Though oddball MC MF Doom and DJ Danger Mouse are staunch advocates of the hip-hop underground, they've both flirted (or are currently flirting) with mainstream acceptance: DM made the CNN crawl with his now infamous Grey Album
mash-up of the Beatles and Jay-Z, and is now getting maximum verbiage for the new Gorillaz album, and Doom was a member of 3rd Bass/major-label approved outfit KMD, and has contributed verses and beats to a host of heavy-hitting albums (Ghostface Killa, etc.) over the past few years. Fans of all shapes and sizes have drooled at the prospect of a collaboration between these two outrageous talents, but it almost seemed like too
perfect an opportunity, leading some fans to wonder whether the dream would be better than the reality.
A cross-marketing effort with Cartoon Network's Adult Swim, The Mouse and the Mask is a whirligig of sidewinding production and Doom's alien flow, enhanced by a host of cameos by characters from Space Ghost, Harvey Birdman and Aqua Teen Hunger Force. Rather than detract from the funkified weirdness, the guest spots from the Adult Swim crew actually add to the craziness -- in some cases, as with Master Shake's series of angry/pensive voicemails, they provide a thematic thread in which Doom can get lost.
From a base hip-hop level, The Mouse... features some of Danger Mouse's most adventurous beats to date, surpassing even the rhythms he formulated for Jemini and Cee-Lo. Freed from the constraints of Gorillaz's commercial reputation, he appears here a man reborn, unleashing an unrelenting torrent of bass-booming tracks that utilize cartoon string sections, jerky time signatures and backwards-looping spliff-wasted samples. Doom makes a perfect vocal foil; his avuncular flow and lunatic ramblings wrap phantasmagoric tales around DM's beats and hooks, his tongue still flapping as it's ripped out of his face by boogeyman breaks and hairpin hooks.
The album's concept could well have turned into a forty minute commercial for the network; it's a testament to the two artists' abilities that they integrated talking food, bumbling superheroes and birdman lawyers into their stew so smoothly. "A.T.H.F." is Doom's paean to Aqua Teen Hunger Force, but it's delivered with such tongue-twisted aplomb that it's difficult to discern its actual meaning without a lyric sheet. "Space Ho's" features a hilarious back-and-forth between Doom and Space Ghost, with SG sounding like an agitated Bill Curtis as he fights to keep his show from falling into the hands of the masked villain. "El Chupa Nibre" and "Old School" are largely devoid of cartoon cameos, but their beats wiggle and squirm as if they're being devoured by fire ants, while a marijuana-crazed Doom wrestles with his psyche and tries to beat the bugs out of his brain.
Not since Prince Paul first unleashed 3 Feet High and Rising has a hip-hop album come out of leftfield with such commercial potential -- but then again, that's exactly what we've come to expect from these guys. The Mouse and the Mask won't be everybody's cup of tea; crunk crazies and clubbers probably won't have the patience to digest it, but then, they probably don't watch Adult Swim, either.