Since rising from the ashes of KMD and reinventing himself as MF Doom in the late '90s, hip-hop's top supervillain has crafted a new identity for nearly every project, switching labels, personas, and roles at least a few times a year. There's a method to the madness: MF Doom's multiple guises roughly correspond to specific parts of his colossal talent. For instrumental adventures, there's the Metal Fingers moniker. While producing and occasionally rapping, sometimes in the voice of a giant monster, Doom favors his King Geedorah persona. When joining forces with kindred spirit Madlib, Doom is one half of Madvillain. If he's strictly kicking lyrics, he generally goes under the handle of Viktor Vaughn, the traveling vaudeville villain.
But all these facets of the warped brain behind the metal mask only come together on releases under the MF Doom name. This is especially true on Mm.. Food?, his official follow-up to 1999's Operation: Doomsday and the most eagerly anticipated independent hip-hop release since, well, Madvillainy earlier this year. On Doom's first album with underground powerhouse Rhymesayers, he alternates roles with characteristic frequency. One moment he's the deadpan ironist with the most predictable flow and least predictable lyrics in hip-hop; the next he's dispensing King Geedorah-style sonic collages out of bugged-out samples from serials, old movies, and found sounds. As befits a performer so intent on obfuscation and misdirection, Doom the marquee rapper disappears for extended periods of time, relinquishing the mic to an unknown female rapper or sampling Godfrey Cambridge in Watermelon Man.
A crazy pastiche tied loopily together around obsessions with food, comic books, and supervillainy, Mm.. Food? is less immediately satisfying than Madvillainy. It feels analogous to King Geedorah's Take Me To Your Leader, an album that gets better with every spin and whose symmetry and cohesion only become apparent on repeated, almost obsessive listening. Mm.. Food? is a weird, amorphous album that somehow feels simultaneously dashed-off and like the culmination of everything Doom has been working toward his entire career. It's possible that Doom's casual, offhanded genius for wordplay and crooked punchlines will someday fail him, that he'll eventually pay a price for being so prolific. But here, at least, he proves once again exempt from the law of diminishing returns.