MF DOOM (all caps) is widely regarded by all of us to be like a hip hop wrecking ball who, periodically, comes back to destroy wack rappers and producers. So, it’s a brave man who takes some of DOOM’s previously released beats and strips them of DOOM’s raps for his own use. It’s tantamount to saying “I could do better than that” about the work of one of the most cherished MCs around. Luckily the brave man in question is none other than Masta Ace (The Muuuuuusic. Man) not exactly a novice, himself. So, is it a success or not?
When I heard about MA_DOOM I was actually leaking with excitement. Just imagine. Masta Ace rapping over MF DOOM beats. I was so excited to hear new DOOM beats. Unfortunately, it was misplaced excitement. Any DOOM fan worth their salt will be all too familiar (and already enamoured) with the beats here. The problem with that is that you’ll also be familiar with rapping along in your head with the existing lyrics. So how motivated will you be to overwrite those lyrics with those provided by Masta Ace?
Lyrically this album is part maternal tribute and part auto-biography and it’s of the high quality that you expect from a skilled veteran like Ace. It’s charming, amusing and artful. Don’t be afraid though, this album is not just Ace repeatedly telling us how much he loves his mum. Various subjects are up for discussion although there does seem to be an overarching nostalgic bent.
‘Nineteen Seventy Something’ is a sweet tale of Ace’s musical education and the terror of secretly playing your parents records (something I am more than familiar with) “better hope I don’t scratch it or that’s it/ I’ma get my ass kicked, that’s a classic”.
Son of Yvonne is a tribute to his mother where Ace talks about how she had strived to ensure that he would grow up to be a good person “trying to save her son from the worst fate/ Getting home at eight when she works late”. Ace talks about the guidance given by his mother “outside with a curfew got lessons on honesty and virtue and the people that would hurt you” and his gratitude for that “All I do I do it for you, for all you did when I was a kid/ ‘cause there’s mad friends didn’t want to be born, but I’m glad to be the son of Yvonne”
‘Me and My Gang’ details growing up with neighbourhood friends (almost like a sequel to ‘As I Reminisce’ from Take A Look Around) “eh yo I hang on the corner with the strangest gang/ And we don’t want no trouble we just came to hang.”
‘Fresh Fest Reggie B’ talks about the performing arts journey that Ace made from rapping on the block and in school talent shows “my mama always said have no fear and I would rise to the top like a cold beer”. He talks about wanting fame for more than just grafitti writing “I just want to be large. Large like Whodini/ ‘cause fame from my name written large in grafitti wasn’t good enough”. He even goes as far as claiming that he got there before the late King of Pop “Mike Jack set it on fire but I moonwalked with an umbrella six months prior”.
‘Slow Down’ is a cautionary tale about watching what you drink. Ace suggesting that girls aren’t the only ones who are at risk from dinking a spike “can’t move a muscle now, somebody save me, this shit crazy, wonder what they gave me?”. The beats that accompany this tale fit perfectly even with a tempo down-shift to accompany Ace’s descent into narcotic unconsciousness.
There’s even a track where ace is joined by Big Daddy Kane and DOOM himself… which, admittedly, is a hip hop head’s wet dream. That track in particular is worth the entrance fee alone.
What is clear is that Masta Ace is one of the greatest story tellers in the hip hop library. His skills have not been dulled with age and there’s a wonderful natural quality to his delivery. Nothing is forced here it’s all effortless quality.
Once you get over the disappointment of it not being all new DOOM beats you’re left with a solid and versatile album. It’s unlikely that any of us will truly mind being taken on a tour of DOOM’s beats with a different lyrical take. The real question is how much you’ll be able to resist stopping the album and returning to the original DOOM albums that these beats come from. Hopefully for MA_DOOM’s sake you’ll all be blessed with much more willpower than I. I’ll admit that I struggled with that and at least once had to go back to Take Me To Your Leader. Hopefully DOOM will feel the same way and actually get it together to give Ace some beats that he can make his own. That would be something worth seeing.