Disc Reviews January 18 2006 (2)

Metal Fingers - Special Herbs: The Box Set Vol. 0-9

Instrumental music hasn’t occupied center stage in hip-hop culture for nearly a decade. These days, if a well-regarded producer doesn’t call up his favorite MCs and crank out a compilation, he at least makes sure to include a song featuring a rapper or singer, just to break up the monotony. Even DJ Shadow, whose classic debut Endtroducing ... redefined the template for instrumental hip-hop upon its 1996 release, included rap vocals on his 2002 follow-up, The Private Press.

Under those circumstances, MF Doom would appear to be something of a contrarian, since he has issued 10 editions of his all-instrumental Special Herbs and Spices under yet another pseudonym, Metal Fingers. But these aren’t auteur excursions in the vein of Shadow’s work. They’re simply beats from MF Doom’s various albums (Operation Doomsday, MM ... Food) and a handful of joints not found anywhere else. Similar to 45 King’s Beats of the Month series, the Special Herbs records were intended for DJs and collectors only.

MF Doom has become a cult icon since Female Fun Records pressed up less than 5,000 copies of Special Herbs and Spices Vol. 1 in 2001. Everything he makes now is considered a major statement.

Special Herbs: The Box Set Vol. 0-9 is a three-disc set that collects all the beats from the series into two 80-minute “mega-mixes,” then adds a third disc featuring instrumentals from MF Doom’s early ’90s group KMD. Ingeniously, each track is given a new herb or spice-related title: the instrumental for “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday, for example, is retitled “Arrow Root,” and the beat for “Next Levels” from his King Geedorah project Take Me to Your Leader is called “Elder Blossoms.”

For Doom, this box set is potentially revealing. Thanks to his acclaimed collaborations with producers Madlib and Danger Mouse, Doom is known more as a sly and sarcastic MC, not a beat-maker. Classic R&B and soundtracks from cartoons and films loop throughout the collection, reminding listeners that childhood memories and fantasies are as much a part of his musical sensibility as witty punch lines.