Danger Doom – The Mouse and the Mask

Danger Doom
The Mouse and the Mask

In more ways than one, MF Doom is a mad scientist. Not only does he adopt superhero/villain personalities on his various albums (witness the mysterious voice’s admonishment of Doom to conduct “strange, forbidden experiments” on Vaudeville Villain), but he has throughout his career consistently tinkered with his music’s genome, delighting in the splicing and grafting of different producers’ DNA with his own. The results have almost always been stunning, the most recent and most notable success being his collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy.

So when Doom announced a collaboration with Dangermouse, fans were excited, if hardly surprised. After all, the two underground sensations were made for each other. In fact, one could imagine Doom and Mouse hanging out in a basement somewhere on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons, perhaps rapping over the theme song to Scooby Doo. With the arrival of The Mouse and the Mask, it has become apparent that that image is perhaps all too appropriate.

Doom and Mouse are joined, you see, by the motley cast of Cartoon Network’s runaway success, Adult Swim. It’s no surprise that the two masterminds behind this album would incorporate cartoon themes, but with the addition of the Adult Swim characters, the whole thing takes on the air of a Sunday afternoon matinee. This temptation created massive potential for ruinous excess. Luckily, Doom reigns in and tightly controls the cartoon characters’ contributions, limiting them to a tastefully minor role. In fact, he and Dangermouse so effectively utilize the Adult Swim cast that it actually enhances the experience. For instance, Master Shake wants to contribute his own rapping talent to Danger Doom’s album, and he drops by every few songs with a series of increasingly aggravated phone messages in which he vents his frustration at being ignored. Even Meatwad drops a few verses, building off his hilarious character on the show Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

With the exception of the song “ATHF,” dedicated to the characters of the aforementioned show, Doom thankfully keeps to topics other than cartoons. Album-opener “El Chupa Nibre” is built on a classic Doom space-laser beat, and Doom picks up the pace of his delivery to match. “Sofa King” features a superb beat based off of old-school samples. Better still, Doom manages to overshadow the beat towards the end of the song with an intense dead-pan delivery. Ghostface Killah of Wu-Tang fame drops by for “The Mask,” ruminating with Doom about superheroes and aliens. Towards the end, he echoes Doom’s career-long preoccupation: “Me and Doom / … / superheroes for life till our souls vanish.”

Elsewhere, Talib Kweli contributes an excellent verse and hook for “Old School Rules,” a raucous horn-led song on which Kweli and Doom lament the fact that rap skills are often predicated on violent pedigrees; “Since when rhyme skills have to do with killin’ a cat / what type of chitlins is that?” rhymes Doom. Cee-Lo sings the hook on “Benzi Box,” marking Doom’s highest-profile collaborator to date.

Doom carries the rest of the album, with periodic help from Space Ghost, Brack, and others. The irresistible interplay of Dangermouse and the Metal-faced One flourishes throughout, falling just short of that of Madlib and Doom on Madvillainy. The beats on The Mouse and the Mask are remarkably consistent, satisfactorily complex, and surprisingly subtle. Doom is, as usual, at his best, spitting ridiculous deadpan verses that explore simultaneously the world of sunny weekend cartoons and the grimy, crime-ridden real world. Still, the tone of The Mouse and the Mask is notably lighter than that of the introspective, brooding Madvillainy. Dangermouse’s sunny production and the cast of Adult Swim serves to cast still more sunshine on Doom’s playful, lighthearted wordplay, and this combination provides one of the best contexts yet for his remarkable talent. This one’s a keeper.