MF Doom dropped the prefix earlier this year and released BORN LIKE THIS. under the simplified moniker, DOOM. It was the sometimes-prolific artist’s first official release in more than three years and one of the most focused, self-assured albums of his career. The B-sides collection, Unexpected Guests, is very much an afterthought. In spite of some strong moments, the collection is superfluous.
“Fly That Knot” opens Unexpected Guests on an anticlimactic note. Originally from Talib Kweli’s rare 2005 mix tape, Right About Now, Kweli delivers a tepid performance followed by Doom’s even weaker musings. “About time you heard a rhyme flow/ With DOOM and Kweli the catcher with the combo/ Boop Boop! Muhammad Ali.” First of all, what? Beyond the meaninglessness of the words, he says them exhaustedly, over a fake trumpet-driven beat that sounds defeated. “Sniper Elite,” however — a mellow kaleidoscope of samples and a collaboration with the masterful J Dilla — adds a bump of energy to the mix. With a lulling guitar, it functions as “Fly That Knot”’s coda: a slow fade-out with a hook and melody that comes out of the dust of the former song. At just under two minutes, “Sniper Elite” is rabidly energetic and abrupt.
But too much of this collection duplicates the paradigm of idleness set up by the opener. There is either a lack of energy or a lack of focus throughout. Sometimes, as in Talib Kweli’s second dull performance, from “Project Jazz,” it’s both: “We didn’t have much/ But with a little bit of love made do with what we have, yo!” he says quickly, his lack of desire evident in every word. For a compilation (even an odds-and-ends one), Unexpected Guests is shocking in its lack of superlative moments. In fact, there is a self-conscious attempt at cohesiveness that makes the collection a murky, unexciting affair, with every song lazily flowing into the next one, obscuring any singularly intriguing elements.
“Da Superfriendz” is an exception. The song’s barrel-house piano weaves through DOOM’s macabre lyrics, filled with venom. “His tongue’s like a sword that’s mighty like a pen/ And you ain’t seen nothin’ like the mighty Quinn, alrighty then,” he says, his brooding voice belying his subtle humor. The song’s combination of blues, funk, and early R&B sticks with you, but few moments are so memorable. The sample of Charles Bukowski’s voice on “All Outta Ale” stands out merely because of its triteness. Sure, Bukowski’s caustic cynicism is a major source of influence on DOOM’s slate-faced humor — not to mention that the first line of author’s poem “Dinousauria, We” provided the title for BORN LIKE THIS. — but his voice exists only to break up the song’s monotony. The obligatory slow jam “My Favorite Ladies,” which opens clumsily with the exclamation, “Mary, you make me want to eat you!”, works in the same way: a space-filler meant to demonstrate variety.
It’s frightening how much of Unexpected Guests is unnecessary; there are no songs that reach the four-minute mark, with most of them resting between two and three. In terms of production, each song is all hook, and lyrically, each string of words is merely a way to kill time. The cut-up gothic guitars of “Trap Door” and the twisted funk of “Bells of Doom” move relentlessly, but the delivery lacks conviction. The only thing "unexpected" about the guests on this album is how boring they sound.
Which is unexpected (ahem). Some of these beats are really interesting and unique, almost flawlessly incorporating subtle elements of jazz, folk, psychedelia, and the boogie-woogie rhythm of J Dilla, whose two appearances on the album are characteristically powerful. Too often, though, DOOM and his guests offer inconsistent, barely-there performances. BORN LIKE THIS. proved that DOOM has undeniable talent as both producer and MC — a talent that is still tangible if you can ignore the mediocrity of Unexpected Guests.
1. Get 'Er Done feat. DOOM - Jake One
2. Fly That Knot feat. DOOM - Talib Kweli
3. Sniper Elite feat. DOOM - Dilla Ghostface DOOM
4. Trap Door feat. DOOM - Jake One
5. Sorcerers feat. DOOM & Invizible Handz - John Robinson
6. Da Supafriendz - Vast Aire
7. Quite Buttery - Count Bass D feat DOOM
8. ? - DOOM featuring Kurious
9. All Outta Ale - DOOM
10. E.N.Y. House - Masta Killa
11. Bells of DOOM - DOOM
12. My Favorite Ladies - DOOM
13. Street Corners (Remix) - Mast