Paul Laurence Dunbar
’s poem ‘We Put on the Masks’ was printed in 1895.
We put on the masks that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, –
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why ought to the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, allow them to solely see us, whereas
We put on the masks.
Dunbar pulls off one thing sophisticated right here: he captures Black Individuals’ rejection of what Thomas Jefferson known as ‘that immovable veil of black which covers all of the feelings’ whereas additionally articulating the rationale a few of us embraced the thought of a masks within the first place. In contrast to the material cover-ups we put on at the moment, which do extra to guard others from coronavirus particles than they do the wearer, Dunbar’s masks – a face to fulfill the faces that we meet – allowed us to guard ourselves from inevitable mistreatment and wilful misunderstanding.
The rapper MF Doom, who died final yr, wore the masks in multiple sense. He was a paragon of worldwide Blackness, a poster boy of postmodern Negritude. Because the music author and DJ Lynnée Denise put it on Twitter, Doom was a ‘Black common citizen’, ‘the story of Diaspora’. Born in London to a Trinidadian mom and Zimbabwean father, he grew up in New York, however by no means grew to become a US citizen. His affect reverberates by way of a category of indie rappers and producers – Earl Sweatshirt, Bishop Nehru, Tierra Whack – who work exterior the massive label system. Doom was a desperado, a dastardly fellow, a self-proclaimed ‘bastard’ who rapped with an unbelievable urgency and a laconic lilt. He may sound like an album of Mitch Hedberg one-liners performed at double velocity. He was each ‘out of pocket’ (unhinged and wild) and ‘within the pocket’ (completely cool and regular). The metallic masks he wore in public was lovely however utilitarian, like a silk handkerchief. His lyrics have the identical mutability: I’ve laughed and wept at his music in equal measure. He was a singular star, a wily determine who understood the facility in being each elusive and susceptible. He was hip (‘received sufficient kinds to begin three fads’) but in addition used phrases like ‘egads’. Wait – was? I’m nonetheless not used to pondering of him up to now tense.
On New Yr’s Eve, Doom’s spouse, Jasmine Dumile, introduced his dying two months earlier on the age of 49. She known as it his ‘transition’. It was the primary time, for me, that seeing his identify evoked, nicely, doom. His many albums and instrumental CDs comprise complicated, multisyllabic lyrics, esoteric samples, and plenty of jokes. ‘Rhymes like Dimes’ is a musical manifesto in beneath 5 minutes. Within the refrain, Doom hints at his absence from music between 1993 and 1998 – ‘Got here again from 5 years layin’ – however he doesn’t delve into it. Followers pieced collectively his backstory.
Earlier than 1999, Doom, born Daniel Dumile in 1971, was often known as Zev Love X, and was a Black nationalist ‘acutely aware’ MC. Along with his brother Subroc and a DJ often known as Onyx the Birthstone Child, he shaped the group KMD (‘Kausing A lot Harm’). In 1993, whereas crossing the Lengthy Island Expressway on foot, Subroc was hit by a automobile and died. Elektra, Doom’s document label, determined to not launch KMD’s second album, BL_CK B_ST_RDS. Dumile re-emerged in 1999 with Operation: Doomsday, his first document beneath his new moniker, impressed by Physician Doom, the Marvel Comics supervillain who completely fused a masks to his face after being disfigured in an accident. On ‘Rhymes like Dimes’, Doom’s phrases are political – ‘solely in America may you discover a technique to earn a wholesome buck/and nonetheless preserve your perspective on self-destruct’ – but in addition wry and unexpectedly tender:
To the gone and misplaced perpetually like ‘Oh, my darling Clementine’
He maintain his coronary heart when he tellin rhyme
When it’s his time I hope his soul go to heaven
He nasty just like the previous time, previous no. 7.
On ‘Rhymes like Dimes’, Doom sampled Quincy Jones and James Ingram’s ‘One Hundred Methods’, and produced simply as many quotable traces. Or, as Dunbar put it in ‘We Put on the Masks’, he mouthed with myriad subtleties. As Doom says in ‘Hey!’, one other track from Operation: Doomsday, he expressed himself ‘with extra rhymes than there’s methods to pores and skin cats/As a matter of truth, let me rephrase:/with extra rhymes than methods to fillet felines lately.’ A few of us adopted Doom as a result of we thought we had been too cool for David Blaine. Doom’s methods had been breath management, intricate rhyme schemes, a beating coronary heart beneath the chilly veneer, of which he gave us solely occasional glimpses. Now you see it, now you don’t.
In his six solo studio albums, quite a few collaborations and instrumental discs, Doom’s persona illuminated the ‘villainous’ impulses of numerous rappers, together with these exterior his realm of underground hip-hop. If you happen to take away the comedian guide references, there’s a little bit of Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Dr Dre, J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Future – misogyny, overconsumption, not-at-all-veiled threats. Doom was the rap id come to life, his character representing what would occur to rappers after ingesting an excessive amount of, smoking an excessive amount of weed, ‘leaning just like the Tower of Pisa’, passing out, pissing folks off, embracing gluttony, residing with gout. The Doom character had a nasty perspective; he clashed with numerous folks (promoters, offended followers), together with himself. He didn’t present up when requested, generally (particularly) when contracted. On 2004’s ‘One Beer’ he makes enjoyable of this, evaluating performing to theft.
As a Black trickster determine Doom belongs to a protracted line of efficiency artists, together with Adrian Piper, Pope.L, David Hammons, Rammellzee. However I wonder if his curiosity in not displaying up was additionally a touch upon what it means to point out up, and to point out oneself up. Possibly it was as an alternative choice to bemoaning the unfairness of the enterprise, and the difficulties of fame, that Doom disappeared and despatched imposters in his place. There was a years-long controversy over ‘Doomposters’ and ‘MF Dupes’. Possibly it was simpler for him to rent different folks to fake to be him than to clarify how jaded and exhausted he was.
He had a behavior of undermining sentimentality, and even earnestness, as within the opening of ‘Nice Day’ from Madvillainy, his 2004 collaboration with the superproducer Madlib: ‘Seems prefer it’s going to be an incredible day at the moment, to get some recent air like a stray on a straightaway.’ A declaration of hope is instantly undermined by a touch of violence, a naturalistic element out of a Jack London story. The ‘stray’ may confer with a canine or a bullet. It’s a humorous line, but it surely’s additionally an expression of hysteria, the considered an individual who can’t get pleasure from issues as a result of they’re ready for one thing horrible to occur.
Doom had motive to really feel that method: his brother died simply as KMD had been on the cusp of ending their second document. I’ve expertise with that form of pondering too. My father died unexpectedly (and violently) once I was eight. Listening to Doom helped me to see what had occurred to me as a consequence of what occurred to my dad. Doom took a private tragedy and transformed it right into a dense self-mythography. His splintered public self was partly a technique to discover characterisation but in addition, I think, a technique to shield himself within the public eye. He retreated behind a metallic masks. When my father died, I was an inside individual. I ducked behind my ideas on Doom and 100 different artists. If I hadn’t misplaced my dad, I’m unsure I might admire Doom’s sense of humour. It’s unimaginable to know.
Doom was a grasp of openings. ‘Rhymes like Dimes’ begins: ‘Hey yo, yo, y’all can’t stand proper right here/In his proper hand was your man’s worst nightmare/Loud sufficient to burst his proper eardrum shut vary/The sport isn’t solely harmful but it surely’s most unusual.’ On ‘Kon Karne’, from Mm..Meals (2004): ‘Darker than the East River, bigger than the Empire State had been the beasts who guard the barbed-wire gate/Is on the job, not my destiny/Bored with the wait until the villain carry deliverance from the dire straits, hearth at the next fee.’ That’s as near an establishing shot as you’ll discover in a track: the digital camera descending on the constructing, safety guards perched like gargoyles, their emotionless faces hiding the gloom introduced on by guarding a mysterious merchandise deemed extra beneficial than their lives. However then Doom begins describing find out how to hot-wire a automobile (over a pattern of Sade’s ‘Is It a Crime?’). Simply as we’ve been attuned to no matter big-ass, supposedly treasured object is lurking behind the gate, we discover the extra fascinating factor is going on simply exterior the body, just a few streets over, the place there’s a thief with a sizzling hand.
Committing grand theft auto whereas ignoring some supposedly grander merchandise is analogous to Doom’s mission as an MC. Whereas different rappers had been targeted on the massive ticket objects (main label success, luxurious items), Doom was incomes an actual residing as a rapper, and sustaining his inventive freedom. It takes ability to hot-wire a automobile. ‘An actual price-saver technique to purchase good whips,’ Doom raps, with the self-satisfaction of an previous radical handing The Anarchist Cookbook to a child with an ‘A’ badge sewn on their messenger bag. After his disappointing expertise with Elektra, he understood the price of enjoying main label video games – ‘I solely play the video games that I win at,’ he says on ‘Hey!’. He bowed out of the worldwide music machine to develop into Viktor Vaughn, a self-proclaimed ‘vaudeville villain’, and King Geedorah, a B-movie monster. He was at his greatest when performing sleight of hand together with his coronary heart on his sleeve. That’s what elevated him above the purveyors of rappity rap for rap’s sake.
It seems that Doom was additionally an professional at endings. He died on Halloween, when numerous hip-hop heads, Grownup Swim followers and comedian guide aficionados (he had admirers in every camp) would have been sporting his signature masks. He slipped out the again because the Doomposters finagled their technique to the entrance, stumbling onto half-empty streets for penny sweet and beer kegs. His masked impersonators ran amok at their socially distanced (or not) fancy gown events like henchmen tasked with staging a distraction from their chief’s maniacal plot. So far as the world is aware of, Doom ‘made his exit on some calm shit’. I ponder if that’s true (his reason behind dying has not been made public). The belated announcement in all probability has to do together with his household’s must grieve in peace. However his dying additionally makes me consider the sudden ending of ‘Rhymes like Dimes’, when Doom stops rapping two minutes earlier than the tip of the track. Irrespective of how typically I hearken to the tune, a part of me at all times expects him to reappear and take part Bobbito Garcia’s laughter and goofball banter. On Madvillainy, Doom long-established himself ‘the rocket scientist with the pocket wine listing’, and though he could also be finished conducting his mysterious experiments, I refuse to consider the track is over. His ‘transition’ is simply one other ‘biochemical equation’ (the title of a track he made with Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA). He’ll reconstitute in another type, simply as he emerged as Viktor Vaughn or Geedorah. We aren’t on the finish of his track, however in its vamp out, its witching hour, or as Bobbito says in ‘Rhymes’, in that wonderful liminal area recognized in hip-hop as ‘until the break of daybreak’. And also you don’t cease, carry on to the positive shot. ‘Is he nonetheless a fly man clapping if no one ain’t hear it?’ Doom requested on ‘Accordion’. ‘And might they testify from interior spirit?’ I can.
The day after I realized of his dying, I listened to Doom on a loop and circled my neighbourhood. I ended in entrance of my native document retailer, the place there was an historic promotional poster for The Mouse and the Masks, Doom’s 2005 collaboration with Hazard Mouse. ‘With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.’ Since passers-by couldn’t see what was taking place behind my black fleece masks, I may expertise my grief and recalcitrant pleasure in personal, although I used to be exterior on New Yr’s Day, with the Mummers Parade – its costumed contributors flouting the official cancellation – going by not far-off.