By now, I’m sure every last joke about a DOOM live album has been made. As much as he is an Icon of modern, underground rap, he’s also a head-scratcher. You want to love him for every brilliantly twisted line and every deft, impressive record, and you want to hate him for every report that he pays some dude to show up to a gig, wear a mask, and lip-synch to a recording. Expektoration, DOOM’s new live album, represents the exact middle ground of those two halves. You’ll love some of the classic tracks Metal Face tears through, but you’ll hate the fact that he’s almost rubbing it in your face, showing you he could be a great live performer if he really wanted to.
In fact, some have argued that this isn’t actually a live album at all, that it’s a phony, recorded in a studio with added audience recordings from a real show. The sound quality is so good, the audio so clean. You rarely hear a shout or scream get too high in the mix. But, really, does that matter? Anytime a fresh recording as good as the MM…Food? track “Hoe Cakes” gets released, I’ll just pop on my headphones and listen. So, when that very track kicks off the first “Act” of the show, it’s hard not to just be hooked. You don’t have to look up on a stage and wonder whether he’s the guy walking around up there or not.
In fact, most of the tracks featured in Act 1 come from 2004’s MM…Food? and the automatic-classic Madlib collaboration, Madvillainy, from that same year. On “Hoe Cakes”, the crowd hollers along with every sampled “Super!”, leaving DOOM free to lithely ramble about King Koopa and Mr. Hooper. Everything’s intensified some for the live element, DOOM sounding just a little less stoned out of his mind, a little bigger, and a little rougher. “Aw shit, New York live’r than a motherfucker!” he shouts, as Big Benn Klingon releases a huge “Yeah!” The slinky horn opening of “Kon Queso” follows, unfolding much the way it did originally in insane, loopy passages. The customary, eccentric samples of Fantastic Four characters shouting “Doom!” are all there too, showing his connection to the other villain, Doctor Doom.
He even seems to be having fun live, which, I guess, goes against the whole DOOM-postor thing. “Don’t want me to do that shit, I’m a good 220,” he chuckles to the audience before the piano trills of “Kon Karne”, presumably because either they wanted him to stage dive or one of them challenged him to a fight. The plastered crooning intro to “One Beer” sounds justifiably drunk, Klingon adding his hype man two cents. Later, DOOM talks about a food drive he put together at the show and gives a shout-out to former collaborator MF Grimm, who now doesn’t seem to like him very much. This, along with the heavily MM…Food?-indebted first half and Act 2’s 1999-dated Operation: Doomsday tracks, indicates that this show is five or six years old. This has gotten some bad press as well, which is somewhat understandable. Neither the record itself nor DOOM’s Web site give a date for the show, which can be read as trying to imply that the show is recent.
There are other points of reference, though, other than just Food. The loose, floating “Accordion” from Madvillainy is gruffer than the recording, and Klingon’s hype duties are hilarious: “I like this shit right here,” he shouts, “How do you do that accordion shit?” “Figaro” and “Meat Grinder” from that same record sound fresh, as well. There’s Geedorah material, Viktor Vaughan tracks, and the Doomsday stuff on the second half still finds DOOM enthused.
All told, this is a solid live album. It’s kind of a bum move to find DOOM releasing an old live show without telling anyone exactly when it was recorded. But if anybody was going to do it, it’s him. It’s a good listen and good to hear that DOOM, at least at one time, enjoyed performing live. As a testament of an era, it’s a great record. As a statement of the present, it’s misleading at best. And, as always with DOOM, we’re left with a mixed bag: positive recording, questionable sincerity.