I’m sure I’ve written something like this before, but I don’t much stock in celebrities. In this day and age, especially, most celebrities vault into the public consciousness without being particularly remarkable. And don’t get me started the hagiographies for those that die still in the public eye. So it is that I now find myself writing about my feelings on finding out that the eclectic MC MF Doom passed in October of 2020 (damn you 2020). I won’t say that “he changed my life” or that I owed him some sort of debt of gratitude or anything, but the man was clearly brilliant, and he was there walking beside me, voice in my ear for several years. My “cousin” and I bonded over him, as he was starting to get into DJing and vinyl, moving into circle I would never be part of. Doom’s music did that and kept us from drifting too far apart. That’s the power of music, for sure, but it’s also Doom’s lyrics, his grasp of the power of his own iconography. It held to Sudanese expatriate kids in NY who loved hip hop together.
What makes Doom so incredible, beyond his music, is his path. Many of my readers (ha!) will know that I’m a man of a certain age, on the cusp of being old, settling into the disappointments of middle age. MF Doom started as a young rapper in the early 90’s in the group KMD, but his trajectory was cut short, partly by his brother’s untimely death getting ht by a car. The issues they were having with the label at the same time soured him on the whole enterprise and he left the industry, to basically become a stay at home dad.
When he returned, he did so with face masked, letting the verse do the talking. The mask and the verses were the only things about him that were polished, in every other regard he was unpolished. Dressed casually, body bearing the marks of modern life carrying the burdens of fatherhood. I saw him at Coachella back in the “before times” and was struck by how … normal he looked. It wasn’t about any kind of image. As I confront my own vanity these days I wonder if there’s a lesson to be learned there. Whatever lesson there is to be learned, it doesn’t stop me feeling an inexplicable sadness at the news of his passing. As Questlove said on Twitter, there’s an irony that in 2020, a man has died who was practically defined by the wearing of a mask, and for him to die on Halloween of all days, at that!
I want to blame it all on 2020 which has found ways to strip away the thin veneer of hope that keeps us all operating as though things are naturally going to be ok. Today, finding out the news, I feel like 2020’s clammy hand is extending from the past like a horror movie monster getting one last scare in before the end of the movie.