everything is going according to plan man”

Dr. Doom returns after this verse, announcing that he has come to seek revenge on those who forced him to don his mask. Before he can enact his revenge, an explosion can be heard followed by a voice declaring “well, that’s the end of Doom!” There is still one track left, however...

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=mkhhwg8dRDM

19) I Hear Voices (Part 2)

“You thought I was done for, eh? Well I’m very much... ALIVE” proclaims Dr. Doom before DOOM steps in and obliterates this track. And I mean obliterates. I’m getting lazy here, but DOOM demonstrates why he’s lyrically ill and picks up women and what not before cutting back to a Dr. Doom sample where Doom threatens the world with mass destruction if he is not elected world leader. He counts down to 2 seconds before an explosion is heard, and Operation:Doomsday comes to a close.

Song: http://youtube.com/watch?v=lIpVZlBvscA

---

MAN, I can’t believe I just did that. Tracking down some of those links where harder than I’d thought they’d be. If you decided to skip all of that, it’s fine, just know that I consider Operation:Doomsday to be a classic. I remember someone arguing that MF DOOM has never been a Dilla, Premier, or Madlib behind the boards, but I think that’s missing the point. With almost no blueprint before him, DOOM was able to create a marriage of beats and rhymes that almost perfectly accomplished his goal of creating a new (if whacky) identity for himself. I would even go as far as to say that it’s the 90s’ answer to De La’s 3 Feet High And Rising, given both LPs were littered with quirky samples that served to boldly distinguish their creators from their peers. Really, when you try to put yourself in Dumile’s shoes in 1999, crafting this LP must’ve posed quite a risk; he could’ve alienated the already narrow fan base he’d established with KMD, the Beatles sample probably wasn’t cleared, etc. The album is out of print now, but I suggest you get your hands on this via ALL MEANS NECESSARY. E-mail me if you’re at a loss of how to do so.

3 comments:

Greg said...

Hmm, very interesting. Me as a comic fan, reading this actually gets me a little interested in hearing some of this stuff. I've been wanting to listen to MF Doom for a little while, too. So great job in that.

Also, "...Joker rhymes, like the 'Is you just happy to see me?' trick
Classical slap-stick rappers need Chapstick"

Dude, you've no idea how funny I found that! :D

Anonymous said...

i really enjoyed reading this berto...but as someone who blogs, i shudder to think about how long it took you to write all that ^_~

-sunny

Jeremy said...

Well well well. I finally woke up to this jointe and to quote Q-tip I was "spiffy in a jiff." your post (dare I say review)

I haven't looked at your analysis of every song because well as you know there are some songs on the album I can't stop diggin, and some I still sleep on. I'll get to 'em, don't worry.

Doomsday marks the first album where I like the remixes more than the actual samples! Usually when i dig some dilla or madlib snit I REALLY dig the source. But here, the sources were lackluster compared to doom's skillz. He truly is a threat to Paul's crown.

I love the end of rhymes like dimes where he's like "umm what are you supposed to say at the end of records? YEAH! WOO!! mashed potatoes! Applesauce! Buttery...biscuits" It had me ROLLIN on the floor!!! XD I got hysterical and I was on my bike too.

And the tempo mindfucks on tick tick are not annoying, they're hypnotic! I love the lyrics on that track.

"Death I hear ya callin', I accept collect" Who writes that??!?!?!

I'm glad (and even a little pretentious) that I REALLY got into KMD before getting into doom. They still hold it down: Sweet Premium Wine!