We’re interrupting my music issue to bring you an urgent message. I’ll be traveling tomorrow, so it may be the top of next week.

On October 31st, MF Doom passed. In typical supervillain fashion, the announcement wouldn’t be made until the end of the year. Maybe this was to keep everybody fearful of an appearance by hip-hop’s premier villain. What was more likely was his family needed their time to mourn. It’s easy to forget there was a face behind the mask and not just  a face. 

Either way, it fit the whole project’s aura, coming as an urgent message, like an attack on Manhattan. It’s hard not to admire such a commitment to the rules you make for yourself, to make your entire persona and life a project. But it sent me reeling a little bit. I was on the phone with a friend talking about DND stuff. Part of it was his age: he was only 49 years old, only a few years older than my parents. But part of it was I had bought into the mystique so much I didn’t think he’d die. Just like Batman and The Joker, I’d accepted he was going to be around forever, that in some way, when the man behind the mask died, there’d be someone else taking up the mantle. After all, he was pretty infamous for sending people to do his shows. 

The only thing stopping that from working was that there’s things you can’t replace. You can’t replace the dexterity juxtaposed with the marble  mouthed voice, the sense of humor and playfulness and self-deprecation, the ear for a nostalgic sample (witness the story of one fan driving himself to insanity trying to find the sample for “Arrow Root”). And you can’t replace the story. 

The origin goes as such: MF Doom was once Zev Love X (even was on a 3rd Bass Song of some note), member of KMD , with his brother Subroc. They were popular enough, until tragedy struck. Subroc was hit by a car while trying to cross the Nassau Expressway. That was enough. What happened next was an actual super villain story: KMD’s second album Black Bastards was shelved by Elektra, ostensibly due to an album cover that featured a Sambo figure being lynched. They gave Doom $20,000 and his master tapes, again, ostensibly.  So Doom, reeling from the insult, retreated from rapping. He wandered Manhattan for years, sleeping on park benches and drinking. 

By the next time you saw him rapping, he had tights on his face at the infamous Nuyorcian Poets Cafe. His songs had went away from the Afro-optimism of KMD to a drunken villainy, with a full display of his technical skills, reeling off assonance and consonance laden lines syncopating like a piston in an engine. He rapped over loops that sounded like they’d been in attic with a box of comic books. When Operation Doomsday came out, all it took was the first song to tell you what his mission was: 

On Doomsday!, ever since the womb ‘til I'm back where my brother went, that's what my tomb will say

Right above my government; Dumile

Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who's to say?

Other songs came out first, but few songs he made remind you so starkly of how this project began: with the death of his partner in a random auto accident. What made him a villain was the abandonment of his art. 

Revenge was his.. In underground rap, you’d be hard pressed to not find a rapper who was influenced by MF Doom. And in more subterranean corners of rock music, being into Doom was a sort of marker of your willingness to engage with the next evolutionary step in rebellious music, to the point Thom Yorke remixed one of his songs. And while I’m critical of the way white music fans pick five rappers and get into them while brushing off the rest of the genre as either inauthentic or a betrayal of principles they didn’t even invent, I’d never blame an artist. Especially when they’re this fucking good. Even if you, like me, are less into his age as a cartoon Adult Swim symbol, you still have a career’s worth of earth shattering work, particularly his collab with Madlib Madvilliany, who I can’t write up better than Jeff Weiss did

But all that’s academic. Why am I writing this, eyes wettening like a slow flooding basement? Why did the picture at the top of the article haunt me so, the villain slowly slipping out of frame? I guess it’s because in a way I lost a model. Sometimes a destructive one. I had a whole six months where I didn’t really sleep in a dorm, but on my buddy’s floor, in VCU’s Cabell library, or in a mostly unused VCU lounge on the fourth floor for GRC III. But mostly an ethos has evaporated. Doom has returned to the dust we all begin at. 

Doom’s collaborators often talk about how frustrating he can be. Madvilliany 2 is languishing somewhere on a hard drive. A joint album with Ghostface Killah releases in drips and drabs. An entire album to be released on Adult Swim records had to be cancelled over some stupid label politics. However, that frustration was directly related to the fact that he was precise in his vision. He was above business, above self-promotion. 

He was the dream: to be so good at what you do you don’t have to do business. To make from grief and loss the possibility of something that outlasted the pain. To be mourned for your work. The north star is a little dimmer now. I hope his family knows how important he was to even a kid from the hills in Virginia. 

I’ll let Doom conclude. 

Like my twin brother, we did everything together

From hundred raka'at salats to copping butter leathers

Remember when you went and got the dark blue Ballys

I had all the different color Cazals and Gazelles

The "SUBROC" three-finger ring with the ruby in the "O", ock

Truly the illest dynamic duo on the whole block

I keep a flick of you with the machete sword in your hand

Everything is going according to plan, man

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