Hip-hop and heroes collide 

Conceived in late 2003, The Mouse and the Mask is a collaboration between Georgia-bred producer Danger Mouse and Georgia-based MC/producer MF Doom. With neither new to exaggerated identities and exacting hip-hop -- Danger Mouse, named after a British cartoon character, has worked with cartoon "band" Gorillaz, and unflappable maverick MF Doom is named for the Fantastic Four's arch-nemesis -- both appreciated Cartoon Network's Dadaist Adult Swim programming. And following the blessings of the network -- already home to Danger Mouse interludes and hip-hop theme songs such as Schoolly D's "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" -- Danger Doom's appropriation was born. No radioactive spiders or gamma rays, but a solid origin story nonetheless.

True, there's no super soldier serum coursing through their veins, yet Danger Mouse and Doom have the innate dexterity and aural charisma to be mainstream stars. And they would have gotten away with it if it weren't for meddling kids -- the white suburbanites choosing G-Unit over bold hip-hop. But thankfully for the rest there is The Mouse and the Mask.

Like Rice Krispies, Danger Mouse's flitting instrument-flecked productions snap, crackle and pop. Plot twisting, the lightly battered beats act as sinister, saturated cell animation, looping backgrounds over which Doom can capture ghosts or unmask his foes. Meanwhile, despite his choice of steely totem, Doom's style isn't combustive and confrontational -- it's like he's muttering, dictating an unfolding script to himself. You could totally imagine his head bobbing as he notates his off-kilter barrages in front of Saturday morning cartoons, cereal on his chest. Indeed, The Mouse and the Mask is like cereal with marshmallows: While it's hardly the most nourishing or socially conscious thing to chow down on, it is a part of a balanced breakfast.

Despite the references, Danger Doom isn't cartoonish so much as animated. Sure, each track features an Adult Swim guest -- Brak, the Mooninites and Meatwad most memorably -- but the most whooping tracks host Talib Kweli and Ghostface Killah as foils. The skits don't detract from the conceptual craft, as it's "Adult Swim presents Danger Doom," not vice versa. Throughout, grooves and rhymes are drawn airtight.

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