Hip-hop artist MF DOOM is an enigma. Starting from his early work as ZEV LOVE X with KMD in the early ’90s, DOOM has proven himself to be one of rap’s most creative and prolific forces. Yet little is known about his personal life — and that’s the way he likes it.
He always wears a Dr. Doom mask (MF = Metal Face) and rarely makes public appearances as DOOM. Still, the 45 year-old New York native is a treasure of the underground hip-hop community. He started to obtain more mainstream recognition with the release of Madvillainy, a collaborative effort with producer Madlib. That same year DOOM also released a solo effort — Mm…Food. (The title is not only indicative of the album’s cuisine-based theme, but also functions as a clever anagram of MF DOOM.)
DOOM’s talent as a producer is special, as Mm…Food so brilliantly displays. DOOM’s sampling style is completely his own — most songs on the record (and on many other DOOM tracks) both dialogue and melody samples from old Fantastic Four cartoons, fitting with DOOM’s association with Dr. Doom. For example, the album’s opener, “Beef Rapp,” starts with a medley of dialogue samples that set the tone for what is to come. There are constant references to food — more specifically to the lack of availability of food — as the backing drums and sampled cartoon-score swell up. Finally, the beat drops. DOOM starts spitting effortlessly over a sample of the score of “Canon of Doom,” a Spiderman episode released in 1981. He is here to feed the people, who are hungry for rap.
“Beef Rap” is about just that — beef in rap. Every song on the album has a title referring to some specific food, which is used as a symbol of that song’s subject. In “Beef Rap” and throughout the album, DOOM uses cannibalism as a metaphor for crushing other rappers with skill. He warns rappers, “Beef rap could lead to gettin’ teeth capped/Or even a wreath for mom dukes on some grief crap.” Clearly, DOOM’s style of bragging is not typical. His use of food as a metaphor for is constant. Later on “Beef Rapp,” he mingles his threats with some poignant social commentary: “Top bleeding, maybe fella took the loaded rod gears/Stop feeding babies colored sugar-coated lard squares/The odd pair swears and God fears/Even when it’s rotten, we’ve gotten through the hard years.” His obsession with internal rhyming is beyond impressive, and I say without hyperbole that I believe DOOM’s lyrical prowess is second to none.
“Vomitspit” is further evidence of this. On this track, DOOM muses about the state of the rap game and makes clear to the listener that he’s never sold out: “Real rhymes not your everyday hologram/Even when ribs was touchin’ never swallowed the ham.” DOOM, a Muslim, is saying that even when he was at his lowest low, he didn’t give in to industry pressures. He ties food into this idea by using pork as a symbol for those pressures — even if he were starving, he wouldn’t eat pork because that would violate his faith. “Vomitspit” is also the album’s most succinct and enjoyable track. It features a sped-up sample of “Happy You Should Be” by Canadian fusion group Mashmakhan. It is an instrumental that evokes a cool sense of nostalgia, fitting well with the song’s lyrics.
The album’s middle section consists of four bizarre instrumentals, propelled forward by sampling of dialogue from a wide variety of often obscure TV shows and movies. In fact, as much as I try, I can’t find the source of some of these samples. This section could potentially spoil this album for some. I wasn’t too crazy about it myself when I first got into Mm…Food. But over time, it grew on me. Those four songs truly display DOOM’s commitment to his artistry and his dedication to putting his unique stamp on everything he touches. “Gumbo” is a particularly hilarious track — it contains a sample from a cooking show that discusses “edible rappers.” Again, DOOM is hinting at his ability to ‘eat other rappers up’ with his skills.
No evaluation of Mm…Food would be complete without discussing “Rap Snitch Knishes,” which contains the album’s best feature from a mysterious artist, “Mr. Fantastik.” He’s fascinating because nobody knows who he is. He appears on only one other DOOM song, and on both tracks he drops an amazing verse. (It has been speculated that Mr. Fantastik is just one of DOOM’s personal friends who happens to be an incredibly talented rapper.) DOOM and Fantastik have a good laugh at rappers snitching on themselves by bragging about their drug dealings. “Rap snitches, tellin’ all their business/Sit in the court and be their own star witness/’Do you see the perpetrator?’ ‘Yeah I’m right here’/F*ck around get the whole label sent up for years,” an amused Fantastik describes on the hook.
Mm…Food is a project that reveals new surprises with every listen. From the album cover to the countless samples of comical dialogue to the very last rhyme, this record truly is a piece of art. It’s DOOM’s best solo effort.
Nima Aminian is a junior majoring in economics. His column, Classics’ Corner, runs every other Thursday.