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What Happened to MF DOOM?

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MF DOOM is the rap game’s most mysterious figure.  Blessed with a soft, deep voice and an uncommon lyrical fidelity, his songs range from hypnotizing tales of comic book villainy to catchy hooks about rap’s snitches. In an era of rap music that continuously churns out look-alikes all rapping over the same beat, DOOM is a different creature. His discography is packed with successful solo projects and collaborations that have created a massive, global fanbase. I will be listening to MF DOOM tracks on repeat for an incredibly long time, if not forever, and while I still have love for his greatest music, he has failed to release music this decade that is up to the standards of his hit songs. On the heels of the fifteenth anniversary of his most popular album Madvillainy, I was curious to investigate what makes MF DOOM’s music so captivating, and why his career has taken a downturn over the past decade.  

Fifteen years after the album's initial release, Madvillainy feels more musically relevant than ever. In the age of streaming, where music is more accessible and replayability is more valuable, Madvillainy was built for this moment. On this project, DOOM collaborated with Madlib, a producer and musician who has forged his own career with solo projects and collaborative ventures, including a Jazz inspired hip-hop band named Yesterday’s New Quintet, which is entirely orchestrated by Madlib. MF DOOM and Madlib compliment each other perfectly, as Madlib was given creative liberties to be more extreme than ever with samples, flexing his beat making muscles. Some tracks on the album are entirely dedicated to mixes Madlib made devoid of DOOM.

I desperately crave the old MF DOOM to come back to life and deliver solid music again. Madlib and MF DOOM’s relationship was dug into recently by Will Gottsegen of Spin Magazine, who got the chance to interview MF DOOM on Madvillainy’s 15th anniversary. In the interview, DOOM (needing to be reminded it was the 15th anniversary) references the house they were staying at in L.A. and the “bomb shelter” basement where all the recordings were done. The pair had a routine of Madlib creating the beats, often dozens more than needed, and DOOM picking the best ones and writing the songs over them. This process was repeated and perfected by the duo, manifesting in the best work between both of their careers. My main question for Will is; what happened to DOOM’s career?

From Will’s perspective it can be seen as a good thing that DOOM claims to have recreated the artistic process with Madlib, commenting, "it definitely has a chance to be as good as the original Madvillainy." The reasons to be excited for music down the line could be there. But, DOOM’s seriousness about releasing music puts a hindrance on any true optimism. On one hand, it is hard not to get excited by DOOM’s claim that he and Madlib have unreleased music; on the other hand DOOM has said this before and there are still no signs we are getting music any time soon from the pair. The blip in the heart rate reverts back to standard levels, and we re-enter purgatory.

To make sense of why DOOM’s career has taken a downturn, I found three major components that have lead to his downfall. To start, his rapping hasn’t changed much but the slower, methodical rhymes we hear on Madvillainy are sped up. This has worked for DOOM before, except when he’s producing his own tracks like on his last cancelled project The Missing Notebook Rhymes he attempts to use his same lyrical style for when he’s slow when he’s spitting faster raps. It ends up sounding less natural, and less DOOM-like. DOOM likes to buck the typical rhyming schemes most rappers use, like a set-up, punchline. DOOM often skips the punchline from a set-up line to reference something else entirely, and begins rhyming patterns with the newfound word. He tries to continue to do this in his new music, but it often falls flat. Second, he hasn’t worked with Madlib since Madvillainy. That relationship has worked so well for the two, and while DOOM claims there is music on the way, we haven’t heard anything. Finally, his choices on who he has been collaborating with have been difficult to understand. DOOM has worked with some of the best in the music industry, and over the past few years, he has made music with less experienced artists like Bishop Nehru, leading to a sub-par albums. DOOM needs to realize the collaborators he chooses to work with have a massive impact on the success of the music, and when he works with more experienced artists, they help guide his rapping.

Fans aren’t owed anything from DOOM, but while he is still around, it would be nice if he came out with another project with the producer who helped him reach the peak of his abilities. It is difficult to reach the ultimate heights of success without greatness around you. For every superstar like LeBron James or MF DOOM, they need greatness to surround them like Dwyane Wade and Madlib. As of this moment, we don’t know when the next MF DOOM project will come out. What evidence we have collected is all we can cling on to, and I hope one day we have a new project on our hands, whether it is a sequel to Madvillainy, or an entirely different project itself. The mixture of DOOM and Madlib is so special, they owe it to the universe to deliver more music.

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Image by Valentina Ramirez-Cruz

written by
Lawrence Scotti
June 5, 2019