It was fitting that the artist who drew the most attention as we signed out of 2020 was one defined by wearing a mask.
On New Year’s Eve, the announcement of the passing of Daniel Dumile, most famous for his MF Doom persona, was the first time in my life I had to contemplate the loss of a contemporary artist of significant influence. While my early teenage years are characterised by a somewhat cringey taste for gangster rap, it proved a noble route for the eventual discovery and obsession with MF Doom.
Working my way through his discography, looking back, was an act of enlightenment that’s shaped my musical interests far beyond hip-hop. Doom fundamentally changed the way I listen to and interact with music. He changed my perception of what music can and should achieve. Madvillainy alone, his 2004 collaboration with Madlib, is a rich scripture of cinematic musical perfection. But his creative flair is there to be appreciated across solo records and projects under various aliases spanning almost 30 years.
It’s perhaps the paradoxical inviting solipsism that makes his music so compelling. What was put to record was the closest animation of a human brain feverously at work. It was illusory, refracted music so life-filled it almost became tangibly real. It was so much more than manufactured concept.
Rather than hide behind sandbags of artistic exploration, the collage of slurred, staccato raps, superhero cartoon interludes and jazz samples was the finding and liberating of one’s own world. The place where their art was best seen and heard. Their home. One deeply personal but wide open.
While Dumile’s output slowed somewhat over the last decade, his influence is there to see on some of the biggest records released. Frank Ocean’s seemingly divine powers to breathe brooding energy into the mundane, to frame fragments of the ordinary as arresting poetry, owes much to Doom’s quick-witted lyricism comprised of deft cultural incisions. He’ll be sorely missed.
While this first editorial of 2021 may appear to fail in confronting the continuing crisis, the motif of MF Doom is no less relevant than passing comment on the setbacks we’re sustaining as a music and wider community. Doom’s ability to locate abundant potential within the self feels all the more relevant as we face another period subjected to isolation. More so when there’s no realistic end date in sight. For it is within the self and those in close proximity where we’ll be asked to arrive at the greatest sense of discovery and warmth during the rocky months ahead. Leaning into music, film, art or literature will therefore remain the internal escapes essential to who we are – just as all of the artists featured in this issue display. Happy new year.