MF Doom's best known albums are probably MM..Food and his collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy. Both have a very light tone to them, with plenty of samples from old superhero cartoons on the former and a freewheeling, relaxed production style on the latter. Something about society in the five years since those albums were released must have gotten to him, because in 2009, Born Like This was dropped on the world, a gritty, dark record with a harder edge to its production. It may keep some of Doom's whimsical, nerdy references ('Gazzillion Ear' gives us amazing lines about Ernest Goes To Camp and wrestler Jake The Snake) but by and large it's defined by surprisingly angry tracks like 'Rap Ambush' and the unfortunate gay-bashing of 'Batty Boyz.' Hell, he even growls a bit on 'That's That.'
Still, expecting Doom to always be the guy who does albums for Adult Swim cartoons and samples old TV shows was foolish of me. Once I got over the sudden change in tone, Born Like This became a pretty good, mostly enjoyable entry in his discography, but easily my least favorite. This may seem a bit of a paradox, since I do love the production and choice of samples; when Doom gets on a good tear, his lyrics here match his best. But, well, let me approach it from this direction: the album title and samples on 'Cellz' come from poet/author Charles Bukowski. As he's one of my favorites, I was psyched to see what inspiration Doom might take from him. Other than an apathetic, anti-social feel to the album, not very much. Those more familiar with hip hop would similarly be excited to see Doom perform on tracks produced by J Dilla and Madlib, and appear alongside Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, but none of these moments are wholly satisfying, either. What's more, some of these tracks are simply throwaways. 'Bumpy's Message' is only amusing once and (while this may play right into her hands because of a critic baiting line) whoever that is rapping on 'Still Dope' is nowhere near good enough to appear on a Doom album. At all.
If it seems like I've only complained about Born Like This, it's partially because it deserves the criticism. After not releasing any new material for a few years, I guess it shouldn't be a surprise that Born Like This doesn't match his previous output. Mostly, though, it's because this is the kind of album that is an enjoyable, above average listen but doesn't hold up to scrutiny, not to mention comparisons to other Doom releases. The grittier, more violent themes and feel of Born Like This do make it a fascinating record, since Doom normally has a persona closer to a misunderstood masked villain in the line of The Phantom Of The Opera instead of the outright megalomaniacal Dr. Doom...but I'd be lying if I didn't say I miss the man who used to sample old Godzilla movies and rhyme “double chocolate chunk” with “junk in the trunk.”