An ode to the Illest Villain

Rapper MF DOOM performs at a benefit concert for the Rhino Foundation at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield on June 28, 2005 in New York City.

A rambling half-obituary, half-self-clarification of what DOOM meant to us as fans and to me personally.

Ever since I heard the news on New Year’s Eve, I’ve been writing this in my head. And deleting it. And rewriting it. This isn’t going to be some kind of coiffured, stylised, Pitchfork-y thinkpiece. It’s a stream of consciousness and I feel that represents MF DOOM as a person, an artist, and me as a fan for many years.

When I saw all the commentary after the announcement of his passing, I started to wonder just how much of a fan I was. That has nothing to do with anyone else but myself and it was a foolish endeavour. I don’t know when it started but I know the fandom has been strong from the get-go. I’ve rinsed out Madvillainy and it’s in my top 10, maybe even top 5. I carry a FRANK 151’s Chapter 48: DOOM everywhere I go like a missionary with their trusty Bible. Hell, it’s my bible. I’ve thrown more DOOM acapellas over my beats than any other rapper I’ve ever listened to. I’ve seen him live (and it wasn’t a DOOMpostor). I made my own custom DOOM mask.

But I’m saying this for myself and by no means bragging because that wold be even more foolish. Grief does some wild things to your brain and the entire year of 2020 did not help matters. If anything, it was the icing on the inedible cake. A hip hop champion falling in a horrific year. He passed away on 31st October but the news didn’t come out for 2 months and I’m glad the family had that time to mourn their loss without the vultures picking away at the what’s, why’s, and how’s. The only questions I have is: when will I feel better about it?

Something I’ve not stopped thinking about is this tweet:

I never considered the villainous character as a comeback/second act but that’s exactly what it was. Before the mask and the mystery, he was Zev Love X, esteemed member of hip hop group KMD. But then his brother DJ Subroc passed away in 1993, the same week that KMD was dropped from its label, and he retreated to “recover from his wounds”. He was the villain we deserved.

And out of that darkness came some of the most wondrous and enriching wordplay I have ever heard in my life and, in many ways, I don’t think it’ll be topped. Take some of lyrics from ‘Figaro‘ :

The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd
The best emcee with no chain ya ever heard
Take it from the Tec-9 holder
They’ve bit but don’t know their neck shine from Shinola
Everything that glitters ain’t fishscale
Lemme think, don’t let her faint get Ishmael
A shot of Jack got her back it’s not an act stack
Forgot about the cackalack, holla back, clack clack blocka
Villainy, feel him in ya heart chakra, chart toppa
Start shit stoppa be a smart shoppa
Shot a cop day around the way ’bout to stay
But who’d a know there’s two mo’ that wonder where the shooter go
‘Bout to jet, get him, not a bet, dead ’em
Let ’em spit the venom said ’em got a lot of shit with ’em
Let the rhythm hit ’em, it’s stronger in the other voice
We makes the joints that make ’em spread ’em butta moist
Man, please, the stage is made of panties
From the age of baby hoochies on to the grannies
Ban me the dough rake, daddy
The flow make her fatty shake, patty cake, patty cake
For fake, if he was Anita Baker’s man
He’d take her for her masters, hit it once an’ shake her hand
On some ol’ thank ya ma’am an’ ghost her
She could mind the toaster if she sign the poster
A whole host of roller coaster riders
Not enough tracks (is it?)
Hot enough black (for ya)
It’s too hot to handle, you got blue sandals
Who shot ya? Ooh got you new spots to vandal?
Do not stand still, boast yo’ skills
Close but no krills, toast for po’ nils, post no bills
Coast to coast Joe Shmoe’s flows ill, go chill
Not supposed to overdose No-Doz pills

So references, much verbal dexterity, many playfulness. Wow.

Justin Sayles, in his DOOM obituary, called Operation Doomsday “a mostly hookless mosaic of dense wordplay and easy-listening samples that established him as one of rap’s visionary auteurs” and called his rhyme schemes “more intricate than even those of rappers like Big Pun or Eminem, who were redefining lyrical dexterity on a mainstream level”. And I wholeheartedly agree. It’s why I gravitated to his acapellas for so many of my beats. His raspy tones and masterful vocabulary are so addictive and fulfilling. I always felt more educated after hearing his rhymes for the hundredth time and I’m still learning new references every day.

Ultimately, I’m still processing it all on top of the trauma of 2020. We lost a great and I don’t know whether this is the best I could come up with but it’s what I had on my mind after a week or so. And I wanted to publish this on what would have been his 50th birthday. A half-century of DOOM. Imagine that. I guess we’ll have to.

Hi, it's Luke, the editor of Sampleface! Why not subscribe to my Patreon and support the blog?

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