His wife broke the news on New Years Eve, that DOOM had “transitioned” on October 31, and it’s almost poetic that the legend of the mask died on the day of the mask in the year of the mask.
No cause of death was forthcoming, but ultimately, what mattered is that one of the most important voices in hip-hop history was no longer with us.
DOOM had been around since the late ’80s, initially finding some underground kudos with KMD and an appearance on a classic by 3rd Bass called ‘The Gas Face’. This was my own introduction to Zev Love X, as he was then called, and both ‘The Gas face’ and KMD’s ‘Peachfuzz’ were in heavy rotation on Yo MTV Raps, which was massively influential here at the time. Tragedy soon struck, and his KMD partner and brother Sub Roc was killed in an accident in the same week as their label Elektra dropped the group, amid controversy surrounding the content and cover of their Black Bastards album.
Zev Love X retreated from the music industry and emerged at the end of the ’90s as MF DOOM, ushering in one of the most prolific eras in independent hip-hop history. A string of albums followed, including classics such as Operation Doomsday and his collaboration with Madlib, Madvillainy. This is widely regarded as being one of the most influential albums in rap history and it still sounds amazing.
For a few years, DOOM was everywhere, doing albums under different names and doing beats bootlegs too, plus a slew of other collabs with everyone from Danger Mouse to Jneiro Jarel.
His legacy is immense. Hip-hop is an unforgiving genre where rappers are spat out and forgotten almost every few months.
The tragedy of the ’90s was bad enough, but DOOM also lost his son as a teenager in 2017. DOOM had been born in the UK but had grown up in the States and lived there all his life, though he never became a US citizen. Reluctant to travel with good reason, he sadly was refused re-entry to the USA in 2010 after a European tour, and he had to live apart from his young family for a couple of years. They re-united in the UK eventually, but it’s a sad reflection of Obama’s reign that one of the best rap figures of the last 30 years was basically treated like just another migrant under his watch.
In recent years DOOM’s output was more sporadic, though he did appear with Irish rapper Rejjie Snow on ‘Cookie chips’ this summer, and more recently with Badbadnotgood.
His legacy is immense. Hip-hop is an unforgiving genre where rappers are spat out and forgotten almost every few months. DOOM survived a turbulent ’90s and the death of his brother plus the shelving of their second album due to record company politics. He came back stronger than ever and was one of the most important figures in the rap era that followed, and while he never had platinum records, he was an MC’s rapper who commanded the respect of everyone within the hip-hop community. To many, he was the greatest to do it and as an MC and lyricist he had few if any betters.
What’s most interesting to me this past week is watching the outpouring of love from literally every generation of rap fans, from old school cats who remember KMD, right up to youngsters who have grown up on Odd Future, Playboi Carti and Young Thug.
DOOM was respected by most of your favourite artists and their fans, and he kept his integrity on nearly every record he ever made. It’s a magnificent discography from an icon of the genre, who’s comic book-influenced reinvention and comeback was also inspired and mysterious, and this mystique carried on right until and after his passing.
The music catalogue is fantastic with Madvillainy being the best known classic, though I’ll always have a soft spot for Operation Doomsday, which was made while he was sleeping on Stretch Armstrong’s couch over three weeks, using many samples from ’80s soul records that were lying around. Listening back to this now, it’s impossible not to feel nostalgia and sadness mixed with joy, and it remains testament to how great art can be made with little more than some records, some rhymes, some great ideas and an MPC.
Rest in Peace DOOM.