MF Doom may be best known for his buttery flow on the microphone, but he’s also a producer of the highest ability. His versatility on the mike is only matched by the sheer randomness he employs on the boards, a randomness that’s evident on the ten volumes of the all-instrumental Special Herbs series he’s released to date as Metal Fingers. This two-disc “box set,” released by Brooklyn upstart Nature Sounds, is more a sampler than its title may imply; it compiles mostly one- to two-minute snippets of beats featured on each of those ten volumes (which featured many of the productions he’s rhymed over on previous albums). But the story is the same: Whether sampling Fantastic Four cartoons or looping a flute over a chopped-up soul sample, there is an indelible freshness to Doom’s production.
Doom has been finding more notoriety as an emcee, particularly after teaming up with Madlib and Danger Mouse. But he is a master at layering loops and samples, highlighting one instrument over precise and knocking drums. On “Coffin Nails,” Doom channels his inner Rza, ushering a dark piano scale back and forth, neatly matched to bass-guitar riffs and staggered drums. In contrast, Doom gets dirty with his bass line on “Devil’s Shoestring,” delivering a funk track suited for Curtis Mayfield circa 1972.
With eighty-three tracks of material (including a bonus, third disc that includes unmixed, three- to four-minute instrumentals left over from Doom’s days in KMD), the leap Doom has made in terms of quality is evident as the set plays on. For the most part, the KMD beats are dated, conforming to that dusty low-tech mid-’90s sound. But the style he created with KMD is never abandoned; it’s only replaced by a cleaner and almost encyclopedic use of samples. Still, like any instrumental album, these beats are just pieces of a whole. Without Doom’s vocals, the true breadth of his skills can be lost.
With production credits on Ghostface’s upcoming Fishscale and an entire album with Ghost entitled Swift and Changeable near completion, Doom will likely continue to share the wealth among his colleagues in rhyme. In a year so far marred with sub-par hip-hop releases (minus Dilla’s Donuts), The Box Set is one of the best products on the block. Cycling through the three-hour compilation (the first two discs are sixty-minute mixes) can be a daunting task, but it’s well worth it to get high off Doom’s special herbs.
Nature Sounds Records (with streaming audio)