(Planet of Sound is a bi-weekly speculative fiction music feature.)
There’s a certain segment of the population—let’s take a stab and guess “geeks and stoners who graduated high school between around 2000 and 2006”—for whom the initialism A.T.H.F., and therefore the subject matter of this chilled-out alternative rap track, will be immediately recognizable, but for the rest of the populace, perhaps I should explain.
A.T.H.F. stands for Aqua Teen Hunger Force, which was the name of an animated show on Cartoon Network/Adult Swim that showcased the adventures of anthropomorphic fast food items Master Shake, Frylock, and Meatwad, along with their neighbor Carl. (The show still airs, but has since been renamed Aqua Unit Patrol Squad 1—and has, to most accounts, diminished drastically in quality.)
The show was sci-fi, I suppose, in that aliens and robots and suchlike made regular appearances (also in that its protagonists were anthropomorphic fast food items), but mostly it was related to the genre in the same way, say, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was — its brand of absurdist, sometimes silly, sometimes surprisingly dark humor garnered a cult following that included many of the same sorts of kids who’d have spent late nights in the basement playing 1st edition D&D in the 70s, and Magic: the Gathering at the turn of the millennium.
Danger Doom, the artists behind the track, could use a little explanation/unpacking, too. The Danger Doom project was a highly lauded collaboration between the masked alternative rap artist MF Doom and the increasingly influential musician/producer Danger Mouse. Danger Mouse has been involved in such mega-successful projects as Gorillaz and Gnarls Barkley; MF Doom never had similar mainstream success, but he’s had a prolific indie career that has included highlights like the universally acclaimed Madvillainy.
(Doom also has an ongoing relationship with sci-fi, comics, and similar geekery, as is probably obvious from his Dr. Doom-inspired metal face.)
Their collaboration produced one full length album, The Mouse and the Mask, and while most of the tracks feature retro cartoon and comic references, along with cameos from Adult Swim characters, “A.T.H.F.” is the only one entirely about a single show. The lyrics are totally clear, and totally straightforward, and just a little not safe for work.
The track also gets an intro from a rapping Meatwad and a skeptical Carl, worth the price of admission all on its own.
This was some of the rap I enjoyed before I started really seeking out rap to listen to, and while the Adult Swim characters may have eased my way in, the real reason it worked was the effortlessly cool vibe projected by Danger’s beats and Doom’s flow… which they managed to maintain despite the fact that they were rapping about cartoons (“you know, stuff that, like, I liked”).
I’ve never figured out whether Danger Doom approached Adult Swim first about getting the cartoon cameos (they’re clearly fans), or whether Adult Swim somehow commissioned the work. Either way, I’m glad I got to listen to it—it helped demystify hip-hop a little for me (along with work from other underground rappers like Aesop Rock), and provided a means of entry into a genre that has ended up a source of quite a lot of musical pleasure. It’s not just entry-level music, though; the more I listen to and learn about hip-hop, actually, the more I appreciate The Mouse and the Mask.
If only the shows that inspired the music could have maintained a similarly high level of quality.
Joshua Starr is a fan of speculative fiction in all media. ALL MEDIA.