MF Doom and MF Grimm

Special Herbs & Spices Vol. 1

(Day-by-Day Entertainment; 2004)

By Peter Hepburn | 26 January 2008

I got into a discussion the other day with a friend about what made MF Doom’s Operation: Doomsday a classic. While there was little argument that Doom’s flow was nothing short of sick, and that the back story was brilliant, it was the beats that he couldn’t get past. That has always been a big part of what made MF Doom’s 1999 album so challenging—the beats that Doom put together were so lo-fi that they could detract from his amazing flow. The bass wasn’t ass-shakingly heavy, the samples were bizarre, and much of it really seems to have been taken straight off the VCR. It certainly took me awhile to get into the lite-jazz of some of the beats and appreciate the genius of the album as a whole (that Doom could rhyme so well around the beats is a testament to his skill).

Since the release of Operation: Doomsday, Doom has released six volumes of Special Herbs, a series that collects his beats and has over and over again proven his skill as a DJ and producer. It seemed inevitable that eventually Doom would open these tracks up to other MCs so they could take a shot at them. The choice of MF Grimm as the MC to commandeer the beats is perfect. Grimm, easily the most hardcore underground rapper out there (and one of the most shot), has a flow to match Doom’s own brilliant delivery. Many of us first heard Grimm on Operation: Doomsday’s fantastic, strangely syncopated “Tick Tick,” where Grimm showed off his different flow speeds. Grimm’s subsequent albums, appearances on other Doom projects, as well as the much-overlooked Monster Island Czars debut, cemented his place in the science fiction area of the underground. Since being released from jail in May 2003 Grimm has been on course to get his career back on track.

To that end, Special Herbs +Spices is very much Grimm’s album; Doom never steps behind the mic and the final track is taken from Grimm’s forthcoming American Hunger LP. In some respects the album serves mainly as a great promo for Grimm’s Day by Day Entertainment and American Hunger, and this is something of a detracting factor. Still, Grimm drops 11 hot tracks that present him as one of the main underground MCs to watch in the next few years.

The album starts off reasonably well with “No Snakes Alive Pt. 3,” with Grimm revisiting King Geedorah territory and once again showing his ability to speed up and slow down his flow. “Superhero” really throws the album into gear, with Grimm rapping over a beat that debuted on “Dead Bent” from Operation: Doomsday. Doom has clearly put in the time to make the beats shine, and the tense strings balance off the skittish drums perfectly. Grimm goes long-flow on the track, and the results are nothing short of molten. “1000 Degrees” is a classic Doom cartoon beat and Grimm’s narrative of death and destruction matches quite well.

“10 Years Later” rides over the beat from King Geedorah’s “Krazy World” and manages to avoid the saccharine while memorializing the fallen comrades of both Grimm and Doom. “Bottle Rocket” serves as Grimm’s finest performance on the album, as he opens with the vicious warning of “the Grimm Reaper will reap/ so don’t sleep/ or make a peep/ I’m deep/ I gotta shotty and it pumps like a Jeep.” Doom lets the strings ride but at the end pulls back and lets Grimm shine, rapping without a backing track. “Tick Tick Pt. 2” immediately grabbed my attention when picking up the album, and Grimm and Doom do not disappoint in their follow-up to the Operation: Doomsday classic. Grimm uses the song as a diatribe against old-school sell-outs and new-school youngsters. “Shifting Lanes” is one of the album’s weaker points, as Grimm and Kurious botch King Geedorah’s “Fastlane.” The beat for “Tonight’s Show” is certainly not standard Doom, and Grimm makes good use of the up-tempo, bell-infused track. The first half of the bonus track, “My Love” doesn’t particularly impress, but the second section is red hot, with Jet Jaguar (one of Grimm’s alter egos) announcing the return to Monster Island over the beat from King Geedorah’s “The Fine Print”.

I guess the main problem with this album is that it feels like too much of a filler record. American Hunger should be out in the next few months, and Doom has two albums on the immediate horizon, so Special Herbs +Spices feels both as if it could easily get lost in the shuffle, and as if this wouldn’t be much of a surprise to Doom or Grimm. The combination of beat maker and MC is certainly impressive, and one hopes that they will attempt a Volume 2, hopefully using it as less of a promo for Grimm’s label and upcoming releases.