The Mouse and the Mask
Lex Records, 2005
I’d like to think that MF Doom’s most brilliant and mind-inducing material is the stuff that gets screwy and unorthodox, yet pertains to certain manic genius thinking. See, if MF Doom is going to be remembered for one thing, it’ll be his ability to mix and mash compounding rhymes while infusing a tour-de-force look into hip-hop history. Madvillain gem “Strange Ways” is a perfect example, and because it’s shrouded in Doom’s familiar slant rhyme style, noticing the fleshy contradictions of the drug trade and war themes is difficult. This has always been Daniel Dumile’s style—no matter what alter-ego he takes up—and for that, it’s entertaining to listen to his outrageous approach to humor while at the same time defacing the real man behind the mask.
This is precisely why The Mouse and the Mask stands as one of Doom’s best pieces. Despite Danger Doom being a collaborative effort with Danger Mouse, most of The Mouse and the Mask prevails because of Doom’s ability to re-hash his signature style while bringing in new and exciting sounds. The front-end of the record see’s Doom taking shots at his former friend MF Grimm (“El Chupa Nibre”), teasing possible DOOMSTARKS sound (“The Mask”) and picks on the rap game while alluding to the procedure of Wudu (“Benzie Box”). The inspiration behind Doom’s material on this record is light and comedic, but beyond the humor stands an MC still developing an already alluring sound.
Now this goes without saying that Danger Mouse carries his weight behind the production. “Old School”, which features Talib Kweli, takes the roaring trumpets from Keith Mansfield’s “Funky Fanfare” and rolls it into a breakbeat backdrop. And “Crosshairs” is a head-nodding burst of chiseling violins and plunking bass stabs. These songs are just a few examples of Danger Mouse’s range, and as precise and straightforward as they seem to be, there’s still something mysterious lurking behind each cut.
Thrown on The Mouse and the Mask to fill the spaces around Danger Mouse and MF Doom are select MCs and the many voices of Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. “Benzie Box” features Cee-Lo Green, who renders a perfectly placed chorus between Doom’s bars; “Old School” has Talib Kweli doing his usual; and “The Mask” pits Ghostface Killah with Doom to create the ever intimidating DOOMSTARKS. Elsewhere, “Sofa King” plays off of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force “we Todd ed” joke, “No Name” showcases Sealab 2021’s wonderful cast, “Space Ho’s” bows down to talk show host Space Ghost and Harvey Birdman takes over “Basket Case.” If anything, the Adult Swim cameo samples are just as worthy, if not better than the actual MC guest verses, because come on, who doesn’t enjoy Carl Brutananadilewski talking about “badass” music like REO Speedwagon.
The Mouse and the Mask is a conceptual album with many themes. The obvious being Doom’s intricate style, Danger Mouse’s texture-like production and the Adult Swim overlay. However, underneath the obvious stands a record that hip-hop needs to cherish; it holds humor and importance together at the cusp of greatness, and without records like these we would be without the swank and sting of hip-hop’s diversity.
In the case of music, few things top collaboration. Working together creates a higher level of musicianship as each artist brings what they know to the table, combining interests, techniques and knowledge. This generates creativity and new ways of thinking for each musician and can lead to something truly innovative. Under the moniker Danger Doom, Danger Mouse and MF Doom completed just this type of collaborative effort. The Mouse and the Mask was released in 2005 using MF Doom’s rhymes and unique flow over Danger Mouse’s distinct style of production. The Mouse and the Mask delivers with inventive samples and hilarious interludes from Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, Doom’s run-on delivery and guest appearances from the likes of Talib Kweli, Cee-Lo and Ghostface Killah. Despite the entertaining feeling of being in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (A.T.H.F.), Danger Doom provides meticulous commentary on the state of rap music and is an example of the brilliance that can occur when artists join forces.
The audience is getting the best of multiple worlds with The Mouse and the Mask. First there is Danger Mouse’s production that doesn’t necessarily sound like standard hip-hop beats with phat kick drums and crispy snares. All of the songs have an irresistible groove that make your head nod. However, tracks such as “Sofa King,” “No Names” and “Crosshairs” are individual compositions whose instrumentals could stand on their own. Danger Mouse uses string instruments, horns, xylophones and grainy percussion sounds to create beats that are reminiscent of DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing…
While the beats don’t need a rapper, Doom’s lyricism and incomparable flow enhance the beats laid down by Danger Mouse. There aren’t a lot of hooks on this album and if you’re not careful, you might miss what the masked man is saying. Over the funky “Bada Bing,” complete with horn lines and a throw back feel, Doom spits, “Wait ‘til you crack and see what ‘weed’ do, you dweeb you / No pun intended, takes one to know one, will know-it’s unscented.” The way that Doom raps is causal in that it sounds as if he is just having a conversation or speaking aloud. His lines come and go so fast that if you’re not listening intently, it’s very possible that you’ll miss something. Another example of this is in “El Chupa Nibre” where Doom explains, “The super flow with more jokes than Bazooka Joe / A mix between Superfly Snuka and a superhoe / Chew a MC like El Chupa Nibre / Digest a group and sell the poop on eBay.” Later, in the same verse he says, “Rappers such, when they spit I doubt em / The crap they sing about you’ll wanna slap the [fuckin’ shit] out em.” The nonchalant way in which these lines are delivered speaks to MF Doom’s pure talent as an MC. He has the type of flow that demands your attention even though Danger Mouse’s beats are equally tantalizing.
When creative minds come together to create art, the outcome is something that will change the landscape of their particular art form. With Danger Mouse’s stellar production, MF Doom’s exceptional skills as a lyricist and the comedic relief provided by the cast of characters from Adult Swim, this is absolutely the case as The Mouse and the Mask mixes intellect, humor and creativity to push hip-hop forward and leave you wanting more. I. Am. Sofa. King.
“Benzie Box (feat. Cee-Lo Green)”