Lex Records, 2005Danger Doom’s album is high-wire fun that’d be an offence to anyone who takes themselves too seriously. So you can bet it’d go down well with smiley Liam Gallagher and today’s hardline extremists, right?
A collaboration between enigmatic super-producer, Danger Mouse, and equally reclusive masked rapper, MF Doom, The Mouse and the Mask is a marvel of audacious jams and masterful short stories, spliced with animated skits and more humour than a Hanna-Barbera classic.
The album makes copious use of, and references to, the characters found in Adult Swim cartoons, such Harvey Birdman and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. It’s not the first hip hop record to have been influenced by animation (the genre has had a long affair with the medium), but, like the source material that inspired it, it’s a record that consistently brings a smile to your face, from the first time you hear it to the 745th.
Danger Mouse and Doom had both exhibited a love for the on-screen capers of animated characters in their music prior to the Danger Doom debut album in 2005. But quite how they achieved this mercurial mixture – the number of guest voices from the Adult Swim roster could lead some to criticise it as an overly corporate endorsement, yet it remains an uncompromising pantheon to the art of animated comedy; gleefully irreverent and abnormally deep – is still a mystery.
Drawing on anything and everything for inspiration
Wherever you tune in on this aural homage to the animated sitcom, you will find something to hook you. You’ll beam as Doom and guest rapper, Talib Kweli, reminisce about tuning into Saturday morning toons, such as Scooby-Doo, and how “cartoons be realer than reality TV” on ‘Old School’. You’ll snigger as the guest toons make inappropriate chants (‘Sofa King’). And you’ll nod your head at the verses and skits that describe the everyday inequality and prejudice you see by the water cooler (‘No Names’).
Along the way are a collect of slapstick skits that form much of the album’s aesthetic character. And you really don’t have to watch Adult Swim to find Master Shake’s persistent answer phone messages a hoot. (Outside of the cartoon characters and Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah and Cee-Lo are the only other guests, and each of them add colour to the album’s spectrum.)
Tune in same time next week?
Pulling all this together is the music, tuned by Danger Mouse, which is a boisterous assortment of rare jazz and soul cuts mixed to create melodious dualities (‘Perfect Hair’, ‘Crosshairs’). Mouse’s use of Keith Mansfield’s ‘Funky Fanfare’ (on ‘Old School’) or ‘Morning Broadway’ (on ‘Space Hos’, the standout track that encapsulates everything that’s great about the album in one referential, cartoon-inspired rap; Doom artfully manages to name check characters from The Jetsons, Futurama and Star Trek) help put The Mouse and the Mask into rarefied territory.
Fans of Doom will already be aware of how the masked rapper weaves idiosyncratic rhymes back to back at high speed. And, together with Danger Mouse, his own familiar caricature takes on a heightened energy in the company of The Mouse and the Mask’s cartoon concept. It’s a phenomenal record, and a reminder that an album aligned with a corporate endorsement can still retain plenty of artistic integrity and independent spirit. Danger Doom, we salute you.
The Mouse and the Mask by Danger Doom was reissued on limited edition vinyl this summer by Lex Records. For you vinyl junkies, copies are still available at the time of writing.
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Images: Lex Records and their respective parties