DOOM, Dilla and Death

(Ed. Note: This piece is equal parts dedication to MF DOOM and J Dilla as it is a fan trying to come to terms with mortality. Apologies in advance for rambling.)

This past Saturday, the DAR team posted a great tribute to late music legend MF Doom. If you need a good read on one of the greatest artists to ever grace this Earth, this is one that I personally recommend (especially since it didn’t just focus on Madvillainy and reminded me to revisit DOOM’s pre-villain days as well). DOOM’s death got me thinking about my own place in the world of music. I was inspired to come up with the whole No-Fi King persona mainly by Blu and Danny Swain. However, DOOM’s approach also had an influence in that I am an artist who will go between trolling and pranking people when it comes to music. Also, the whole hiding in plain sight sort of thing was something I tended to do a lot.

For example, I’d go to open mics and performances in Baltimore and the DMV, go off in the cut somewhere and chill–sometimes with True and Apollo, sometimes by myself. I snuck up on Brain Rapp and Nature Boi once by literally sitting right next to them and having my hat over my eyes like a Fat Albert character then saying “oh, y’all not gonna say nothing?” Dugee knew me, even had a song with me, but he thought I was just another dude the first time he actually met me. Same with folks like Ducky, who met me years before her influence smashed into BCB 2 and had me collaborating with a lot of Baltimore artists.

I hid in plain sight, not because I was averse to being known. No, it was more that I wanted other people around me to get their just due and also it was easier for people to say “oh damn Speed when’d you get here?” versus running in the room buckwild and drawing attention from everyone else. Maybe that wasn’t exactly why DOOM did it, but I did get the idea from DOOM. I’m not going to say I was a super fan. I wasn’t. That said, I did appreciate the man and his genius.

DOOM’s death hit me, though, like J Dilla’s.

I guess it’s kind of that, like DOOM, I grew up with the sounds of Dilla permeating through my adolescence. Having two of the artists I patterned my approach after die seemingly before their time? It hurts. It especially hurts considering what both artists gave to the world and the nature they did so. Neither really clamored for the spotlight, nor did they shirk their responsibilities as men–specifically Black men. The music they provided was as fun and funky as it was a protest, a rebellion against convention. I’ve said that a lot about some of the music I’ve covered on SOTB over the years, that music in of itself is a form of protest, even if the artist isn’t in your face about things. DOOM lived by this mantra, even if he wasn’t the type to just be out here protesting in the streets; Dilla was the same way, even as he died before “Black Lives Matter” became a rallying cry for people hurt by the system. Again, DOOM’s death hit me harder than expected.

Part of me is shocked by the finality of it. That’s somewhat weird, considering 2020 was one of the most death-filled years on record between COVID and other situations. But, it’s like this: when Prince died, I knew “hey, he’ll live on through the music.” However, I thought Prince would be one of those people that’d be like 95, dropping his 100th album from his deathbed. I thought DOOM to be something the same, which is admittedly unfair to DOOM as a person. He was an artist, I was a fan. As such, I’m not entirely entitled to anything from him other than what he gave me and every other listener. The nature of the fan itself is a bit of an attachment thing, in that fans may feel–even slightly–that artists need to give them more, mainly based on the personas artists exude. It’s why even the Cardi B’s of the world want to stay a bit out of the light at times. And yes, I do see the irony in being a fan, especially since I’m an artist who likes to keep some of myself for myself. That said, it still doesn’t make it hurt less from a fan’s perspective. I can only imagine what his family went through immediately after he transitioned to the next stage of his life.

In closing, this one hurts. I’m still at a loss for words in describing exactly how it’s impacted me as an artist. I guess all I can say is thank you to DOOM, tell people to tell their loved ones how they feel before they don’t have the chance to do it in person and be sure to always support dope music in all its forms–not just when an artist passes on.

Speed on the Beat

Whatever you need to know about me, you can find out on speedonthebeat.com

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