The Mouse and The Mask

(Epitaph; 2005)

By Peter Hepburn | 13 October 2005

Okay, so first off, apologies are in order. Back in early 2004 I wrote up a favorable review of Danger Mouse’s rather popular mash-up project The Grey Album. I’ll stand by it, more or less, but I feel like maybe things would be better for DM if people had paid a little less attention to The Grey Album and had rather focused on his far better album Ghetto Pop Life with rapper Jemini. DM’s beats on that album were great; he was able to shuck and jive with style, keepings the beats big and the drums strong, backing up his MC completely. We didn’t even review the album. Sorry ‘bout that.

Anyways, the bad news is that DM doesn’t seem nearly as confident on his new project, The Mouse & The Mask, a collaboration with MF Doom and the Cartoon Network. Yeah, when I got the press release I didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about, either. The basic idea is you take DM, who takes his name from the diminutive super-rodent, and Doom, who just enjoys smoking weed by the bushel, and then give ‘em access to the voice actors behind the Adult Swim shows. In theory it ends up shit-hot; in practice it feels more than a little disposable.

DM does manage to come through on a decent portion of the tracks, most notably on “Old School,” “No Names,” and “Space Ho’s.” On too many of the other tracks, though, it just ends up feeling like the beats are a bit hollow or the samples are overworked. Though this probably goes without saying, he also suffers in comparison to Madlib, Doom’s last major collaborator, and who’s style DM seems to be copping on more than one track.

When the album does work, it’s because MF Doom can rap over just about anything and sound pretty hot doing it. Seriously, DM barely even needs to show up and Doom would be able to make this record decent on his own. He also shows no sign of slowing down with his free-associative one-liners, which come as fast and hard on this record as on Vaudeville Villain or Mm…Food, even if here they tend to be even more esoteric. “The Mask,” with Ghostface stepping up to destroy the second verse, is nothing short of earth-shattering (seriously: “the day I took my mask off my face was missing for three days”), and DM shows up with a strong drum line, even if he can’t quite back those horns in right. Likewise, Doom rips apart “Bada Bing” over a pretty convincing beat that would have been great if DM had amped that snare drum.

The two other guests on the record do alright; Cee-lo works well for the grimy sleaze vibe of “Benzi Box,” while Talib Kweli sounds typically lame on “Old School” (hey, if it’s your thing, it’s your thing, I guess). DM redeems the song with his best beat here, opening the song up with some big drums and an addictively sweet horn line, while Doom takes the second verse with a shout-out to his brother and KMD partner, the late DJ Sub-Roc. As for the involvement of the Adult Swim characters, you sort of have to know the back stories to really enjoy the skits, but they manage to be a bit funnier than the average album.

I’ve been listening to this album a fairly good deal for this review, and I get the definite feeling that I won’t be doing that as much come next week. It’s not a bad album, and Doom’s rapping is damn near unparalleled; but when you come right down to it, The Mouse & The Mask kinda feels like a throwaway.