Few musician deaths have hit me as hard and as long. Scott Walker comes to mind, as does Geneviève Castrée. Each one speaks to a culture, aesthetic and ethos passed down — their creations as totems of taste and outré expression. MF DOOM is not only my favorite rapper, but might as well be my favorite producer, too — his cartoon-y bouncing-ball flow enmeshed in drifts of spider-webbed soul samples and synths. That’s not a knock on other producers who’ve put their mitts to his voice (shouts to Madlib and Jneiro Jarel), just that the Villain knew his dirty deeds best
I’ve kept a steady ear on past Metal Face albums and productions since the news hit at the end of an endlessly cursed year, but took to the “mf doom” tag on Bandcamp for tributes and remixes, just to keep the vibe going. There’s a lot of earnest work at play, but these young producers — typically, white dudes from Europe and Russia — too often attempt smashing square pegs into oblong holes. Too many rules, too much technique, not enough personality.
The tributes that work, for me, balance DOOM’s wobbly sense of space with grinning playfulness — an impression, not an impersonation. Take, for example, DOOM x DILLA — The Hereafter. Scatta makes his dream world a reality, mashing up two titans of inside-out boom-bap with utmost respect, but doesn’t allow that fanboy-dom get in the way. It’s vintage, but fresh. There’s love and understanding there.
Bloo & Spanish Ran have done a couple homages — both MF BLOO and Danger Bloo ingest the technique, and make their own. Bloo ain’t really a Metal Fingers-style rapper… his bite is too hard, a contrast that also works for Denzel Curry’s excellent Unlocked with The Alchemist. Spanish Ran’s got the classic soul samples down, but mostly just gets that DOOM was a funny dude, making musical jokes left and right.
The most surprising and whimsical tribute comes from Tanda, a producer and DJ from the U.K. living in Japan. MF DOOM X TATSURO YAMASHITA is an alternate universe where DOOM discovered city pop — the cosmopolitan, yet definitely cheesy Japanese pop music from the ’80s that’s lately been the focus of oh-so-chic vinyl compilations, TikTok videos and vaporwave appropriation. It’s a rare instance where the apparent contrast — DOOM spittin’ over disco guitar, funk-popped bass, soft synths, string swells and smoove saxophone — celebrates the light of both sources.
There’s now a posthumous MF DOOM album with Czarface — Inspectah Deck’s group with 7L & Esoteric — that is, in many ways, its own nod to the master. At 27 minutes, Super What? is short compared to 2018’s Czardace Meets Metal Face, and doesn’t feature DOOM’s voice all that much, but dang, when he raps, “Metal mask, get harassed, say it’s true, forget the past,” a smile creeped a mile wide on my face. Always looking forward, always keeping us guessing, even beyond the grave.
39 tracks. Opens with DOOM. Crying’s chiptune pop-punk has had such a lasting effect on the emo scene and Hey, Ily is proof. Sasscore revival by way of SeeYouSpaceCowboy and If I Die First. L’Rain’s squiggly R&B fantasia. Backwash’s industrial-rap gonna scorch the earf. Pillars of Ivory makes a compelling case that rap-hardcore should function as a track-less mixtape. I’m here for Willow’s turn-of-the-millenium pop-punk turn. Supermilk is Jake from Doe, trafficking in a similar pop sensibility, but a bit more ramshackle. Tokyo’s Maru makes modular synth weirdness with a bottom-heavy boom-bap. Charli XCX and A. G. Cook always with the bangerz. Peter Broderick and cellist Mabe Fratti stay faithful to an Arthur Russell tune. Shaylee covers Unwound with an early Pinback flair. Kenny Segal in an overcast techno mood. I truly need more from The Alchemist’s This Thing Of Ours EP — with its masterful Songs of Experience/Innocence-style production and vision — but the Pink Siifu and Maxo cut rises above. “Wake Up, Christine” is the perfect Britpop song made by Americans, and appeared on every mixtape of mine in the ’90s; The Julies’ Lovelife is now on streaming services. Two sides of shoegaze: Lantlôs’ metallic dreams and Doss’ techno gauze. Not too many do ’90s radio alt-rock right, but Hurry’s got the hooks and the feels just right. Axis:Sova’s minimalist psych-pop gives me early Blues Control vibes: zonked, but happy. Metal jams: At the Gates’ arena death metal, Andrew W.K. going full power metal, Portal’s claustrophobic terrors, fallfiftyfeet’s groove-stained metalcore, and I think this is the first time I’ve really been wowed by Dawn Ray’d, but dang, yeah, “Wild Fire” finally marries the band’s folk and black metal with some regal bombast.