Thank you very much, Sach O’s billing till Thursday.
Alternately known for British rap icons (Roots Manuva, Wiley, Jammer) and extreme left-field US Hip-Hop (Majesticons, Anti-Pop Consortium, cLOUDDEAD), Ninja Tune offshoot Big Dada records rarely ever aims for the conventional Hip-Hop crowd. Even by the experimental standards of contemporaries Def Jux or Stones Throw, Big Dada releases often feel divorced from the trends and sensibilities of contemporary rap music with artists preferring to color outside the lines rather than compete with the Jay-Z, J-Zone or J-Live. Though beloved by the same beat heads that eagerly await Bonobo and Blockhead, it’s safe to say that even the most adamant Rhymesayers junkie might not be familiar with the label’s catalogue. Which makes MF Doom’s King Geedorah project something of an outlier.
It made perfect sense at the time: far from the underground icon he is today, Doom was still a little known figure in the early 00s, trying to put on the Monsta Island Czars while prepping a run of albums that would come to define his later day career. King Geedorah was the weirdest of these; a side project cum compilation financed and put out by a British beat label’s rap division with guests ranging from 90’s leftovers Kurious and MF Grimm to some guy called Trunks. Typical reviews were mixed: Doom didn’t rap enough, the guests were subpar and the skits were bizarre. In the wake of his career defining Madvillainy (and the well received Viktor Vaughn and Mm…Food albums) Geedorah was quickly forgotten, remembered mostly as a lark by a man who’d soon be found splashed prominently on the Cartoon Network.
Hindsight being was it is however; King Geedorah’s “Take me to your Leader” stands up pretty well 7 years later. Sampling everything from 80’s anime to Brazilian film scores to faux funkster Boz Scaggs, the beats were the obvious main attraction, piecing together pop-culture detritus without ever falling into joke-rap territory. Shrewdly pillaging from oft-ignored sources, Geedorah’s sound was just familiar enough to evoke that feeling that “you’d heard that loop somewhere” without ever landing near anything so obvious as to let you figure it out. Though Doom would go on to drop several CDs worth of bugged out instrumentals under his metal fingers alias, he hasn’t spit over beats this weird since.
And spit he did; it’s an under acknowledged achievement that Doom completely switched up his flow for each of his mid-decade projects. Mm…Food featured his usual growl and Madvillainy featured a more sedate mumble but Viktor Vaughn’s multi-syllabic acrobatics and Geedorah’s boastful proclamations were equally thought-out variations on the Dumile style. Here he threatens to impale his enemy’s heads on spikes, boasts about being a “spring-chicken eater I.Ded as a ringleader” and takes it back to “rumors that Mikey died off pop rocks”. His collaborators acquit themselves as well: though slight by the stuffy and serious standards of NY indie rap, The Monsta Island Czars and company are ideal foils for Doom’s demented musings, adding an oldschool mixtape feel to proceedings and generally rolling with the whole monster movie concept no matter how silly. The Ridge Racer epic “Fast Lane” and woozy “No Snakes Alive” are particular standouts, particularly in the light of the disappointing M.I.C album that would end Doom’s relationship with the crew.
I doubt Doom will ever make an album this weird again. He’s too entrenched in his character to truly surprise us and no matter how dope, his last album Born like This seemed to all but abandon the high-concept theatricality Doom is best known for. So it’s fitting that Take me to Your Leader was Doom’s sole release on Ninja Tune: commissioned before his success, experimental in focus and chalk full of innovative beats that would give future partners J Dilla and Madlib a run for their money, the thing is just too plain weird to drop anywhere else. Thankfully, while Doom may have moved on, the label’s still around to put out stuff like this and to find the next spaced out beat head in need of a break.
Incidentally, I could use a Shabazz Palace side project.