I often hear the apologetic phrase “this is inside baseball,” in media, representing the reluctance of hosts to spend too much time talking about the annoyances of their microphones or Skype. This, at first glance, makes sense; you listen to Accidental Tech Podcast for the tech, and not meta-commentary about the making of the tech podcast. It is generally understood that content that relying too much on experience or highly specialized knowledge is seen as less interesting or important than that with broader impact. Despite this, I have always been very interested in these moments of inside baseball, where the façade of the media fades away and the intricacies of the craft are revealed.
This phenomenon has been on my mind since I heard of the passing of MF DOOM. In the wake of his death, some wonderful articles tried to capture the mystique and influence of the notoriously reclusive artist. One phrase popped up again and again: “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” Just about every influential hip-hop figure of the past 20 years either respected his talents or directly credited him with inspiration. Without too much effort, one could create a coaching tree of artists that were schooled in the ways of DOOM.
DOOM’s sprawling discography includes 6 solo albums under various pseudonyms, numerous collaborative albums, and hours of instrumentals. The apotheosis of his career, as well as the best way to understand his appeal, was his legendary 2004 collaboration with producer Madlib: Madvillainy. Madvillainy is a great album; the melodic, woozy production, surprising musicality, dense lyrics, and tone can be appreciated by a casual listener. But Madvillainy revels in its esoteric nature- a form so convoluted and twisted in upon itself that it cannot be judged by its reach. Instead, DOOM’s full value is only appreciated when one is already well acquainted with hip-hop. With this background acquired, his deep catalogue of verses and production reveals a master at the top of his game.
To borrow a phrase from one Agadmator, MF DOOM could lead you into a dark forest where 2+2=5 and only he knew the way out. One only needs to see a highlighted rhyme scheme from any one of his songs to realize that the way he approached the art of rapping was different than anyone else at the time:
I only do this for the simple fact of points-per-rhyme, the point game… I didn’t know it was gonna be such a popular thing. It’s something we used to do for a side hobby, to keep your mind fresh. Word games. You might be walking down the street, playing with words in your mind, so you throw them back and forth, and words that rhyme just come to you. It’s something we did as a hobby, like practicing thoughts, brain exercises. Word searches and things like that, studying different languages, where words come from. A practice to keep your mind sharp, is how we used to see it. But then it turned out to be something—if you put it to music, in a rhythmic way, and you know how to bring the point across, then you can turn it to something that’s real profitable.MF DOOM ‘Madvillainy’ Anniversary Interview | SPIN
The music was one portion of a character that resisted the norms of a rap superstar. DOOM’s personal history of rejection from the music industry and personal tragedy was probably the inspiration behind DOOM’s most recognizable trait: the mask that he wore at all times during public appearances. The mask he wore was a clear (or as clear as anything was with the enigmatic rapper) rejection of the cult of celebrity that has only increased since he created his character in the late ’90’s. For DOOM, rapping was about the rapping and nothing else. As the impact of celebrity culture continues to influence basically every aspect of modern culture, this explicit rejection of notoriety stands out.
Enough about me, it’s about the beats.MF DOOM, Beef Rapp, MM… FOOD
Not about the streets and whose food he’s bout to eat …
He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh
A rather ugly brother with flows that’s gorgeous
The sheer number of anomalies that surrounded the life and work of MF DOOM is, for me, why I find him endlessly fascinating. DOOM represents the beauty that can be found fractal nature of knowledge. The phenomenon of ‘inside baseball’ captures that fractal nature. There is so much value to be extracted when truly diving into a new part of the world that seems so simple on its surface. “Come further up, come further in!”