My friend Dj Dust introduced me to the rap song ‘Hey’ in 1997. The sustained organ, the brass stabs, the Scooby Doo samples and the rhyming were beguiling. Who is this? MF Doom?
I’d heard this man rap before as Zev Love X, but the material that Daniel Dumile was releasing under this new guise, a masked villain, was more volatile, funny, intricate, melancholic, rewindable and stubbornly lo-fi than anything else being made in the late 90’s.
Doom insists on breaking mainstream rap rules: Chorus? Often doesn’t bother. Quality mics and professional mic levels? Certainly not on his early recordings. Multiple verses? How ‘bout just one long verse instead? Polished production? Nope, found a sound on this ol’ cassette tape that I wanna loop.
After listening to a whole album’s worth of 2 bar loops, non-sequiturs, cartoon samples and chronically cryptic stream-of-consciousness vocals, your first thought shouldn’t be ‘That was enjoyable and invigorating’, but it is!
There is no other artist who dares the listener to cast aside slang dictionaries and wikipedia searches and just enjoy the word stew he’s serving. The diligent Doom follower discovers that he or she has by osmosis learnt a new vocabulary.
Don’t be fooled: there’s gratuitous gobbledygook but there’s also soul-searching and razor-sharp quips. Dumile’s various alter egos spin tall tales and give advice all in an effortlessly colloquial tone. In a 2009 interview Doom asserts: ‘I definitely have a lot of affection for literary work, especially Bukowski. I like the way he speaks through his characters…Speaking in character allows us to put a supernatural or otherworldly twist on things. I always write from an imaginary point of view, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t rooted in reality.’
Here’s ‘Figaro’ from the 2004 Madvillainy album:
This Thom Yorke remix of ‘Gazzillion Ear’ certainly rivals the original from the album BORN LIKE THIS.:
Both ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ and ‘Bookhead’ showcase Doom’s incredibly infectious flow:
Rapper Mos Def aka Yasin Bey obviously a big Doom fan recites entire Doom verses in awe.
In the ancient myth the hero Perseus slew Medusa with the aid of a mirrored shield, which he used to avoid direct eye contact with the snakes-for-hair monster. Doom’s back catalogue is a skewed reflection of the absurdity, the beauty, the angst and futility of contemporary Western culture. Through Doom’s eyes we can see the monster’s movements while avoiding for at least a short time its stony stare.
Finally a tip: there is perhaps no greater preparation for a freestyle rap session than listening to ten minutes of Doom.
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