How MF DOOM Saved a Generation of Lost Hip-Hop Fans
The masked rapper’s worldbuilding and commitment reminded us that there was always something more to discover
I planned to write about MF DOOM this past November to mark the 16th anniversary of his classic album Mm..Food? But as can often be the case for writers, other stories happened, so I put it off, figuring I’d have more opportunities to give Daniel Dumile his flowers while he could smell them through his metal mask. Little did I, or the hip-hop world, know that even mid-November would have been too late. On New Year’s Eve, his wife announced that the 49-year-old cult rap legend had died on October 31.
Around that time, I revisited Ta-Nehisi Coates’ 2009 New Yorker profile of the reclusive MC. I was struck by what had initially driven Coates to become a fan of the artist formerly known as Zev Love X. “When I rediscovered Dumile in his new guise,” Coates writes, “I was on the cusp of fatherhood and life-partnership, and considering divorce from the music of my youth… I was worn down by the petty beefs between rappers… and by the music’s assumption of all the trappings of the celebrity culture in which it now existed.”
I’ve been thinking about this quote for the past two months because I, too, fell in love with DOOM during my own withdrawal from mainstream rap, though it happened five years after Coates’. DOOM was a dam who caught those of us on our way out of hip-hop, bringing us back to the culture by reminding us that there was always something more brilliant, beautiful, and creative than we’d previously thought possible.
MCs often take on personas as facades, fronts of masculine bravado and fictionalized tough-guy sagas. DOOM turned that idea on its head, fully ensconcing himself in a world of his own making.
I was introduced to MF DOOM in 2004, during my freshman year of college. Hip-hop was undergoing an identity crisis that mirrored my own. Jay-Z had just retired after releasing The Black…