When the rapper MF DOOM comes to mind, most may think of his intricate internal rhyme schemes, cult-like underground following, raspy vocals and poetic lyricism, or maybe even the famous MF DOOM mask. Despite this, one aspect of the British-American rapper is clear; MF DOOM is spectacular to listen to, especially when it comes to his collaboration projects. Madvillainy with legendary producer Madlib, Key to the Kuffs with Jneiro Jarel, NehruvianDOOM with Bishop Nehru, and the highly anticipated DOOMSTARKS with Ghostface Killah. Enter DANGERDOOM, a collaboration between MF DOOM and Danger Mouse, producer of Gnarls Barkley, Demon Days, and Grammy Awards Producer of the Year in 2011. Together, the two released their first album, The Mouse and the Mask, through Epitaph and Lex Records in 2005.
The Mouse and the Mask, or should I say the Adult Swim promotional album, blends cartoon references, comic book themes, and a DOOM x Danger Mouse life soundtrack all into one. The references are not light with this one; there are numerous cartoons bits including Brak Show, Harvey Birdman, Underdog, The Jetsons, and the main thematic trope, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. These references remain corny, yet are fitting to what their vision of the project epitomizes.
The majority of the production on the album is reminiscent of kids movies and cartoon soundtracks. Danger Mouse set the tone of the album with obscure samples and playful riffs. “Benzie Box” resonates a mix of Westside Connection piano riffs and the Destroy All Humans soundtrack. The sample of Don Harper’s “Thoughtful Popper” in “Crosshairs” impresses with its suave guitar background and intense, in-your-face violin. Heavy drum-lines, palpable bass, and the Asian-influenced sample in “Mince Meat” compliment the 1-2 punch of MF DOOM’s AA/BB/CC rhyme scheme:
Sleek enough to outsly a fox // For a chicken pot pie, thinkin outside the box //
Would love to taste her goody // But got no time to be wastin chasin putty //
Out for Daffy Duck bucks, Porky Pig paper // Bugs Bunny money or Sylvester Cat caper
Additionally, the instrumental elicits a hard hip-hop head-nod. The soul-infused jazz sample on “Old School Rules” fits the essence of the song perfectly, as it reminisces of an old school De La Soul feel. Danger Mouse’s eclectic instrumentals range throughout a spectrum of abstraction, surrealism and cartoonism, but remain consistently nice.
DOOM’s rapping on The Mouse and the Mask executes exactly what one would expect from him; the intricate (and sometimes over the top) rhyme schemes that seemingly make no sense. It requires multiple listens to appreciate the depth of DOOM’s verses; flowing through his lines as water does along a creek-bed. Right off the bat, the internal rhymes on “El Chupa Nibre” oozes classic DOOM:
It was time well spent, vented //
Spelt and dented, hell-bented and heaven-scented
Additionally, The Mouse and the Mask contains classic obscure DOOM references; he’s the Madlib of rhyme-saying, who is known for his enigmatic samples. For instance:
Never too woozy to go study, crews got no clues //
Like old cruddy Officer McGillicuddy
implies that DOOM is never too inebriated to perfect his craft, but other cats simply do not have his intelligence about it; similar to an inarticulate Officer McGillicuddy from the classic 1934 film The Mysterious Mr. Wong.
Moreover, DOOM’s “Basket Base” challenges people to look beyond the superficiality of masks. He personally implies that those who wear them are not necessarily guilty of something; avoiding the spotlight does not always entail veiling purposes. This metaphor for the underground/counter-culture slips through almost unnoticed, yet lobbies a heavy sentiment.
Numerous cartoon references aside, the limited features on The Mouse and the Mask enlarge the artistic vision of the album successfully. Ghostface Killah’s fast-paced feature as Tony Starks on “The Mask” complements DANGERDOOM well; they speak on the DOOMSTARKS hero collaboration and Tony’s life after he removes the mask. The Southern hip-hop influenced Cee Lo Green is featured on the melodic hook for “Benzie Box,” as he flows well over the seemingly extra-terrestrial instrumental. Last but not least, the unusual, yet enjoyably playful Talib Kweli verse on “Old School Rules” displays an effectively comedic facet of the conscientious rapper.
The Mouse and the Mask accomplishes what most expected from the collaboration; yet, what the album sets out to do remains as its only obstacle. The playful production and comedic references require a specific environment to thrive. Thus, the album limits itself to this niche. For example, “Basket Base” contains sampled criminal hearings having Harvey Birdman defend Shaggy and Scooby Doo for smoking pot in the Mystery Machine, in addition to the defense of Boo-Boo from The Yogi Bear Show and Fred Flintstones’ multiple personality disorder. Although executed well, its structure hinders any attempt at hip hop immortality. Despite failing to live up to Madvillainy or Demon Days standards, The Mouse and the Mask adds another quality release to the discography of both DOOM and Danger Mouse. Fans of either artist will appreciate it for what it is; a comical exhibition of perplexing rhyme schemes over skillfully whimsical instrumentals.