MF Doom long reigned as the hardest-working stoner in underground hip-hop, putting out multiple albums a year under various aliases. That came to an abrupt end following his cult-hit 2006 Danger Mouse collaboration The Mouse And The Mask. Perhaps it was for the best. By that point, MF Doom was beginning to suffer from overexposure. His idiosyncrasies were starting to feel a little like shtick—brilliant shtick, but shtick all the same.
Three years away has done wonders for the masked supervillain. The rapper who now goes by DOOM (“all big letters but it ain’t no acronym”) comes roaring back to life on the largely self-produced Born Like This. It’s DOOM’s first new album in years, but fans are bound to experience déjà vu, since DOOM is rapping over instrumentals from the Special Herbs And Spices series and old Dilla tracks—and hooking up with Ghostface for a collaboration that’s been floating around the Internet for years. DOOM here rifles through his own past as fruitfully as he ransacks pop culture, living out his ’70s TV fantasies along Ghostface Killah (“Angelz”), casting aspersions on Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson’s sexuality (“Batty Boyz”), and sampling Charles Bukowski, Mr. T, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.DOOM still has the sickest vocabulary, broadest frame of reference, and densest, most quotable rhymes in hip-hop. Out of shopworn material, he has created an album of sublimely half-assed super-genius. On “That’s That,” DOOM breaks out the tone-deaf Biz Markie croon to warble, “Can it be I’ve stayed away too long? Did you miss these rhymes when I was gone?” A nation of DOOM fans answers, “Oh hell yes.”