Home Music Discography Discography: MF DOOM: Bl_ck B_st_rds

Discography: MF DOOM: Bl_ck B_st_rds

It’s hard to imagine things going much more wrong for a group than they did for KMD when they went to follow up their debut, Mr. Hood. Crafted during the recording industry’s frantic backlash to the hip-hop artists on their own payroll in efforts to placate conservative denunciations of the genre and its stars, the album was ultimately shelved by Elektra for its content and its provocative album artwork, though that didn’t stop a war of words between music press for and against the move from writers debating the merits of music no one could legally hear. But this tremendous setback was nothing compared to the tragedy that befell the group when Dingilizwe “DJ Subroc” Dumile was killed in a collision near the end of recording sessions. For years, the project existed as more legend than anything, spreading via bootleggers and not seeing an official release until the new millennium. In the aftermath of all of this, Zev Love X disappeared from view, re-emerging only at the end of the decade as MF DOOM.

Considering the album both within the context of its intended release and its belated 2001 appearance, it is remarkable how easily Bl_ck B_st_rds works as a launchpad for Daniel Dumile or as one of the string of classics he released from 1999 to 2004. In his classic period, DOOM felt cutting-edge and unlike anyone else in the game, but from the moment that this album opens with a crackling montage of dialogue and sound-effect samples, it’s clear both that his trademarks were set in place even at such an early age and that they were deeply tethered to the East Coast scene of the time.

At first, the 22-year-old DOOM shows signs of his young age, aping the punchy delivery style of early-‘90s MCs as well as their lyrical content. “Get-U-Now” feels like Zev Love fitting in with trends, building his verses around rap beefs rendered in imagery of violence, such as “I used to carry blades/ Now I’m fully loaded, save the bold shi / Tempt me, I’mma empty the whole shit, that’s the cold shit.” Yet by the very next track, the Dumile brothers upend their flashy, generic game, at once digging into the social alienation of Black men while also showing off how rapidly Zev Love X was developing the complex, idiosyncratic rhyming schemes that would one day make him the definitive rapper’s rapper. “One two, sound off chimsy/ Finna flip the script like roundoff summy/ Yummy to the tooth, bitter to the tummy/ Help keeps that monkey shit constipated for me jimmy jimmy rummy,” he spits in a deft series of odd turns of phrase that also acts as a mission statement of sneaking in commentary beneath his goofy inventiveness.

It’s unfair to reduce the record to just a commentary on DOOM’s origins, but it can be difficult not to as so many elements he would make his own are here. “Smokin’ That S*#%” is, as you might assume, one of what would become an entire stable of odes to weed, though curiously it’s guest Kurious who better displays the kind of laid-back, high flow that DOOM would eventually adopt, giving a breezy tone to funny lines like “Not from the cocks but the blocks on the street or the goat/ With the 40s, the Glocks, the Philly and the smoke/ Just like George Bush is the type to drop bombs/ Jorge Kurious will smoke skunk wit’cha moms.” And it’s not even the most ganja-centric tune on the LP (that would be “Contact Blitz”). For his part, Zev’s verses seem to get better by the track, so that by the time you get to the title track a full 5 songs from the end, he is busting out pure DOOMisms in “If I had skeezer after skeezer stacked up like ice cubes in my freezer/ I’d rather live to be an old geezer, O.E. squeezer/ Any times I need a stress easer/ Like Ebeneezer Scrooge I’m rude, my battin’ average is huge.”

Both DOOM and his brother share an aptitude for production that uses an east-coast sonic palette to evoke smooth, relaxing west-coast energy. On “What a N— Know?” they mix the whistling synth line from Jody Whatley’s “Looking for a New Love” over the beat of Fat Boys’ “Stick ‘Em,” softening the latter’s blunt impact to create more of a groove. Likewise, Subroc blends MC Shan’s marching drum from “The Bridge” along with the disco stomp of “The New Dance Craze” and heaps in kung-fu movie dialogue and Bomb Squad scratches and glitches as if in competition with himself to make the most New York hip-hop backing but make it sunny and open.

Heard today, the idea that a label would have been too skittish to release Bl_ck B_st_rds, and that even some industry publications would support that move, is a testament only to the conservative overreaction to the entire genre. Even at its most socially probing, the album is one of the most charming, rap-for-rap’s-sake albums to come out of the East Coast in the early ‘90s. That it will always be known for personal and professional setbacks more than its content is a shame, as this putative glimpse into the man who would soon become MF DOOM can still stand as one of his finest achievements. A wonderful demonstration of the raw-but-polished sound of New York, Bl_ck B_st_rds still sounds like something you stumbled across as a low-quality mp3 on Limewire and downloaded on faith, only to find a diamond in the rough.

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