Head On Straight, Mask On Crooked: Remembering MF DOOM
Poetry is powerful stuff. For some poetry has to rhyme, swing and click with intricacy. For others it’s a jovial sense of humorous self expression and rhetoric used to tell a story, define an emotion or reflect upon an experience. It’s clever stuff, witty by nature and yet representative of a deep human desire to narrate and relay both our feelings and our history. Those who do it well, by God, that’s something else…
On New Year’s Eve news began to circulate online as to the passing of MF DOOM. A simple message posted by Daniel Dumile’s wife indicated that the mysterious supervillain had departed this past October. A poet, a rapper, a writer, a husband, an artist and an anomaly.
His death was handled with the same understated infamy as his prolific career in Hip Hop. The news travelled through the wider musical community with a whisper yet shook the foundations of an industry. Within days several of his albums would go on to feature in charts and top tens worldwide, not that this happened much whilst he was alive.
A rogue like character, there are many stories of misbehavior and carelessness over a lifetime spent in rap. There are tales of him no showing gigs and sending masked imposters to perform. Mistakes made and lessons undoubtedly learnt. MF DOOM was never necessarily one to play the game.
However, it is also equally rare for such a wide berth of musicians, labels, promoters, artists and fans to rally and mourn the passing of one musician. He was exceptionally talented after all. Maybe his fantastical words, punch drunk honesty and wicked tongue in cheek demeanor was enough to redeem discrepancies others might have been shunned for. Much like a cartoon character MF DOOM was the villain some loved to hate. Perhaps that was how he intended it…
Born in London in 1971, Daniel Dumile then moved to Long Island, New York at a young age. It was here that he became drawn towards Hip Hop and the associated culture. The Style Wars era saw the growth and development of graffiti, breakdancing and rap in the city in which Daniel immersed himself. Paired with a deep rooted love of comics, science fiction and cartoons he grew up a quick witted kid, utilizing book-smart expressionism and far fetched language to create stories and narratives that he later used in raps.
His off-piste flow was mesmerizing and meandering, his voice punchy and raspy atop strange broken beats and disjointed samples. Then there was the mask. That came later.
Some might know of Doom’s heartache at the loss of his brother. Originally founded as a graffiti crew, KMD were a New York hip hop trio made up of Zev Love X, Subroc, and Onyx. Signed to Elektra Records the group was an abstract representation of underground hip hop in the bubbling metropolis of the city. Funny, funky and smart as hell – they could have gone the distance.
In 1993 Subroc died, KMD disbanded and that was that.
Daniel describes himself as being “damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches” at this point and would duck off the radar for many years thereafter.
It was only in the late 90’s that he would reemerge with incognito freestyle appearances at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan. He wore tights over his face, adopted a new identity and got to work.
Modelling himself upon the infamous cartoon villain Doctor Doom, a warped metal creation was crafted to conceal his face and it rarely came off thereafter. It epitomized the distance that Daniel attempted to put between himself, his past and hip hop as an industry all together. A whole new ego within which to exist and reinvent.
What followed was a culmination of some of the most quick witted, intriguing Hip Hop records of all time. Wicked, mythical flows and storytelling of a caliber unrivalled and unsurpassed. It was as much poetry as it was rap, as much fiction as it was fact and for many his music became a magical escape route from the day to day confines of repetition and stereotypes.
MF DOOM was for everyone with an ego who couldn’t quite place it, for everyone who wanted to hide away, for those with a point to prove that would rather let the art speak for itself rather than the face behind the material. His presence will be missed, Hip Hop lost a rapper that’s for sure but more importantly the world lost a poet.
“Head on straight, mask on crooked, exit stage left, with the cash gone took it…”