Masks are more than a flashy stage gimmick for the emcee and producer MF DOOM. The iron mask, first worn by his namesake, the comic-book villain Doctor Doom, serves as the central conceit for what is now a decades-long exploration of hip hop’s more formal, structuralist elements.
DOOM raps primarily in two bar couplets, heavily coded with slang, and layers and layers of abstraction and association, as in the dizzying verses of the song “Figaro”:
I read an article criticizing the movie Whiplash that argued its violence is over-the-top and unrealistic— the movie positions violence as part of the relationship between student and teacher. The criticism was that the relationship was so rare as to be unrealistic.
One of the primary topics emcees rap about, aside from their own skill on the microphone, is hip hop itself—the music, the fashion, what hip hop is and what it isn’t.
It’s a tautology that, as far as I can tell, is practically non-existent in other forms of music. Rock and roll dabbles in the occasional self reference, but the act is nearly compulsory in hip hop. If every emcee’s first verse is about how amazing they are, their second verse is about how much they love hip hop.
In Walt Whitman’s poem “I Hear America Singing”, he writes of “the varied carols” he hears, ”each singing what belongs to him or her, and to none else/Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs”.
This is Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, from 1979-- the year I was born, and six years after DJ Kool Herc invented the breakbeat. As one of the first hip hop records, it’s emblematic of a lot of early rap music: it’s a long track and the emcees throw in pretty much every rhyme in the book. At that point, hip hop was still largely party music, with rappers functioning primarily as boosters for the deejay.
I’m trying to atone for my sins as a former music snob, and today I’m doing it by listening to old hip-hop. I used to be quick to criticize pop styles that I didn’t think were “heavy” enough. But every time I said I didn’t like a particular genre, a counterexample would present itself. Fela Kuti destroyed my dislike of world music; Patsy Cline shattered my hatred of Country and Western.
So I’m trying to learn to like other kinds of music, and to do it I’ll have to do three things:
Anything worth possessing is worth sacrificing, even fighting for, and your career is no exception to the rule. For the Wichita, Kansas native Antimosity, the nine years that he has been grinding to maximize his full potential as a hip hop recording artist has been well worth the wait. The charismatic wordsmith is well prepared for everything coming his way, because he worked hard to get here.