MF Doom, Black Bastards, KMD
Operation Doomsday
(SubVerse/Metal Face Records)

Currently, rap is plenty concerned with "ugliness" and hardships. But it's always transformed into "the realness," a process that is strong and heroic, a kind of beauty. In his resilience against personal and professional tragedy, MF Doom has re-released an album that opens rap up to a new way of dealing with "ugliness." His record, Operation Doomsday, features "ugliness," but lacks the sense of being bigger or badder than the hardships. Instead, it demonstrates how terrible events can force one into wearing an iron mask.

This evolution started back when Doom was known as Zevlove X, and his group KMD enjoyed one hit, "Peachfuzz," from their 1992 album Mr. Hood. But their brilliant and dynamic 1994 sophomore effort, Black Bastards, was dropped from its label. Allegedly, it was because of the controversial cover art, a drawing of a lynched Sambo character. To KMD, the drawing meant "kill the stereotype," but to Elektra it threatened a controversy they could do without. Even when KMD offered to change the cover, the project was shelved. Shortly after, Subroc, one of the original members of KMD, died in a car accident.

Five years later, Zevlove X reappeared on Bobbito's Fondle 'Em records as MF Doom. On the cover of that album, Operation Doomsday was a cartoon drawing of a man wearing a metal mask and holding a microphone, and on the back was a photo of two men in robes standing in front of a nondescript house, both with censorship-style black bars over their eyes. The first two tracks, "Doomsday" and "Rhymes Like Dimes," were beautiful, soaring, smooth, and energized.

Skits on rap albums are always worth paying attention to, as they create an atmosphere for the album's ultimate message to manifest. In Operation Doomsday's skits, taken from the film Wild Style, graffiti artist Lee Quinones struggles with the quality of his art and the flimsy promises of fame. These are combined with skits taken from the Fantastic Four cartoon where Dr. Doom plots his revenge on the world that treated him so cruelly. The skits collide in the middle of the album when an experiment from the vindictive Doom backfires, making his face "hideous" (thus the need for the metal mask), and the scene shifts to Quinones explaining how he "messed up" on his piece, and goes on to describe "the hands of doom" that he has painted. The use of the skits enhances the bizarre series of songs. The theme seems to be that the beauty of art (Quinones' piece) and invention (Doom's experiment) is volatile, and can suddenly turn hideous if things go wrong.

There is only one difference on Operation Doomsday's re-release. On the '99 release, Doom presumably dies (in a skit, of course), and the final track is a spoken word piece that asks "who's the hero, who's the villain." It has been replaced by a track that starts as a skit of Doom re-entering the scene after his assumed demise, and it leads into a totally hyped-up rap song. The rest of the album may still be an exploration into ugliness, but on the 2001 re-release, Doom wins in the end.