Jadakiss Believes Albums Are Going “Extinct” In Favor of… Mixtapes?

Jadakiss Believes Albums Are Going “Extinct” In Favor of… Mixtapes?

Fresh off their collaborative project, Friday on Elm Street, Fabolous and Jadakiss sat down with REAL 92.3 LA to discuss the record, but the conversation quickly turned into a seminar on the difference between an album and a mixtape in 2017.

“I think albums are gonna go extinct,” Jadakiss begins. “Mixtapes are gonna take the forefront. Just the word 'album,' fucks up a lot of shit. From clearances, it even rubs your fans the wrong way.”

Fabolous chimes in: “That's how I fell in love with doing mixtapes. Just not having to answer to anything,” to which Jada replies, “You can do whatever you want for your core fans, with no caring about samples, release dates, none of that bullshit. When you making a mixtape, you breathing the best breathing you ever breathed.”

To be clear—and no disrespect to Jadakiss—albums are not going anywhere. Even in the era of the playlist, the album will continue to be the central way music is packaged and delivered to consumers for years to come. That said, the duo does raise an important point about artistic control. As Fab goes on to explain, while albums demand that an artist follow a more strict format, mixtapes provide freedom, which speaks to the dearth of creative control afforded to many signed artists.

For Jada and Fab, the mixtape is a musical playground, a place they can let their ideas run free without having to worry about restrictions or label politics. The mixtape is a pressure-free zone where an artist can enjoy themselves and deliver an organic product to their fanbase, sometimes free of cost.

Fabolous also correctly points out that platforms like SoundCloud are the new breeding ground for artistic experimentation and flexibility. Much like mixtapes, SoundCloud offers a 100% expectation-free space for young artists to test the waters, learn how to fashion a project, and gauge how to go about building their fanbase. 

In that sense, we’re with you, Jadakiss. Let artists be artists. 

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Surrounded By Success: How Atlanta Hip-Hop Finds Inspiration in Triumph Over Impossible Odds

Surrounded By Success: How Atlanta Hip-Hop Finds Inspiration in Triumph Over Impossible Odds

Boos echoed within Madison Square Garden’s Paramount Theater as OutKast walked toward the podium. The Best New Artists of the 1995 Source Awards, a victory deserving of applause, drowned by disdain. They were MCs from the South in the Big Apple, the boos a reminder that they were outcasts in the city that birthed hip-hop.

I’ve thought about this scene often, the moment leading up to the bold declaration that still lives in the soul and soil of Southern hip-hop. How those boos must have felt while Big and Dre were walking toward their trophy; the bubbling frustration that intertwines acknowledgment and alienation, to feel deserving and to be blatantly disregarded. Andre, in response to how he was feeling, spoke six immortal words, classic as any lyrics from their songs: “The South has something to say.”

I was four years old when the ‘95 Source Awards took place, a Southern son living a toddler’s life in Stone Mountain, Georgia, unaware of regions and rappers. I grew up in the aftermath, when the South not only rose but when Atlanta became the epicenter of what was taking over. Andre’s moment is a cultural flash-in-the-pan affair, but it was only one event of many that caused an old reality to become a distant memory.

By the time I was old enough to see the city as a hub for rap artistry, it was no longer being overlooked, overshadowed, or ignored by media, critics, and the industry as a whole. My birthplace was a volcano no longer dormant. It was active, erupting hit makers and culture shakers. It was being heard, but also witnessed.

I lived in an era where So So Def in Atlanta was a variation of Bad Boy in New York. Jermaine was no Diddy in the mogul sense, but the sheer number of anthems he produced and poured into the Freaknik streets is still astounding. LaFace and Dungeon Family were architects that assisted in the foundation for prospects to blossom from the red clay. With my own eyes, I saw the explosion of Ludacris and T.I., Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane, Lil Jon and Ying Yang Twins, Kilo Ali and Da Brat, Dem Franchize Boyz and Soulja Boy―so many rappers, all from the city or surrounding areas. And these are just a few notable names synonymous with my impressionable middle and high school years.

I didn’t have any ambitions to become a rapper, but it made sense why so many of my peers believed they could turn notebook scribbles and cafeteria cyphers into millions of dollars. With each new act, with each new big ATL record broken, the subconscious stomach that was starved for a glimmer of hope was fed with a very simple concept: yes, you can.

Atlanta has been known as the mecca for black folks long before its prominence in music. The New York Times wrote in 1986 how the city attracted middle-class, affluent black families while harboring a hidden, unrepresented excess of poverty. What I loved most about the hip-hop that grew from the city is how the unrepresented, those from areas that weren't mentioned when people highlighted Atlanta's wealth, were able to give a voice to the other side. The bounce that was born in Bankhead wasn’t a dance made by kids living middle-class lives and the SWATS produced countless artistic minds who didn’t have a pot for their piss. Was crunk not dance music for gladiators? It was like music for war and celebration. I’ve seen rambunctious joy and acts of war to the sounds of Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck.” Whether trapping on the Eastside or dancing south of the city, the music consistently allowed perspectives of the many black men and women who inhabited the city, not just the ones who attended Morehouse and Spelman.

The beauty of 21 Savage isn’t simply the authenticity of his street tales, but the glory that comes with his escape. Whatever odds life presents can be beaten if your stories become rhymes and not simply reality. In the New York Times' recent profile on Quality Control, label home to Lil Yachty and Migos, a small glimmer of light is shed on one of their latest signees, Lil Baby. The 21-year-old street rapper has spent the last ten months building momentum as a rap artist after serving the last two years incarcerated. Some will read his story and question how it happened so quickly—not even a year out and he's already signed and seeing moderate success—but it’s a common gamble for the young and hungry.

Do you have the guts to test the waters? This is why Atlanta has so many artists with one or two hits in their back pocket—most are daring enough to take the plunge.  

Later in the Times profile, QC CEO Pierre "Pee" Thomas encouraged Lil Baby to be patient with music and to resist the temptations of his old ways. One particular quote struck me: 

“You don’t have to be the best rapper, but guess what? If you keep working hard…”

Without completely laying it out, Pee encourages the grind. That relentless effort to break barriers. There’s always been a stigma about Atlanta and fellow Southern rappers, that they are lesser because they don’t have the same lyrical prowess as rappers from other regions. But within Pee’s statement is largely why so many artists from Atlanta are the ones that break out; they believe they can win and they apply the work ethic. Talent and genius can be outworked by a motivated man.

Overnight stardom wasn’t awarded to Future, his journey has been a long one. Even with Dungeon Family connections and early dealings with a successful artist like Rocko, there were no shortcuts. The same can be said for newcomers like J.I.D or 6LACK. They both fought tooth and nail to be where they currently stand—not quite at the mountaintop, but much further than most. For many Atlanta natives, witnessing their diligence and consistency turn into sold-out tours and widespread acclaim is yet another refreshing reminder that hard work and patience can pay off. During 6LACK’s second sold-out show in Atlanta to close out his FREE 6LACK tour, I heard stories told by those closest to his progress about couch hopping and penny-pinching, but the darkest days have been overcome and the dawn is a blinding gold.

Is it possible to hear of 6LACK’s story from label imprisonment to GRAMMY nomination and conclude that years of hardship isn’t worth a dream realized? Especially for those who have walked those same East Atlanta streets and witnessed his presence during his most downtrodden days? 

If not 6LACK, look no further than East Atlanta’s Santa's transformation from the days of “So Icey.” Where Gucci Mane is today—the redemption he’s been able to achieve—wasn’t a foreseeable future in a not-so-distant past. Left and right, behind the white picket fences and within the mouths of hell, success, victory, and overcoming the depths of the darkest prison cell. You can find it all in the city of dirty birds. Atlanta’s entire music universe is filled with stars who weren’t favored to last long. But they continued to glow, never crashing, never falling, and never turning into a forgotten pile of dust.

I imagine it must be the same way in cities like New York City and Los Angeles, more traditional breeding grounds for rap stars. There's a group of Compton kids who are writing rhymes trying to best Kendrick's latest masterpiece and a whole family tree of aspiring Brooklyn artists dreaming of being the next JAY-Z. When you're born in places with a history of great artists, there's an innate resolve to follow in those footsteps. Even if it isn't in the same field, a Brooklyn doctor is still likely to see Hov as a symbol of what it means to go the distance.

A homeless man once told me there were enough rappers in the world. It was a strange comment, and there’s definitely some validity to his statement, but rappers are important. They’re a constant reminder of what overcoming the odds looks like. Not everyone is destined to make it big, some won’t even make it small, but rap is a profession where you can believe no obstacle can stop you. Living in Atlanta and watching the aliens continue to prosper has constantly reminded me that no circumstance defines you. That excellence, especially black excellence, comes in all shades and creeds. Within music and outside of it, communities are built showcasing the possibility of prominence to those who don’t believe it can be done.

Outside of all the politics and the machine, and all the theories and conspiracies, I truly believe you can manifest desires and dreams. Seeing is believing, and I’ve seen it so often that the idea of going beyond the odds is instilled in me. Sometimes the biggest push is just feeling confident in knowing the mission isn’t impossible.

Atlanta is the city where the impossible is proven wrong. It all begins with having something to say.

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Vic Mensa Wasn’t Surprised by Lil Peep’s Death: “Every Action Has a Consequence”

Vic Mensa Wasn’t Surprised by Lil Peep’s Death: “Every Action Has a Consequence”

During his most recent Billboard interview with Megan Armstrong, Vic Mensa spoke on Murphy’s Law at its most tragic.

Discussing mental health, drug addiction, and the recent passing of Lil Peep, Mensa made a callous yet salient point: “Lil Peep’s death didn’t really make me think about myself very much. It made me think a little bit more about people around me.”

“I look at my own situation differently because I didn’t create an identity for myself out of my explicit drug use,” Mensa continued, making reference to his own struggles with prescriptions. “I created an identity and maybe at points in time addiction has played a role in it, but I see my situation being different. As tragic as it is to lose young artists and young people in general, every action has a consequence. And when your identity revolves around abusing prescription drugs, you will die from overdosing on prescription drugs. Point blank. You know? It’s not surprising. Like I said, it’s still tragic, but it doesn’t make me have a new lens on my own life because I’m not caught off guard.”

Mensa’s approach here errs on the side of short-sightedness. No one asks to be an addict. And certainly no one asks to suffer from mental illness. As a vocal advocate for social equality, Mensa is no stranger to the structural factors that push people towards drug selling, use, and addiction. Why these insights are near-absent from this interview remains unclear.

Earlier in the interview, the Chicago native admitted that people aren’t given the proper coping mechanisms for their mental illnesses, going so far as the say the manufacturers of Xanax should be, on some level, held accountable. Yet, that nuance is sadly missing from his take on Lil Peep’s passing.   

“When friends of mine that spend all their time drinking lean and poppin’ pills start having seizures, I just pray they get better and try to talk to them,” Mensa added. “But, you know, my perspective isn’t shifted because I recognize that things you do, they affect you— and some stories have an obvious outcome.”

Lil Peep’s passing may have been obvious to some, but it was still heartbreaking to all. Vic Mensa is on the cusp of having a productive dialogue regarding drug use and its complicated relationship with mental health, having himself openly spoken about his use of medication.

His hard-nosed approach may be a coping mechanism in its own right, but we should still demand more from those with the loudest voices.

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No I.D. on Hip-Hop’s Cultural Shift: “Pop Culture Hijacked Our Thing”

No I.D. on Hip-Hop’s Cultural Shift: “Pop Culture Hijacked Our Thing”

During a rare interview with heralded Chicago blogger and curator Andrew Barber, the legendary No I.D. explained the clear difference he sees between hip-hop culture and rap music.

“Music saved my life,” No I.D. begins in a measured tone. “There's a miscommunication going on here. I think what hip-hop was and what rap music is are two different things. I think the spirit of what hip-hop is and was and what rap music is, is totally different. Hip-hop is what saved my life, not rap music. I just happen to rap, I happen to do a lot. I started as a DJ. I have a deep passion for this whole [culture]. Pop culture hijacked our thing and turned it into a way to get money, only, where nothing else matters.”

No I.D., fresh off earning five GRAMMY nominations for his work on JAY-Z's 4:44 album, doesn't go into specifics, but there are myriad differences between what hip-hop was and what rap music currently is: the gap between career artist and a moment artist, children inking major label deals because of virality, and the influence of on-demand streaming service playlist placements on the entire artistic process.

While No I.D. doesn’t point fingers, he does take sides, adding: “I can't just roll over for that one. I have to interject and hope a new generation finds [hip-hop culture], which is happening. This battle, this Yin and Yang, is the way our earth goes, but I just know what side I want to be on.”

No I.D.’s fighting the good fight, but it's certainly not in vain. Aside from young creatives looking to him as a role model, there are countless artists seeking a career in the music industry who are proudly embodying the culture he represents.

Be it Rapsody, Vic Mensa (whose debut No I.D. executively produced), or a smaller act like Marlon Craft, it's important to remember that the essence of the genre has never completely been lost; sometimes we just need to train our eyes to spot it.

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Four (More) Must-Hear Artists Under 1,000 Followers

Four (More) Must-Hear Artists Under 1,000 Followers

Even though SoundCloud’s ethos has shifted, I have this odd, undying allegiance to the streaming service because of the sense of hope and hunger that new artists feel when they upload their music. Not to mention, finding green musicians who can actually sing and rap is quite satisfying.

Before the calendar flips to December, here are four (more) artists who are worth a listen.


Arshad Goods (@arshadgoods) — 606 Followers

St. Louis rapper Arshad Goods came out swinging in 2015 with his debut EP Black Sunday, a self-reflective nine-track project, where he reveals and attempts to reconcile the many versions of himself. Save for the single “Resurrection”—where he waxes poetic on the types of rap that many of us would like to see resuscitated—Goods was fairly quiet in 2016. One year later, though, it appears he has resurrected himself: late this past summer, Goods released the pensive “818” and a two-song EP entitled B4SummerOver.

Over a buoyant beat, Goods and fellow St. Louis rapper Bryant Stewart keep things light on "Burgundy Waves," spitting about rolling up and talking about their glow-ups. But more than anything, the song radiates a warm breeze and the freedom of summer—something we definitely need to cherish as winter is fast approaching.

brahny (@brahny) — 245 Followers

Virtually no information exists about brahny on the internet, except for the fact that he hails from Toronto. This fact alone, however, means that we know the Canadian singer is in good company in the 6ix, a city brimming with talent.

What I can tell you about the north-of-the-border newcomer is that earlier this year, he released a three-song EP, entitled Fresco Time Machine—oh, and he can carry a note.

On previous single “Leona,” brahny proves to be a crooner, his voice appearing sweet and ethereal amid dulcet tones. He’s poetic too: “Can’t stop planets you see / Oh been around my head, time slows endlessly / Heavy thoughts, they weigh on my mind / Like how we gonna live off sunshine and wine.” Real evidence of his dexterity comes at the 50-second mark when he hits a soft falsetto. If, when you first heard his voice you weren't sure he had that range, guess again.

Amaal Nuux (@amaalnuux) — 702 Followers

A native of Mogadishu, Somalia, Amaal Nuux and her family emigrated to Toronto when she was just a baby. Although the singer didn’t spend her formative years in her home country, she uses a socially conscious focus to mirror her culture, using her medium to uplift her Somali community.

After releasing her debut EP Painful Secrets in 2012, Nuux took a four-year hiatus, returning in 2016 with the triumphant and empowering song “Last Ones.” Indeed, her last three singles—”Last Ones,” “Who Are We?” and “Scream”—all have the same running throughline of strength; but on her most recent single, “Scream,” Nuux addresses a more global issue: Love. “Everywhere but here, it’s complicated / But right now, it’s simple in my mind,” she sings meditatively, giving love a voice.

theantisocial. (@theantisocialmusic) — 354 Followers

Like brahny, theantisocial also hasn't provided perspective fans (and writers) much information on himself. Still, it’s apparent that he’s from the DMV, specifically Maryland, and is likely very proud to rep his region, especially given the incredible success of locals GoldLink, Brent Faiyaz, and Shy Glizzy, who recently earned a GRAMMY nomination for their song “Crew.”

Though theantisocial only has three songs available on his SoundCloud, it’s pretty obvious from this small sample size that he can spit. On “Infatuated”—which comes in two parts—he exhibits an existential push and pull. He’s decisive about wanting to win, but doesn’t know if he should achieve that by working hard to find success, through music, or by taking a quicker route, through trapping. While those aren’t necessarily parameters we can all relate to, an infatuation with winning is. In the second half of the song, theantisocial realizes that, for him, rapping is indeed more rewarding.

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Jaden Smith Bravely Admits He Spent Three Years Making “BLUE”

Jaden Smith Bravely Admits He Spent Three Years Making “BLUE”

“How Can Questions Be Real If Our Eyes Aren't Real,” Jaden Smith posits during his Reddit AMA. Fresh off the release of his debut album, SYRE, a Jaden Smith AMA is exactly what you’d expect it to be: oddly compelling.

Most compelling, though, is his brave admission that the songs that made up "BLUE," the four-track suite that begins SYRE, took him "3 Years To Make." Whether or not those three years paid off remains to be seen.

The AMA reads more like a speed-dating round than a deep dive into the young artist’s process, though, those may be one in the same. In addition to learning about the "BLUE" backstory, Jaden also reveals that his favorite rock band is Tame Impala, his five dream features for his next record are Kendrick, Bon Iver, EARL, Justin Bieber, and Lola Wolf, and that his white Batman costume was custom made.

Smith also confirmed that Donald Glover was one of the influences for his debut album but not the only one, saying that “Gambino Is A Huge Inspiration And Friend But This Album Was Inspired By The World Around me [sic] ..   I Make Music About Personal Experience Not To Try To Fit In [sic].”

Other tidbits include his mention of working with Brockhampton, a promise to release SYRE jeans and landing his dream collaboration, Kid Cudi.

He also prefers Yeezus to 808s & Heartbreak, which leaves me wondering how he takes his coffee. 

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“It Took Me 6 Minutes & I Got a GRAMMY for It”: The-Dream Details ‘Watch The Throne’ Sessions

“It Took Me 6 Minutes & I Got a GRAMMY for It”: The-Dream Details ‘Watch The Throne’ Sessions

After listening to Watch the Throne in Paris with JAY-Z and Kanye West, The-Dream left the studio early, believing he had completed his work on a record. He wanted to get a jump start on Jay's next solo album, Magna Carta Holy Grail

Little did he know what would happen next.

During his recent appearance on RevoltTV’s Drink Champs podcast, the prolific singer-songwriter and producer shared the entire backstory behind his Auto-Tuned participation on “No Church in the Wild” and explained why it was the most productive six minutes of his entire recording career.

“Long story short,” The-Dream told co-hosts N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, “I went in and they was working on ‘No Church in the Wild.’ Kanye was like, ‘Yo! I need you to put something on this record!’ I went into the next room, bap, bap, bap, didn’t think nothing of it. Then me, Jay, and Leonardo DiCaprio, at the time, went to grab something to eat.

“I never heard about the record again. I get a phone call months later. Chaka [Pilgrim]’s [the president of Roc Nation] on the phone like, ‘Yeah, so, you on Watch the Throne.’ I was like, ‘No, you talking about Jay’s shit. I’m not on Watch the Throne.’ She’s like, ‘I just did a listening in New York, you’re on fucking Watch the Throne. Jay just recited your whole verse on "No Church in the Wild."”

Since The-Dream wasn’t immediately credited for his participation on the record, fans assumed the Auto-Tuned vocals were that of either Kanye, Jay, or Frank Ocean. Despite the confusion, however, the fact remains that The-Dream put in his six minutes and ended up scoring a GRAMMY award.

“That was the best session I walked into,” The-Dream said. 

I bet.

While his expediency is impressive, this story is actually a testament to perseverance. The-Dream didn’t just stumble into the session his first week making music. This GRAMMY was the byproduct of years in music, building relationships, and building a name for himself. Those six minutes were predicated on thousands of hours of hard work, and likely plenty of moments where Dream wanted to throw in the towel. He didn’t, of course, and he’s got the hardware to show for it.

Let this be a lesson to young artists: the work pays off, every day you’re that much closer to everything finally falling into place.

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Our Entire Staff Reacts to N.E.R.D’s “1000” Single Featuring Future

Our Entire Staff Reacts to N.E.R.D’s “1000” Single Featuring Future

Though N.E.R.D premiered the entirety of their forthcoming fifth studio album, NO ONE EVER REALLY DIES, at ComplexCon earlier this month, those of us not in attendance draped head to toe in Supreme have been waiting patiently for weeks to hear a follow-up to their Rihanna-assisted lead single "Lemon."

Today, Pharrell, Chad and Shay's funky rap-rock outfit released "1000," the Future-featuring latest taste of their first full-length in seven years. To celebrate, we rounded up the squad to react to the new record. 

Below is a transcript of our entire staff reacting to "1000" on Slack. Grab some Tylenol.


Donna: I genuinely do not like this. It sounds like 4 motifs slapped together and we're supposed to jazzercise to the whole thing.

Z: THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON.

Donna: I feel like I need two small weights and a neon scrunchy to really enjoy the song. And a dying marriage. The shame, too, is if you parse out each motif, they're all pretty engaging.

Hershal: Remember that weird group SuperHeavy with Mick Jagger, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart, A. R. Rahman, and Damian Marley? THIS SONG SOUNDS LIKE IT COULD HAVE BEEN MADE BY THEM.

Z: I appreciate N.E.R.D's mission to always be different. But this is an attack on my nerves.

CineMasai: I like their song from the second Spongebob movie better.

Sermon: Future will never say no to a check.

Hershal: It sounds like 4 M.I.A. songs being played simultaneously with two Santigold songs playing in reverse for good measure.

Sermon: This is worse than Will Smith's EDM song that doesn't actually exist because his last song was "Switch" in 2005.

Yoh: I'm realizing the album is called No One Really Dies because the music is meant to make us feel trapped in a musical purgatory. Someone save my soul.

CineMasai: Future sounds out of place. The music's eating him.

Yoh: The music is eating me.

Donna: I want the four tracks this song was made of to be its own EP. I would purchase that.

Z: I need an Advil. Actually, two or three.

Hershal: This may be the precise moment where Tyler The Creator stops being inspired by Pharrell.

Matt: *walks into chat* The fuck? *walks out*

Yoh: I need a N.E.R.D album inspired by Tyler.

Sermon: All we gotta do is talk about N.E.R.D bad songs and Matt leaves. Everyone remember this.

Donna: I don't know if I need a N.E.R.D album anymore.

Z: I need a N.E.R.D album not inspired by a '80s video game soundtrack meets a late night infomercial on speed.

CineMasai: That breakdown with the synths is tight, not gonna lie.

Matt: This sounds like the music that plays when the boss on the Ninja Turtles arcade game shows up.

Yoh: This is the sound of an apocalypse occurring in the world of Tron.

Matt: I know N.E.R.D likes to go all avant-garde but this song stinks.

Brendan: It sounds like playing every song on Jaden Smith’s album at the same time.

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Every MF DOOM Album, Ranked

Every MF DOOM Album, Ranked

Mystery and celebrity often go hand in hand. The less we know, the more we feel we need to know, especially in an age where an inactive Twitter account means you’re all but dead to the world. Earl Sweatshirt can barely enjoy life without being harassed by fans thirsty for a new album. The accounts of formerly showy artists like Drake and Eminem are little more than promotional tools at this point. Their personal lives are on a controlled slow drip.  

But the solitary tweet on MF DOOM’s page trumps them all:  

Those five words are a succinct reminder of the surreal humor and mystery that the man formerly known as Daniel Dumile wears as plain as the mask on his face. His raps are stream-of-consciousness mind dumps that owe as much to Marvel’s Stan Lee as they do to Kool Keith. More often than not, his beats paint a clearer picture of the man than his raps do, bending samples from cartoons and how-to books to his whim with a nostalgic boom bap tinge. He’s just as likely to send an imposter to one of his shows or pull out of a 15-week partnership with Adult Swim as he is to drop a collab with Danger Mouse or Westside Gunn. It’s his world and we’ve all just been living in it since the late 1980s.  

This air of mystery played as big a role in drawing me into the DOOM mythos as the beats and rhymes did. I used to drive my cousin crazy in middle school and high school, running DOOM tracks back for days on YouTube. Years later, I’m still finding jewels to cherish. But even a discography as illustrious as DOOM’s has a hierarchy.

After much time and thought, here is every album from the Metal Faced Villain, ranked. I’ll see you in the comments section.          

12. NehruvianDOOM (Bishop Nehru & MF DOOM) — NehruvianDOOM (2014)

DOOM RANKED

Even as an MC known for left-field collaborations, DOOM’s announcement of a team-up with New York upstart Bishop Nehru was an unexpected left hook in 2014. Early singles like the menacing “Om” and the supreme tag-team that is “Caskets” were promising; as was Nehru’s debut Nehruvia mixtape. The kid clearly had chops and DOOM saw fit to use his underground bat signal to give him some shine. But a lack of personality (it’s hard not to hear 1999-era Joey Bada$$ in there) combined with some of DOOM’s most uninspired beats and rhymes to date left this eight-track project feeling undercooked and ready to evaporate.

Nehru’s since signed to Mass Appeal Records and enlisted DOOM and Kaytranada, among others, to produce his debut solo album. I hope that it’s livelier than this.

11. Viktor Vaughn — Venomous Villain (2002)

DOOM RANKED

Did you know that DOOM released a second album under his Viktor Vaughn alias? Many don't, and after running through Venomous Villain a few times, it's easy to understand why.

The impact of DOOM/Vaughn’s rhymes rise and fall on the strength of the beats, and outside of the Diplo-produced “Back End” and the two-song suite of “Dope Skill”/”Doper Skiller,” the production on Venomous is cohesive at best, bland at worst. DOOM/Vaughn and Kool Keith going at each other like Optimus Prime and Megatron on “Doper Skiller” is a lyrical treat for underground heads, but no one ever stopped to consider if a full-length sequel to Vaudeville Villain was even necessary.

10. JJ DOOM (Jneiro Jarel & MF DOOM) — Key to the Kuffs (2012)

DOOM RANKED

When DOOM was barred from entering the United States after an extended tour through Europe in 2010 due to passport trouble, he only had one answer: “I’m done with the United States.” Key to the Kuffs—his collaboration with New Orleans beat maestro Jinero Jarel—was recorded shortly after his forced relocation to his hometown of London. Kuffs can be cheeky about his new spot on occasion (“The supervillain been kicked out ya country / And he said the Pledge of Allegiance six times monthly” from “Borin Convo”), but for the most part, this is an album of wonderfully weird raps about melanin and Frankenfoods over beats just under the bar of “weird enough.”

“Guv’Nor” is a twinkling descent into madness accented by a Regular Show sample; but for every song like this or “Banished” that cuts loose and has some fun with the DOOM formula, there’s a line about “feminizing men again” or an indistinct beat that snaps the kuffs back on again. Cohesion doesn’t always make for good albums, but it’s possible that DOOM and Jarel might not have been the best match for an entire project.

9. DOOM — Born Like This (2009)

DOOM RANKED

Naming your album after a Charles Bukowski passage is a quick way to let people know that it’s time to get serious. If Kuffs could feel cold at times, Born Like This feels downright bitter, with DOOM painting exclusively with the greens and greys that make up his costume. It’s cohesive to the point of being monochromatic, even with outside producers like Madlib and Jake One chopping beats. There’s excellent storytelling in the crime saga “Absolutely” and rap aerobics on “That’s That” and the clacking “Ballskin," but as a whole, Born Like This isn’t sturdy facewear. The album version of Ghostface collab “Angelz” is early demo quality, great cameos from Raekwon and Empress Starhh feel airlifted from another project, and “Batty Boyz” is still a low point in a career full of thinly veiled homophobia.  

But when the beat clicks and DOOM keeps to his thesaurus, there’s little doubt that he was indeed born like this.

8. KMD — Mr. Hood (1991)

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While Mr. Hood isn’t technically a DOOM album, there is no MF DOOM without KMD. Before the mask and the mystery, there was Zev Love X, a Five-Percenter with a high-pitched voice and bars ready to unspool. He, his brother DJ Subroc and Onyx The Birthstone Kid subscribed to the same freewheeling positive vibes that members of the Native Tongues like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul did.

Their debut album is a walking tour of Long Beach, New York, made up of wide-eyed Afrocentric raps over sweet, tinny R&B flips. Many of DOOM’s trademarks can be traced back to this album: his obscure sampling palette (the album’s titular narrator of sorts is culled audio from a language learning tape), his internal rhyme schemes and his conceptual genius. Where else will a rapper chart out the chase for Little Black Sambo with Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street? Even given its content, Mr. Hood is a fun and breezy record that helped lay the groundwork for the villainy that was to come.

7. Danger Doom (Danger Mouse & MF DOOM) — The Mouse and The Mask (2005)

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Adult Swim and hip-hop were formally introduced when DOOM and super-producer Danger Mouse approached the company to use anime soundbites. One thing led to another and both were more or less canonized in the Adult Swim universe with fourteen tracks of kooky bliss. DOOM’s rhymes remain power word crunches, but The Mouse and The Mask might be a rare moment where DOOM’s zaniness is matched by his producer’s.

DOOM finds not one but two phrases that rhyme with “Meatwad” over twanging guitar and drums. DOOM hosts a talk show over eerie alien whispers on one track and raps about the wonders of urine over blaring horns on another. DOOM and guest Talib Kweli reminded me that “cartoons be realer than reality TV” on “Old School Rules” and I haven’t forgotten it since.      

It might exist as a commercial for Adult Swim first and foremost, but the duo’s chemistry is deliriously goofy even if you don’t know your Harvey Birdman from your Brak Show.

6. KMD — Black Bastards (2001)

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Two years is a mighty long time in music. Originally set to drop in 1993, KMD’s sophomore album Black Bastards hit a few snags. Onyx The Birthstone Kid’s departure turned them into a duo before DJ Subroc was struck by a car on the Long Island Expressway and killed. To add insult to injury, Elektra Records shelved the album because of its cover; a picture of a Sambo moments before a deadly game of hangman. The album didn’t see an official release until 2001.  

The night-and-day difference in tone between Mr. Hood and Black Bastards is spooky, given the circumstances. While the former was comparatively jaunty and upbeat, Black Bastards drags its feet through the grime of self-discovery. The project is angrier but more at encroaching young adulthood than the white squares they sized up on Mr. Hood. The trio wades through drinking (“Sweet Premium Wine”), sex (“Plumskinzz (Loose Hoe, God & Cupid)”) and gun-riddled streets (“Get-U-Now”) in an effort to get answers.      

The events leading up to the release of Black Bastards directly affected Dumile’s transition into the metal-faced villain we all know and love. It’s a perfect example of stumbling with grace.

5. King Gheedorah — Take Me to Your Leader (2003)

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The cover of Take Me to Your Leader always catches my eye: A cutout of the three-headed Godzilla villain King Ghidorah staring down a battalion of paper tanks. A diorama cover is about as apt a choice for an album by a sample-heavy producer like DOOM (here under the alias King Geedorah), who crafted all but one song on this joint project.

Outside of two songs, DOOM’s main presence is on the production side, with MCs like Kurious, Starrh, Hassan Chop and others cutting loose over smooth beats. It’s a tag-team free-for-all in every sense and DOOM provides the popping head nod nirvana so every monster can show their teeth. But skits like “Monster Zero” and the title track are like the collages on the cover, made from disparate pieces feeding into a whole greater than itself.

4. Viktor Vaughn — Vaudeville Villain (2003)

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If MF DOOM is the despot ruling over the streets, then Viktor Vaughn is the youngblood running through them. Coming four years after the comeback that was Operation: Doomsday, there’s a focus and a hunger pushing Dumile from “Modern Day Mugging” to a post-apocalyptic sci-fi open mic night without missing a tonal step. As Vaughn, Dumile’s style is more confrontational and direct than that of the masked villain proper. He wants you to know just how wack you are.  

The fires were stoked even further by Dumile/DOOM/Vaughn entrusting production duties to five others (RJD2, King Honey, Heat Sensor, Max Bill and Mr. Ten), his skittery flows matching the beats with eerie precision. There was a period of time after I first discovered DOOM when I thought he only sounded his best over his own production. His brand of hard-knocking obscurity was hard to top. Yet, hearing Vaughn retell a short crime saga to rival Ghostface over clanging sirens on “Lactose and Lecithin” was a marvel. Hearing him flex about breaking the matrix over RJD2’s blaring horns on “Saliva” is popcorn-munching levels of wonderful. Witnessing he and underground legend Apani B go through the motions of a relationship only for Vik to make an ass of himself on “Let Me Watch” is sobering.  

Vaudeville Villain may not be the best example of DOOM rapping over other people’s beats, but it is one of the first and an expansive world that seeps into your brain slowly. I’m forever grateful for that.

3. MF DOOM — Operation: Doomsday (1999)

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Losing your brother and being dropped by your record label in the same week can do things to your psyche. Dumile fell off the grid for several years to collect himself and re-emerged at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York, adorned in a metal mask. He was scorned by the industry the same way Doctor Doom thought the world had shunned him when he fucked up that science experiment in college. Operation: Doomsday was his rebirth.

And what a rebirth it was. This is the closest things DOOM has to a manifesto to this day: Elastic flows and word puzzles over an eclectic bed of beats. His flexes sound more vigorous (“Rhymes Like Dimes”), his streams of consciousness threaded with more conviction (“Gas Drawls”) and the concept of the rise and fall of a real-life supervillain fully formed. DOOM’s vintage wizardry behind the boards only adds saturated grit and color to a world of greenbacks and renewed purpose. The patchwork skits throughout tell just as much of a story as the rhymes themselves do.

He ended his run in KMD as a man lost in the ether of young adulthood and emerged as a lyrical despot who staked his claim to underground legend and cashed it in. There isn’t a corner of the rap world that Doomsday didn’t touch.

2. MF DOOM — MM.. FOOD? (2004)

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Fourteen years ago, DOOM decided to make an album about food. Not because of our inherent relationship with food, but because hip-hop had forgotten what it was like to just enjoy a snack. “It’s about the beats / Not about the streets of who food he ‘bout to eat,” he claims on opener “Beef Rapp.”

The prophecy of Operation: Doomsday had been fulfilled and he was ready to cut even further loose. He sounds more relaxed and in control of his instrument here than ever before, letting off lethal bars about nothing in particular. He moves the crowd “like an old Negro spiritual” on one track and is popping the bubble vests of rap snitches the next. Most of these beats are sourced from the Special Herbs & Spices series, but they glow and crackle in ways that few other DOOM solo projects can touch. The lurching funk of both “Poo-Putt Platter” and “Vomitspit” in particular stand as some of the best he’s ever made, sliding in between his weird cadences likes butter on toast.

The only takeaway message from an album like MM.. FOOD? is, if rap isn’t fun, why are you doing it?

1. Madvillain (Madlib & MF Doom) — Madvillainy (2004)

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Some artists were just born to work together. When their paths eventually cross, they bring out the best in each other and form a unit greater than the sum of its parts. In 2004, that duo was MF DOOM and Madlib.  

It isn’t just because this is the album that put Stones Throw Records on the independent music map. It isn’t even great just because of how its greatness feeds into the legends of both the metal-faced villain and Oxnard, CA’s finest producer. Its greatness stems from being a truly great rap album even when separated from the pedigree of everyone involved. “The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd / The best MC with no chain ya ever heard,” DOOM snarls at the opening of “Figaro,” internal rhymes falling in lockstep with the muted thump and guitar strums of Madlib’s beat. When he’s not flexing about how he’s got the “best rolled L's” (“America’s Most Blunted”), he’s dressing down the police force with reckless abandon (“Strange Ways”). Even when he “hold the microphone and stole the show for fun,” DOOM and Madlib are swinging for the fences on every single track.

Madvillainy is so much more than just a dope collaboration. It’s a melding of the minds.

Earl Sweatshirt once said it did for us what Wu-Tang did for '80s babies. If that’s the case, I’m proud to say that Madvillainy was my 36 Chambers.      

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