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DOOM - Unexpected Guests

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Artist: DOOM

Album: Unexpected Guests

Label: Gold Dust

Review date: Nov. 9, 2009

Doom is one of the few hip hop performers more effective over the course of an album than in individual singles. He works in motifs, rapping in loosely defined guises – MF Doom (the flagship), Madvillain (the “illest villain”) and Viktor Vaughn (the lonely man behind the mask) – across songs that register more like fiction than hip hop’s typical first-person memoir. Doom’s personas are ludicrous yet subtle, full characters reporting the details of an alternate universe painted in comic-book outlandishness. Those incarnations are a far cry from hip hop’s rote homo economicus, bragging in song after song about the size of his paper stacks.

Doom represents a difference in more than mere style, though – it’s one of orientation. Hip hop generally takes the world as it’s given; because we need no introduction, and may rely on our own lived experiences for reference, three to four minutes of explication is enough for most rappers to make their points. But Doom has to develop his protagonists and their worlds, their oddities and their perspectives. That takes time – way more than a single affords.

Unexpected Guests, his collection of B-sides and easy-to-miss cameos, is unsatisfying because it doesn’t offer the space that Doom needs to build his narratives. The chief problem is the album’s disconnected, scattered feel. That’s a predictable complaint with these kinds of compilations, but it’s more troubling for Unexpected Guests because there isn’t the thematic wealth and consistency that listeners have come to expect from Doom’s full-length efforts. The best part of the collection is the strong production from the likes of Jake One and J Dilla. That’s a revealing compliment for an album that’s supposed to showcase the rapper, not his producer sidekicks.

No doubt, Unexpected Guests unearths some quality, obscure tracks and shows off Doom’s snappy wordplay. Dig the jittering raps at the end of KMD’s “Sorcerers”: “Mommy, look at him, talking to herself, walking fast / on the ave, parking ass, with the Walkman on blast / COBE headphones, wack / At least it’s Dolby, Sony cold cassettes/ Only the best you can get off the black market / Tell it, fine, use a new strategy / Sell it like the Chinese do to sell batteries / Two dollar, fine, change it for an aqua-blue Benjy / These were brand new, he’ll be stingy gingerly.” Who else makes the banality of the marketplace sound so smooth? Or take the silly riff at the beginning of Vast Aire’s “Da Supafriendz” that rhymes “lumpy pumpkin” with “fuzzy lumpkin” in the context of a confrontation with a gun-toting landowner. It’s fun, charming even. But, like the rest of Unexpected Guests, it’s ultimately minor.

By Ben Yaster

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