MF Doom / MF Grimm
Special Herbs and Spices Volume 1
fter the uneven release Digital Tears I had high hopes for this collaboration. The album is just OK, but I feel great about it anyway. We’ve heard the beats before (on his various Special Herbs compilations), the intro and outro (courtesy of Fatman Scoop) are fairly obnoxious, and Grimm’s released hotter tracks and dropped better vocal performances. But this doesn’t matter in the end, because Special Herbs and Spices is a great mix of necessary ingredients: pour the pure quality of Doom’s selectah skills, mix in a little bit of MC myth-making, throw in some phat cover art and to top it off, sprinkle the promise of a future Grimm solo effort and you’ve got a reason to be excited about underground hip-hop again. These special herbs and spices are the chemistry of which great collaborations are made.
Accolades are due to the idiosyncratic production of hip-hop’s hero of the moment, the plucky D. Dumile, MF Doom. “Idiosyncratic” is an insufficient way to describe Doom’s highly personal production style, an eccentric recontextualization of the corniest samples and choppiest breaks mixed with a rather cartoonish production aesthetic. Doom’s sampling is similar to his rap style—referential to the trash heap of popular culture. His beats aren’t funky as often as they are dissonant—tension escalates throughout the album, from the banging, high-pitched piano chords and sax scream of “War Paint” to the looped, jagged distortion of “Rain Blood Part 2”. Doom eschews a sense of groove in favor of sloppiness (although Dumile has been known for especially assiduous production methods). His production is the ultimate in “found art”—the carelessness suggested by his peculiar sampling choices and one track jack-style looping belies his creative and ultimately personal technique. The cheesy guitar scream on “Shifting Lanes” becomes a searing shot of musical adrenaline, and the melodramatic strings swiped for “10 Years Later” are transformed into the mournful epitome of sorrow. Doom’s production is about the redefinition of context.
The chemistry, however, between Doom’s spices and Grimm’s herbs are what makes this collaboration work. Grimm was a promising MC ten years ago when he was shot ten times—once more than 50 Cent, although unlike 50 Cent, Grimm remains confined to a wheelchair. After spending a stint in prison, Grimm recently returned to the mic, one legendary recording session already in the bag—apparently, his The Downfall of Iblys was recorded entirely on the day before he was arrested. Although his performances here are unfortunately inconsistent, at certain magical moments during the recording, we are given hints of what makes the two MF’s such exciting collaborators. “1000 Degrees” is a charging, horn driven banger (as far as Doom’s beats can be called “bangers”) in which Grimm sounds as if the last 10 years of suffering only served to make him hungrier, even as he acknowledges his physical restraints: “FUCK Jacob’s ladder, I’ma take the fuckin’ elevator!” Grimm’s reflections on his own resurrection and return are insightful, and he contemplates his own inner-conflict and self determination with a remarkably cogent tongue on the excellent “Stress Box”:
My concentration’s not on the one who shot at me
I’m wonderin’ if I could take the pieces that fell outta me
Stick em back inside of me, tie a knot in me, regenerate anatomy
damaged arteries there’s gotta be a way to shape my life like pottery
all that’s vain will be defeated
god told me to be seated.”
Determination and acceptance are predominant lyrical themes. Grimm sounds world-weary, yet remains energetic and has grown greatly as an MC. He addresses lyrical themes that seem borne of experience, and he SOUNDS it. This gives his lyrics an added gravitas that other rappers lack.
The album closes with “My Love”, a preview of Grimm’s forthcoming effort American Hunger. And it’s truly the best part of the entire collaborative effort—fresh production from Doom and one of Grimm’s best lyrical performances to date. The beat is a unique entry into Doom’s catalogue, with its sorrowful piano emphasized by subdued synth stabs, clattering, echoing snares, card-shuffling sound effects, and a rubbery bassline that slides all over the lower register. Grimm sounds equally threatening and mournful, threatening his enemies like his idol Kool G Rap while simultaneously sending his love to those who’ve suffered throughout the years that Grimm has been struggling. The album is inconsistent perhaps, but moments like these prove that Grimm is just getting started—ten years later than he may have expected, but we’re being awarded for the wait.
Reviewed by: David Drake
Reviewed on: 2004-06-23