As promising as the unlikely pairing of Masta Ace and DOOM sounds, there is one very glaring problem with this project: it’s an attempt by Ace to depict his younger and more vulnerable years — with special attention, as the title suggests, paid to his deceased mother — over preexisting instrumentals rummaged through and recycled from DOOM’s Special Herbs collection. And while for dissimilar artists their union is unexpectedly natural, the decision to marry Ace’s starkly personal accounts of growing up with DOOM’s secondhand beats was misguided from the start. To Ace’s credit, they’re well chosen and together capture a relaxed summery nostalgia, evoking breezy days in Brooklyn during hip-hop’s beginnings and sounding effortless behind his practiced veteran flow, but there’s something discomfiting about their familiarity in this context.
Even if you haven’t listened to any of the 10 Special Herbs volumes, you’ve likely heard at least a few of these beats before if you’re acquainted with any of DOOM’s solo material — by my count, there are two included each from Operation: Doomsday, Take Me To Your Leader, and MM.. FOOD. At this point, three of the instrumentals here have already been reused in the compilation Unexpected Guests before they even got to Ace, which makes this feel like a retread of a retread. Borrowed beats these distinctive completely counteract what this album is attempting to do, which is recreate Ace’s formative years and capture how it felt to be him as a kid, when they’ve already forged their own indelible associations within DOOM’s oeuvre (try listening to “Son of Yvonne,” a song about Ace’s mother, without hearing King Geedorah’s “Next Levels”).
If this were the first time we were hearing this production from DOOM, bump up the rating, but as it is, MA_DOOM feels more like an ambitious mixtape, which it originated as and likely should have remained, than a proper studio album. Masta Ace obviously put a lot of himself into the project, which makes it all the more frustrating that the partnership seems so one-sided (one can imagine DOOM sitting impersonally behind his mask in front of a computer screen, hitting SEND in an email with Special Herbs in an attachment, and that being the extent of his involvement). MA_DOOM can’t properly be called a collaboration; it’s more the clumsy convergence of two very talented hip-hop heavyweights that, provided there were a more inspired working relationship, could have been one of rap’s more intriguing couplings.