In 1999, the tiny, soon-to-be-extinct Fondle ’Em label released an album whose cover art featured a comic-book supervillain staring intently at a microphone. Operation: Doomsday was credited to someone named MF Doom, though hard-core rap fans likely knew it was the latest incarnation of Zev Luv X, formerly of KMD. Since then, Operation: Doomsday has attained mythic status; its legend has grown in proportion to its relative unavailability, and to Doom’s ascent to cult godhood.
Doom fans can rejoice, as Operation: Doomsday is now receiving the ridiculous deluxe packaging it has always deserved: two discs, plus playing cards chronicling Doom’s Monsta Island Czars crew. Most exciting of all, it comes in a lunch box. That’s some slick packaging for an ingratiatingly homemade manifesto. Operation: Doomsday benefits from a vision that’s simultaneously expansive and half-assed, a pop-art mash-up of plastic ’80s R&B, comic-book iconography, and unique rhymes. It was as if Doom was recreating hip-hop from scratch, throwing out everything that had come before so there would be enough room for his idiosyncrasies.
Operation: Doomsday introduced audiences to a rapper with the slang vocabulary and frame of reference of a 100-year-old retired vaudevillian, a sing-songy flow that evolved into an ice-cold deadpan by the time Doom collaborated with Madlib on Madvillainy, and a deep, unexpected wit. Doom hadn’t figured it all out yet—on “Rhymes Like Dimes,” he repeats a verse, where he’d later just end the song early—but part of the excitement comes from the spontaneity of an eccentric genius constructing a bizarre new world on the fly and filling it with words and ideas. Sometimes those ideas foreshadow the direction his career would lead: When he references the soundtrack for Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, it’s as if he’s sending out furtive messages through the ether to fellow Melvin Van Peebles obsessive Madlib.
On standout tracks like “Operation: Greenbacks” and “Rhymes Like Dimes,” Doom delivers the hip-hop goods with a literary, wryly ironic twist. He had the antiquated, sophisticated comic sensibility of a McSweeney’s contributor, but with none of the preciousness or pretension. The Operation: Doomsday box set includes a second disc of B-sides, alternate versions, and outtakes that capture some of Doom’s most iconic early tracks in embryonic form. Operation: Doomsday affords newcomers an opportunity to experience in the best possible form where it all began, the weird little album that let a semi-obscure rapper find himself by losing his old identity and slipping on the mask that would make him a geek god.