Throw up your hands and celebrate!
Alright now, that was good. Now sling off your loafers and relax as I introduce a new milestone — Welcome to The Phase’s first Omni-Review!
MF DOOM’s instrumental compilation, “Special Herbs & Spices, The Box Set Vol. 0-9″, is a gapless, three-disc album chock full of beats from the emcee/producer’s eclectic career. I finally got my mitts on a hard copy of the release, and it’s quickly become a soundtrack to whatever I may be doing. At some point, I caved. Of course, I had to share my thoughts on this whole album… But also mix things up a little.
There was my answer: mix it.
Step 1) Extract favorite tracks from album. Mix thoroughly.
Step 2) Gather photographs, modify and animate. Combine with audio and bake.
Step 3) Remove fresh-baked video and cool. Ice with words and sprinkle with wit.
A gourmet mixture of music, graphics and literature. The result is a versatile, engaging experience that brings new meaning to the term “multimedia”. So take a seat and just enjoy. Watch that video up above to get the full visuals and titles for each of the tracks in the mix.
…Don’t forget your napkin, this may get interesting.
The Notorious Villain
Super-villain Daniel Dumile shrouds his secret identity under many monikers: Metal Fingers, Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah… However, most that have heard his signature, sinister sounds know him by the name MF DOOM.
But Daniel wasn’t always this way…
Flashback to the year 1988 — Daniel has adopted the name Zev Love X (quite the title), and has begun emceeing and producing for a rap group called KMD. Along with his younger brother, DJ Subroc, and another MC called Onyx the Birthstone Kid (love that one), the trio recorded two studio LPs in the early nineties. In ’93, Subroc was hit and killed by a car. Elektra Records, the label that was meant to release their second LP that year, dropped KMD — and with them, their album — later that same week. Daniel dropped out of the Hip Hop scene completely for years.
It wasn’t until ’97 that Daniel starting rapping in the underground scene, at open mic nights in New York. He appeared only in disguise, at first sporting a trendy stocking over his head. Later, he adopted a metal mask and his infamous moniker of MF DOOM. Based off the Fantastic Four villain, Doctor Doom, MF would go on to re-ascend the ranks of the music world, starting from the bottom again.
In my research, it became surprisingly apparent how Daniel’s story lined up with Doctor Doom’s. Looking back, the genius Doctor Doom had a very similar past: attending a New York university, he had nearly finished his work on a masterpiece machine, when the youth that would grow up to be members of the Fantastic Four accidentally ruin his work. The resulting failure physically scars Doom and he is expelled. He wanders the world and ends up being taken in by Tibetan monks, where he combines the use of sorcery with his mastery of technology. Swearing revenge on those who wronged him and changed him, he dons the infamous mask and adopts his ominous name.
It’s fascinating how Daniel used his mask; he not only shrouded himself, but also assumed an entirely new persona. Both Doom and Daniel fell victim to misfortune and hardship early on, which left them to wander until they found a new path that was ironically shaped by the old. In Daniel’s case, many things changed in the three years that he was missing — most prominently, his voice got vastly deeper over time, and his lyrical flow and style grew much darker and more conceptual… As if he were changed by the scars, he returned to music a different person; but that’s not to say that he didn’t use the changes to his advantage. He’s a shadow of his former self, in a positive sense: he grew deep and jaded through experience, yet evolved and advanced in his style and skill level.
Special Herbs is an instrumental retrospective of DOOM himself; all of the tracks on the album are the beats from his many prior releases. In a sense, the album could be perceived as an homage to the wonderful mixtape-like compilations we used to improvise on CDs and cassettes. And yes, the entire album is gapless — meaning that every track blends into the next in a different way, with practically no downtime in between. Sometimes, you can hardly even tell when the track changes, it’s so seamless. It was intended to be an album that you could put on and just leave playing while you did your thing (useful for smokers and -heads, no doubt).
The first two discs are instrumentals almost entirely of Dumile’s conception, save for “Peach Extract”, which was a collaboration between Dumile and his brother for KMD. The third disc, however, is entirely KMD instrumentals, which appear to have been remastered from their original form specifically for this release. Being hard as it is to find KMD tracks nowadays, let alone official high quality releases, that extra disc is a teensy gold mine of super-duper classic beats.
A very natural, effortless vibe definitely characterizes the collection. The whole thing is strewn with imperfections that give it an Earthly, human feel. It lets go of any quest for symmetry or absolutes and finds solace in raw, hard-edge drum samples. You’ll also begin to notice the not-so-great timing of the drum beats. DOOM draws this unique tendency from his equipment: he orchestrated the beats in real-time on a sampler pad (likely an MPC, since the cover art features him using one), but without the use of a handy tool called quantization, which snaps each drum beat to the nearest whole unit. Without quantization, each tap of DOOM’s finger on the drumpad lands a sound immediately. The effect is almost as if he’s just playing a live drumkit with his fingers.
Each and every track is labelled as a different herb, spice, root or essential extract, just as ingredients are lined up in a cabinet. This (quirk) gives you a window into what DOOM was thinking about each individual track during the production. It’s fascinating to have what is effectively a one-liner that fully explains the track’s vibe, by the producer’s definition.
The core samples of the tracks are imbued with antique vinyl undertones, and the warm crackle grants each one a texture that’s nearly palpable. The content itself is probably some stuff your parents still listen to… or, rather, you listen to, if you’re from the Golden Days of music. Some of the tracks draw from classic rock jams, such as the Doobie Brothers piano riff on “Mandrake”. The intros to each disc, “Saffron” and “Styrax Gum”, feature old comic-book-style vocal snippets, presumably from superhero cartoons. Others, like “Arabic Gum” and “Dragon’s Blood”, sound as if they were pieced together from old movie soundtracks — “Datura Stramonium” even draws its keys from the Fat Albert Halloween Special. The whole ordeal is very whimsical, and combines the best elements of wacky silliness and a kick-ass attitude.
The Almanac for the Imperfect
MF DOOM’s makeshift-style machinations embody the way Hip Hop works. The world is naturally imperfect, and this fact is the philosophical cornerstone of Hip Hop culture and music. Producers seeking perfection would make mistakes, then take those mistakes and twist them at the ends to transform them into works of art. MF DOOM is a prime example of an artist that recognizes and utilizes this methodology, and Special Herbs is the most comprehensive collective of his beats yet to hit the streets.
Mad props to DOOM for his rhythmic alchemy and clever themes over the years, the man truly has a artist’s mind. Check out his works, including those raps — guy’s an emcee as well as a producer. Hell, he even sprays a pretty good tag.
Thanks for checking out the first Omni-Review, and definitely look forward to seeing them crop up again.