A confession up front: I’ve been waiting for this. Not to get overly biographical, but I spent a great deal of my time in college watching my roommate hand-roll cigarettes and play Playstation 2 while listening to just about everything associated with DOOM on a virtually unbreakable loop. So if your author’s hardcore anticipation for the album he’s reviewing suggests a strong enough bias to make his review unreliable, then you should probably look elsewhere for your DOOM analyses. You’ll find no objectivity here. Additionally, it’s been so damn long since we’ve heard from the masked emcee (real name: Daniel Dumile) that my excitement over this album is all but guaranteed. The newly released, Born Like This, was just destined to bring a smile to my face. As expected, DOOM’s gravelly, simile-laden flow greets me like an old friend, and while Born Like This is evidence that DOOM did not spend his hiatus reinventing himself in any meaningful way, it sure feels great to have him back.
Then again, it’s awfully unfair of me to complain about Dumile’s output even if it did come to a grinding halt several years ago. There’s no question that Daniel Dumile left a lot for his fans to chew over while he spent the last few years doing god knows what. On the other hand, he had established a pattern of remarkable (and apparently, unsustainable) productivity, only to leave his fans hanging for these past few years. And it wasn’t as if he left at the top of his game. The Mouse and the Mask was good fun and all, but it fell noticeably short compared to the goofy highs of Operation: Doomsday or the supernaturally urbane Madvillainy.
Let’s also not forget the name change. Rather than fall back on one of his many alter egos, Dumile preferred to drop the “MF,” and capitalize the “DOOM,” implying… it’s any man’s guess. As previously mentioned, Born Like This does not veer radically from DOOM’s established winning format. With the exception of some possibly tongue-in-cheek Auto-Tuning on “Supervillainz“, and DOOM’s hilariously off-key “Can it be I’ve stayed away too long/ Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone” on “That’s That,” DOOM does not really acknowledge his hiatus, lyrically or otherwise. DOOM is back to doing what he’s always done, carving out his own little esoteric niche of fantastically nerdy and clever hip-hop. Others come and go from his universe (Ghostface, Raekwon), but it is a world so clearly his own. Suffice to say, DOOM fans will likely end up in two camps about this album: those who are glad to hear him do what he’s always done, and those disappointed with the lack of strides he’s even attempted to make (like my cigarette-rolling, Playstation 2-playing old roommate, for your information).
It’s easy to sympathize with the complaints of the latter camp, especially considering that the most uncharacteristic and new moment for DOOM on Born Like This is the bizarrely, distractingly homophobic “Batty Boys.” It’s a legitimate gripe and the best counter argument one could offer is that it’s mildly unfair to demand that your favorite artists reinvent themselves each time out. DOOM has at least four aliases. That should be enough self-reinvention for a decade.
And besides, Born Like This is so goddamn fun, and shouldn’t that be enough? “Gazillion Ear” kicks things off on a schizophrenic high note, and the album’s production from that point on maintains an almost uninterrupted consistency until closing. Even when DOOM is simply recycling old J Dilla beats (the only kind, unfortunately), he sounds fresh and revitalized, happy to be the sole converging point for comic-book enthusiasts and hip-hop heads. DOOM can wait to once again redefine hip-hop for himself. For now, let’s just enjoy his return for the qualified success that it is.