Hot on the heels of MF DOOM’s aborted The Missing Notebook Rhymes project, Hugh Leask rounds up the acclaimed rapper’s finest deep cuts, from collaborations with Aesop Rock and Percee P, to under-appreciated loosies and rarities.
The Missing Notebook Rhymes, MF DOOM’s recent project with Adult Swim, had just started to gather momentum before it was abruptly cancelled late last month. The planned 15-part series of previously-unreleased material had already revealed collaborations with Jay Electronica and Kool Keith, and was building a genuine buzz – even among the cynics who’d long grown tired of the endlessly-teased DOOM / Ghostface Killah collaboration album and the egregious DOOMposter live show shenanigans a few years back.
But with the remainder of The Missing Notebook Rhymes inventory now on ice for the foreseeable future (the series still had seven weeks left to run), fans have been left guessing as to what might still be laying in the vault.
So at this point it’s perhaps worth throwing some light on a few of the lesser-known moments from the supervillain’s sizable stockpile of loosies, guest appearances and collaborations. For while DOOM’s work with Madlib (as Madvillain) and Danger Mouse (DangerDOOM) – plus sundry duets with Ghostface and De La Soul – is rightfully celebrated, there’s a wealth of low-key tracks and off-piste curios that have often been lost in the shuffle, particularly during his prolific early 2000s period.
The Molemen feat. Aesop Rock, Slug & MF DOOM
‘Put Your Quarter Up’
There’s a long and rich history of cross-pollination between hip-hop and video games: from Def Jam Vendetta and 50 Cent’s Bulletproof and Blood On The Sand titles to Beanie Sigel’s Pacman-inspired ‘Mac Man’, Lil’ Flip’s Houston takeover ‘Game Over’ and Little Brother’s throwback homage ‘Atari 2600’.
Here, though, the metal-faced villain deftly weaves the track’s old school video game theme into that ever-dependable hip-hop staple, the back-in-the-day reminisce rap – crowning himself king of the coin-op in the process. Robotron, Defender and Spy Hunter are all name-checked, as DOOM – in rare nostalgic mode – reflects on “when your last five never went to weed / More likely on like twenty rounds of Centipede…”
Scienz of Life
(Sub Verse Music, 2001)
The Fantastic Four’s Doctor Doom might have been the original inspiration for the DOOM persona, but in truth the enigmatic MC has always borrowed from a much wider spectrum of TV, film and literature for ideas. In the past, he’s name-checked The Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling and compared himself to Shakespeare’s Othello, while the Monsta Island Czars and King Geedorah projects tapped into Japan’s kaiju monster genre.
On this team-up with one-time Fondle ‘Em Records labelmates Scienz Of Life, DOOM’s lyrics pay tribute to ’80s pop culture, quoting from The Goonies and plotting to “confuse your crew like Rubik’s Cube”. Enough to leave your mind blown, ain’t it?
The Herbaliser feat. MF DOOM
‘It Ain’t Nuttin’’
(Ninja Tune, 2002)
By dropping a flurry of celebrated albums – Vaudeville Villain, Take Me To Your Leader, Madvillainy and Mm…Food – in quick succession, DOOM would frequently serve as a rallying point for the post-Rawkus indie rap diaspora at various junctures during his prolific early 2000s run.
‘It Ain’t Nuttin’’ exemplifies that creative subterranean spirit, with its rousing cinematic backdrop, sharp rhymes and an accomplished scratching finale. More importantly, though, with London-based duo The Herbaliser on production the song also hints at the UK-born rapper’s future transatlantic musical connections.
‘Is He Ill?’
In yet another case of the B-side winning (this is the flip of ‘Yee Haw’, DOOM’s only solo 12” on the Molemen label), our masked protagonist drops punchline-packed raps over a whimsical PNS-produced groove that’s accented with a Slick Rick vocal snippet that answers the titular question at hand.
The rhyming finesse and substantial rap pedigree on display here forcefully demonstrate why DOOM’s name was starting to creep into those Best Rapper Alive conversations during this time. Choice quotable: “Now who get iller with the pen than I do? And in it just to get the Benjamin like Netanyahu? / Let the god bless you like ‘achoo!’ / Get you like ‘What’s that on your chest?’ – Got you!”
Shape Of Broad Minds feat. MF DOOM
‘Let’s Go (Space Boogie)’
(Lex Records, 2007)
DOOM has often mingled with rap royalty over the years, collaborating with Wu-Tang’s Ghostface and reportedly once stopping by a pool party thrown by Nas and Kelis. But the man in the mask has never been afraid to venture further out into the more leftfield sonic reaches of the hip-hop constellation.
Here, the title ‘Let’s Go (Space Boogie)’, encapsulates the song’s P-Funk-inspired disco-futurist sound perfectly, as the erstwhile Zev Love X channels the vibrant lyrical symbolism of his old KMD days. He’d later reunite with Shape Of Broad Minds’ chief architect Jneiro Jarel in 2012 as JJ DOOM for their collaborative album Keys To The Kuffs. That effort offered a murkier, choppier tone than the effervescent vibe here, as DOOM, by then in exile in the UK, riffed on the dark eccentricities of London life.
J Dilla feat. MF DOOM & Guilty Simpson
(Stones Throw, 2007)
On one of the many songs that have utilized the late J Dilla’s highly-regarded instrumental album Donuts (this one uses the ‘Mash’ beat), DOOM and Guilty Simpson together spark a verbal insurgency, the former forthrightly declaring how he “holds the mic like a fistful of dynamite”.
The song’s jaunty piano loop – which comes off like a skewed ballroom-dancing number – belies the man in the mask’s villainous behavior (“Need me? I’ll be peeing in the pool, ka-splash! / You may feel a slight drizzle / Villain’ll give a squealer a candlelight vigil”), before he ups the threats of violence to Wu-Tang skit levels. Such nefarious intimidation shouldn’t sound this good.
The Heliocentrics feat. Percee P & MF DOOM
In which the metal-faced villain and legendary Rhyme Inspector Percee P trade lyrical pyrotechnics over a pounding haymaker beat courtesy of drummer Malcolm Catto’s London-based jazz-funk ensemble.
While Percee dominates proceedings early on, spitting lyrics in his intense ’89 rhyme style, sparring partner DOOM delivers the final flourish, with multi-syllable science that almost serves as a precis of his entire modus operandi: “Known to be fanatical / Especially with the rhymes that’s totally radical / Get smacked, it’s good for you like barley food / Villain go Hollywood and still be gnarly dude…”
Jake One feat. MF DOOM
‘Get ‘Er Done’
One of two DOOM appearances on Seattle producer Jake One’s 2008 debut White Van Music (along with ‘Trap Door’), ‘Get ‘Er Done’ showed that even as his output was becoming increasingly sporadic and patchy as the ’00s wore on, he was still capable of delivering strong guest spots.
Yes, the track slaps, but as more details about the DOOM character seeped out with each new release – here he outlines how he likes his steaks done – it added to the sense that the initial mystique that once made him so exciting was gradually being eroded.
MED, Blu & Madlib feat. DOOM
(Bang Ya Head, 2015)
Here, California underground mainstays MED, Blu and Madlib enlist the Long Island-raised rapper for their underrated 2015 long-player Bad Neighbor. Zeroing in on the album’s title, DOOM’s verse grabs the theme and runs with it, as he drops round to MED’s empty crib and mischievously helps himself to, well, pretty much everything.
Set to a hazy filtered vocal loop of Bernie Worrell’s ‘I’ll Be With You’, scenic highlights include DOOM raiding the DVD stash (“I ain’t seen Scandal”) before pilfering a beer or six from the fridge. Still, he at least had the good grace not to snatch up his man’s sneakers, a point adeptly made via an old Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh lyric. Imagine what sorts of fun he’d have had at Nas and Kelis’s place though.
Hugh Leask is on Twitter