I've been told on more than one occasion that HHID needs some more MF Doom in its life. While I'm sure the Danger Doom project isn't exactly what those people were referring to, it'll have to do until I get my shit together and dig up my other Daniel Dumile albums.
Danger Doom was a short-lived duo made up of producer Danger Mouse and rapper MF Doom, who ceded his typical production duties to his partner in an effort to focus on his rhymes, all of which revolved around the animated shows that aired on Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network's late-night destination for college stoners who loved to laugh but weren't always able to distinguish whenever something was actually funny. Their debut album, The Mouse and The Mask, was actually commissioned by Adult Swim, and thanks to the channel's cooperation, the project features multiple cameo appearances from many of its stars at the time, including most of the cast of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Space Ghost, Brak, and Zorak, and sound bites snagged from episodes of Sealab 2021 and Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law. Yes, I realize that none of those shows are actually on the air anymore (I believe Aqua Teen Hunger Force has been reincarnated as a bizarre cop show or some shit), but this album was released six years ago, after all.
Adult Swim promoted the shit out of The Mouse and The Mask, using Danger Doom's music during their frequent bumpers that separated the programs from the commercials; for their part, Danger Mouse and MF Doom professed their love for the various shows on the channel at any given opportunity. Although this wasn't exactly what most hip hop heads actually wanted to hear, especially after following their respective careers up to this point, The Mouse and The Mask, which ended up being the most accessible MF Doom project by default, wasn't exactly without precedent: Brian Burton and Daniel Dumile met while recording with the animated supergroup Gorillaz, and this project was birthed soon afterward.
I've spent a lot of time on HHID discussing my general indifference with Doom's wordplay, which seems made up of ninety-nine percent attempted cleverness and the remaining one percent used up for substance (with a margin of error of one percent), although I do tend to enjoy the man's work behind the boards. Danger Mouse, on the other hand, has never been one of my favorite acts, although I fear the reason behind that is more selfish and stupid than anything else: once the Gorillaz decided to replace the probably extremely difficult to work with Dan "The Automator" Nakamura (at least based on his past history) with Brian for their sophomore effort, Demon Days, I decided I didn't like the man. This is incredibly unfair, and I wholly acknowledge that: in fact, Danger Mouse is probably the only hip hop producer to out-Automator The Automator at this point, as his work with a wide variety of artists (such as David Lynch, Cee-Lo Green, Beck, The Black Keys, his time as half of Broken Bells, and, if nothing else, his claim to fame, his Jay-Z remix album The Gray Album) has proven the man to be even more versatile than a particular San Francisco-based deejay whom I still place all of my trust in musically. But when I first listened to The Mouse and The Mask, I still wasn't a fan.
So the obvious question would be how I ended up with this album to begin with. Well, I received it for my birthday as a gift from my wife, who noticed the bumpers while watching reruns of Futurama and thought it would be a nice surprise. Not that I was angry in the least bit: The Mouse and The Mask was heavily promoted in hip hop circles as having the very first collaboration between MF Doom and the Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah, which was enough for me to feign interest in the project, me being a Wu stan and all. But I soon put the album away in one of my many crates; hell, I hardly remembered that I even owned the fucking thing until I went through my things looking for another Doom album to write-up after that King Geedorah album that I really liked but most readers were indifferent to.
So what the hell happened?
1. EL CHUPA NIBRE
Already, The Mouse and The Mask sounds dated as hell, with its cameos from Brak and Master Shake, two characters who don't even factor into today's incarnation of the late night stoner channel: is it really possible that the Cartoon Network offshoot has been around long enough to have already gone through its golden age? (The title of this song is inspired by an episode of Futurama, which also has fuck-all to do with the Adult Swim of the present day, but that doesn't really answer my question.) Since he doesn't have to worry about the beat, Doom attacks the mic with a focus missing from his other efforts, even going out of his way to trash his former friends in the Monsta Island Czars by dismissing them as “Midgets Into Crunk”. Not the most clever of disses, but it is what it is. By the way, I had completely forgotten that The Mouse and The Mask is censored. Which was a really fucking stupid idea, guys: just who do you think actually buys rap music?
2. SOFA KING
This left me feeling nonplussed. Although I appreciated Doom's throwaway line about “order[ing] a rapper for lunch and spit[ting] out the chain”, the rest of this song, built around a one-note joke swiped from Aqua Teen Hunger Force (but which has been around for much longer than that) and a Danger Mouse beat that dabbles in experimentation but ends up just sounding ridiculous, is extraordinarily hit and miss. This track couldn't end quickly enough for my needs.
3. THE MASK (FEAT. GHOSTFACE KILLAH)
This was easily the most eagerly anticipated track on The Mouse and The Mask when the project was first announced: a proper collaboration between the masked MF Doom and Ghostface Killah, one of the first major acts to embrace Doom's special herbs (and also a guy who used to wear a mask when the Wu-Tang Clan first made its debut, allegedly because he was on the lam at the time)? Sign me up, motherfucker! Danger Mouse supplies a banger, which Doom approaches with ferocity, but Pretty Toney murders him in cold blood, turns himself in to the authorities, gets handed a life sentence, and breaks out of prison without a scratch on him, he sounds that fucking good on here. The ending skit, an exchange between Brak and Zorak, is pretty weak, but the song itself was awesome.
4. PERFECT HAIR
Although I understand that this song was inspired by a show called Perfect Hair Forever (which I never actually watched and is relatively unknown outside of cult circles, so obviously it wasn't very popular), this song completely blows it by not reaching for the obvious joke regarding Master Shake going to the salon across the street to see if they can squeeze him in for a perm (wow, that joke looks fucking terrible when written out: maybe you two need to be stoned to finish reading this write-up, since The Mouse and The Mask is chock full of shit like this). As such, this song enters frighteningly boring territory. Shake does factor into the ending, but only because his role on this album is to beg and plead Danger Mouse and Doom for an opportunity to provide a guest rap. Given how scattershot this project has been thus far, I'm thinking he dodged a bullet here.
5. BENZIE BOX (FEAT. CEE-LO)
As The Mouse and The Mask was released during the Gnarls Barkley era, it makes sense that Cee-Lo would reunite with Danger Mouse at some point on this album. The problem is that this song doesn't really fit into the overall format of the project: Cee-Lo the Ladykiller is singing about Doom on the hook, not any other cartoon characters. Daniel drops two verses of varying degrees of quality, with the instrumental skewing too pop-centric for the overall procedure to work. But hey, trying new things, and all that shit.
6. OLD SCHOOL (FEAT. TALIB KWELI)
Underground stalwart Talib Kweli makes a surprise appearance (he was the most unlikely of all the guest stars to pop up on here) and kills this monster of a Danger Mouse beat, which is adapted from Keith Mansfield's “Funky Fanfare”, which you may also recognize from, most recently, Kill Bill Vol. 1 or Grindhouse, or even maybe from an actual grindhouse theater back in the day. Doom sounds a bit uneasy, but he makes up for it in lyrical content, actually sticking to the subject matter (growing up in the era of old school hip hop). Kweli wins the day, though: he should probably reach out to Brian for his next solo project, although in no way is that last statement intended to be a request for Kweli to release any more solo projects. I would allow another Black Star album, though.
Takes too long to actually get going (Meatwad and his next door neighbor Carl, from the show that shares the track's abbreviated title, tend to babble when given the opportunity), but once Doom starts rapping his homage to the show, Brian slips in a dope-ass instrumental that can't help but make Daniel sound good. I didn't even mind Shake chanting his show's title during the brief hook, and the inclusion of a portion of Schooly D's actual theme song to the show was a nice touch (although it would have made more sense to actually get him to contribute, but whatever). All in all, a triumph, albeit a goofy one that only works if you're familiar with the program.
8. BASKET CASE
What other rap album out there contains the voices of both Gary Cole and Stephen Colbert? This song is framed with sound bites taken from Harvey Birdman: Attorney At Law, which is amusing anyway, until Doom attempts to play a lawyer his own damn self, with the argument that “just because some people wear a mask doesn't mean that they did something automatically”. Odd that his rapping voice is confident and brash, but his speaking voice is so timid. Oh well.
9. NO NAMES
The subtitle to this track, which is apparently only found on iTunes and the Interweb but not in the liner notes or on the back cover, is “Black Debbie”, which makes me miss Sealab 2021. Man, that show was fucking ridiculous (that phrase is funnier if you say it in The RZA's voice): Archer (not an Adult Swim show, I know) is brilliant, and Frisky Dingo was hit and miss (but awesome when it actually hit), but Sealab 2021, which, like the other two shows, was created by Adam Reed and Matt Thompson, was something else entirely. The sound bites bookending the track overshadow Doom's actual verse, which wasn't awful, but it sounded fairly dull when coupled with Danger Mouse's looped-up beat, which was, admittedly, not terrible by itself (thanks to an assist from Money Mark on the keyboards). Wait, why don't I like Danger Mouse again?
11. MINCE MEAT
I try my best to not use the “meh” one-word dismissal on two songs in a row during my write-ups, but “Mince Meat” has rendered that act impossible.
12. VATS OF URINE
Doom kicks a single verse about, among other things, the many benefits of urine, which is a topic most rappers wouldn't even think of approaching. The jazzy instrumental conflicts too much with the subject matter, though, turning Danger Mouse's work from merely participatory to actually distracting. Doom is framed by the Mooninites from Aqua Teen Hunger Force, and their schtick grows really tired without the animated accompaniment.
13. SPACE HO'S
Doom fantasizes about taking over Space Ghost Coast To Coast, getting oddly specific about such diverse topics as Judy Jetson's ass and Charo's inevitable guest appearance on his fictional show. The concept of the song was a touch too bizarre, but the beat helps the medicine go down. Strangely, Doom makes a reference to both Madlib and Danger Mouse behind the boards (sort of), which is interesting, considering that Madlib remixed this track for The Mouse and The Mask's free follow-up, Occult Hymn. Now I'm left wondering if 'Lib actually handled the original, which would make this the remix. Shit.
14. BADA BING
Not only is this final song on The Mouse and The Mask awfully dull, it all seems to exist as a buildup for the final appearance of Master Shake at the end, tying up his storyline in typical Adult Swim fashion. Danger's beat is decent enough, but in no way does it sound deviant enough for Doom to ever sound comfortable, so this track was a bit of a waste. Curiously, Meatwad actually ends the album with a “bonus track” that consists of him kicking a verse from Doom's own “Beef Rapp”, which appeared on his MM...Food one year prior. But even that is simply a curio that should never be listened to more than the once.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Considering that Danger Mouse and MF Doom were simply crafting a soundtrack of sorts for the Adult Swim lineup with The Mouse and The Mask, I suppose it is a bit unfair to critique it as I would a proper album. Oh well, too fucking bad: this experiment largely fails. Danger's beats are pretty good, for the most part, and the random inserts from most of the Adult Swim family (what, no Frylock?) are entertaining enough without getting in the way (although all of the shows referenced aren't really a part of the channel's lineup anymore). The main issue I have with The Mouse and The Mask is with Doom himself, as he gets so caught up within his own cleverness and forgets to deliver verses that actually say anything of substance. His technique of rhyming the last three syllables of any given bar with the last three on the next one grows tiresome, since it's obvious that he spent more time writing to fit that particular structural need than he did making sure his lyrical homages to some of his favorite cartoons were actually entertaining. As such, Doom easily gets his ass handed to him by the two guest stars that actually spit verses (the songs Ghostface Killah and Talib Kweli appear on are the two strongest ones from The Mouse and The Mask). Cee-Lo's hook on “Benzie Box”, taken from an MF Doom animated series which doesn't exist, sounds out of place, too: how is it possible that someone could fuck up a cameo from Cee-Lo? The Mouse and The Mask was dated the moment it hit store shelves, and it sounds as though it has aged both rapidly and horribly since 2005, but it at least still shows sparks of life from Danger Mouse's production work, so I can at least recommend that, but if you're looking for superior Doom performances, I strongly encourage you to look elsewhere.
BUY OR BURN? You can burn this if you want. The songs listed below are pretty good, but the disc as a whole fails to hold up. Also, you should probably smoke yourselves retarded and watch Sealab 2021 on DVD from start to finish. Man, I miss that show.
BEST TRACKS: “The Mask”; “Old School”; “A.T.H.F.”
There are a few more MF Doom-related write-ups on HHID. Catch up on them by clicking here. As for Danger Mouse, you can try clicking here.