MF Doom has always adopted a marvelsized supervillain persona. But lately, life has imitated comic-book art, from outrageous rumors of his death to charges that he’s used lip-synching impersonators at his concerts. On Born Like This, the recluse also known as Daniel Dumile doesn’t apologize for past misdeeds. Instead, sardonic references to blood-drenched combat and Ray J sex tapes float among self-produced loops so rickety they nearly run off-beat. Unsurprisingly, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, who have authored a few gutter classics themselves, show up to pay homage. “This not a Hardy Boys mystery, neither,” warns Ghost on “Angelz.”
At the center of this incredibly dark self-portrait is Charles Bukowski’s “Dinosauria, We,” which Doom samples on “Cellz.” “Born like this, into this…We are born into the sorrowful deadliness,” the legendary literary wastrel intones. But while the album is more a series of word puzzles than a memoir, it does occasionally illuminate the man behind the mask. Doom deconstructs his persona on “More Rhymin'” (“he talks to himself when he needs someone to hate on”) and throughout, gives a performance both infuriating — he gaybaits Batman on “Batty Boys” (?!) — and intoxicating, as his knotty linguistics draw you into a singularly malcontented mind. By the closing gospel exhortation “Thank Ya,” he even seems hopeful listeners will forgive his sins, if not help him earn “a gazillion grand.” Godspeed.
Listen: Doom, “Gazzillion Ear”