deM atlaS – mF deM

4 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: MF DOOM

This is a rare album that’s all sorts of excellent and yet not very memorable.  …Which is different (in this case) than being disposable, or even forgettable, rather for as much talent as Dem Atlas brings to the table – and it’s a substantial amount – there’s sort of a sketchbook feeling to his rhymes that makes you pay attention, but to wait for what’s next.

This seems like a potential consequence of the nature of this project, which finds Atlas rhyming over pre-existing MF Doom instrumentals (hence the clever mash-up title).  A caveat should thus be offered that, if you’re fully familiar with the base tracks, the sole addition of Atlas might not be enough of a selling point, or make the disc worthy of a lesser rating.  But to the dude’s credit, he’s applied some production – layering, reverb – to his vocals to suit the moods, and matches the right delivery with whatever vibe Doom has layed down.  Whether that’s the sort of funky jazz of opener Grbge Trash, or the boom bap of World Laughs, or the more mellow tones of It’s Over, I’m Dead or Nervosa, Atlas finds the perfect cadence.

Which is why, despite my main criticism, this is still such a compelling (if, again, fleeting) listen.  Dem’s train of thought is ruled by the length of any given song, so some flows just sort of seem to end, but there’s plenty of clever wordplay here, without getting too showy.  Dem has a great ear for rhythm, singing or speaking his rhymes with equal adeptness, finding cool, non-repetitive ways  to express himself.  It’s exciting to imagine that creativity applied to works of his own design, or beats supplied by a current partner; the limitation of rhyming atop a bygone beat seems to keep things from gelling into a full-on experience.

Dem undoubtedly has our attention with mF deM, revitalizing some already great instrumentals with a wide range of lyrical ideas and singing styles.  It lacks the lasting zing of an original production, but definitely keeps us eager for whatever’s next.