Category Archives: memorial

“Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?” MF DOOM

It is hard to fathom the loss of DOOM (editing note – “all caps when you spell the man’s name”). I listened to a lot of MF DOOM and spent quite a few hours discussing, debating and analyzing his lyrics. I can’t capture the depth and weirdnesss of thoughts about DOOM in a single post – every time I sit down to outline this post I get a gigantic spider web of entwined themes.

Black america, slang, diaspora reflections, coded language in hip hop, sample choices, mocking, survivorship, graffiti, families, drugs and alcohol, masking, comic books, representation, sex, communication strategies and a million other threads travel through DOOM lyrics. All you can really do is pull some of those strings and hope that they spark meaningful thoughts.

So maybe we start with the fact that DOOM wrote about his death, his legacy and the fragile nature of human existence in his first song as DOOM.

Daniel Dumile emerged in the NYC hip hop sphere as MF DOOM for the potent first album Operation: Doomsday with the support of Bobbito Garcia and his indie record label Fondle ‘Em. Although Dumile had rhymed with KMD, this was a new incarnation for the artist with a new mask, lyrical style and stylized representation as a villain – exhaggerating every hip hop trope with double and triple entendres.

“On Doomsday/ ever since the womb/ ‘Til I’m back where my brother went, that’s what my tomb will say/ Right above my government: Dumile/ Either unmarked or engraved, hey, who’s to say?”

MF DOOM “Doomsday” from Operation: Doomsday.

Dumile’s brother Subroc was killed in a car accident the same week that his band KMD was dropped from Elektra shelving their second album Black Bastards. The band was fired because of the album cover art presenting the hanging of a Sambo character – symbolizing the birth of a new Afro-centric Black man who refused to perform demeaning roles. Cue Dante Ross.

How do you make art out of this kind of stuff? DOOM is honest about his own upcoming death in the chorus, then he names the stakes. It has been DOOM’s day (centered on him) and also a apocalypse/catastrophe (doomsday) from his birth until his death. His tomb might be engraved (famous) or he may finish his run on this earth as an un-acknowledged anonymous dead person but he is going to work.

It is a weird thing to put in the middle of your comeback/vengence album. But for DOOM life and death never seem all that far apart. This is the opening track (after the intro skit) an honored place in the hip hop album – the centerpiece to tell a consumer if they should buy the album. It might seem morbid, but this is life and death stuff and that crucible produces amazing art.

Doom reports that he made the album while semi-homeless, sleeping on couches, battling doubt and an industry that didn’t understand or like him. Which forced a very intimate album. The samples are friendly (if you like 80s and 90s RnB – DOOM and his friend’s limited record collections) and looped with careful MPC skill by the masked villain himself (as he writes in “Operation: Greenbacks” he owns the crown in “microphone, beats or the wheeles of steel”).

For me this song presents a declaration of his rebirth into a new world of DOOM. The song is an invitation to understand an artist’s use of the medium of hip hop to embody his own will to re-define and rearticulate himself. From a traumatized rejected creative artist who had tried to do the right thing (KMD) to a retaliatory bad-man who was beloved and could also pay his electric bill. That transformation came through intention, lyricism, imagination and the follow-through to make something happen.

We can imagine the tomb as an end piece – the final resting place – but we can also understand the tomb as a transition between worlds. Most mystery cults (and the saccharine descendants like the masons) use simulated burial, re-birth and re-naming as ritual symbols marking a person’s change by committing to the worldview.

In similar ways the end of KMD, ending of intimacy (you don’t get to see DOOM’s face after this) and the death of Dumile’s brother come to a focal point in this song’s chorus. Like a mystery cult burying an initiate in a stylized coffin suffused in incense and low lighting only to have them emerge reborn and shrouded in a new costume and given a new name.

For the comic book loving Dumile, it is also the birth of every significant bad guy character. It is Doctor Doom from the Fantastic Four comic book crafting his metal mask, studying esoteric magic and creating the character to plague the comic book heroes. It is a great story arc for an artist and Dumile could foster a literal mask to keep the public just far enough away from the actual pain while still talking explicitly about how much he missed his brother and was still angry at the journalists and record labels that had ruined he and his brother’s career.

The new DOOM, clad in the metal mask is ready to make fun of the goody goody rappers like KMD. Not only that, he wants their money, the credit and the praise. In his mini Jeopardy segment in the song, DOOM chooses the category “Means to the end” – he will do what needs to be done to get the money. He is “Bound to go three Plat / Came to destroy rap.”

Emerging as a villain from the tomb had to be liberating – and DOOM is free to drive off with sexy women, brag about his toughness in jail, mock the current so-called tough guy rappers and play with verbal expression without any limitations other than being the best. And that is what made him a villain in their eyes — and a hero in ours.

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Filed under art, capitalism, communication, critique, disaster, hip hop, media, memorial, music, punishment, race, representation, resistance, rhetoric, vulnerability

RIP “Muffwiggler” Mike

The guy who founded the online forum Muffwiggler passed away.  His vision of a forum to make modular synths accessible has been really meaningful to a lot of people and has corresponded with the rise in Eurorack.  He had been an opaque figure for me – a mostly unknown founder with a basement full of rare synths.  With his passing a number of interesting videos have emerged including this one which gives Mike a chance to talk about the origins of the forum and reflect on the often consumerist nature of modular synths.

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Filed under do-it-yourself, documentary, learning, media, memorial, music, synthesizers, technology

Cops on Alton Sterling: ‘Just leave him’

Louisiana Police killed Alton Sterling.  This is the 558th police killing of civilians THIS YEAR.   The convenience store clerk (Abdullah Muflahi) who witnessed the killing and reported to The Advocate:

Muflahi, who said he was two feet away from the altercation, said an officer yelled “gun” during the scuffle. An officer then fired four to six shots into Sterling’s chest, he said. “His hand was nowhere (near) his pocket,” Muflahi said, adding that Sterling wasn’t holding a weapon. After the shooting, an officer reached into Sterling’s pocket and retrieved a handgun, Muflahi said. “They were really aggressive with him from the start,” Muflahi said about the officers. Sterling appeared to die quickly, Muflahi said. Just after the killing, the officer who fired the bullets cursed, and both officers seemed like they were “freaking out,” Muflahi said. The store owner said he heard one of the officers say, “Just leave him.”

Source: ‘He’s got a gun! Gun’: Video shows fatal confrontation between Alton Sterling, Baton Rouge police officer | The Advocate — Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Its worth watching the video of the killing taken by bystanders.  Let’s note that both of the officer’s body cameras “fell off” according to law enforcement and the first thing the cops did is seize the surveillance footage from the convenience store.

Thanks to the Guardian for The Counted, the web site which documents police killings in the US.  Here is to peace and justice for the family.  Here is to accountability and a hope for change.

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Filed under communication, human rights, media, memorial, police, representation

RIP Prince: Musicology

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Filed under art, funk & soul, memorial, music

Martin Luther King: Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, Nina Turner and Cornel West

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day and it is a good day to think about the work necessary to bring about justice.

I believe that Bernie Sanders is sincere. His campaign releases this video on the eve of Martin Luther King day.   A few quick observations:

  1.  The lack of editing is a signal of this video’s credibility.  Note that this is a single take . . . no edits, no cuts to remove something that would hurt a political campaign.  This starts with microphone checks and becomes a rigorous conversation between four intellectuals.   After they are done, Dr. Cornel West yells: “Whooo hoo . . . that was rich!”  I agree.
  2.  Shortly after the 20 minute mark Killer Mike begins to pitch the Bernie Sanders campaign to black nationalists.  Malcolm X gets a shout out by Senator Turner!  A minute later Mike points out that Sanders is comfortable in tough conversations with people of color.  Sanders brushes off the compliment and returns to the message.
  3. “Titles are good, purpose is better.” Senator Nina Turner makes the argument to use your access. (6:30)
  4. West’s anger toward Obama is palpable.   And Senator Turner’s experience with Hillary Clinton is interesting at the 42 minute mark.
  5. At the 17 minute mark Bernie Sanders talks about his early civil rights organizing experience in Chicago.  Particularly he notes that the northern liberal university (University of Chicago) ran segregated student housing — which necessitated a sit in.  He talks about his experience organizing with CORE and mentions fighting segregated schools.
  6. I also like the sincere emotion that comes through.  Senator Turner who says that Sanders made her heart leap.  The compliments, the gentle physical contact . . .all point to a great series of relationships.

It’s a good and interesting video.  Also an artifact worth consideration in the field of presidential rhetoric.  Contrast this to most pandering politicians.

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Filed under capitalism, communication, human rights, intersectionality, memorial, protest, race, representation

RIP David Bowie

Rest in peace David Bowie.

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Rest in peace Sean Price

One of the greatest emcees to ever record.   Loyal, fierce, funny and uncompromising, Price made great songs better with his verses.

I have mentioned Sean Price on life of refinement before (including the slightly academic argument that Sean Price had to frolic a little to make his rough raps more palatable).   But his rough and ugly rhymes matched the world with a kind of wry cynicism that I deeply appreciated.

Discovering that Sean Price died in his sleep hurt.  It sucks to imagine that there won’t be any more collaborations, any more tapes, no more 12″ discoveries  . . . he was an artist that I’ll miss.

I spent a sad sunday organizing and recording a little Sean Price tribute mix.  Be aware that the lyrics are rough and explicit.  They also lean heavily on the solo albums rather than his early BCC work, which was a conscious choice.

Duck Down has a memorial site for donations for his family.

And of course, we wait for August 21 to hear “Songs in the Key of P”, Sean’s final album / mixtape.

Live life fully and rest in peace Sean Price!

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Sandra Bland and police killing

It feels indulgent to write about anything other than the murder of Sandra Bland at the hands of police officers.   I don’t have much to add to the sad and terrified discourse surrounding the Bland killing.

But it gets you thinking about how a human being like Texas officer Brian Encinia becomes so brutally callous as to cry “good” when the suspect he is slamming to the ground declares that she has epilepsy.

Or how a young activist headed to a new job in a new place might run afoul of the police system she had critiqued.

Edited video, officer suspended, suspicious death in the jail.  These things should enrage you and be motivation for culture change which is deeply necessary.   Watch the traffic stop video if you can:

Rest In Power Sandra Bland.

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Filed under human rights, memorial, police, punishment, race, representation, sexism, Surveillance

Defection from white supremacy

What does it look like when white people defect from the traditions of white supremacy?  It probably looks (and sounds) like South Carolina Representative Jenny Horne talking about removing the confederate flag from the South Carolina state house.

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Filed under communication, human rights, kindness, memorial, race, representation, resistance, vulnerability

Technology extending activism #blacklivesmatter

1.  Thanks to Feministing for the best framing of the uprising in Baltimore.  I appreciate the foregrounding of gender, class, and the juxtaposition of Wholefoods feeding the National Guard and community members organizing (through technology) to feed local kids.

2.  The New York Times seems to think that activism documented through the internet focusing on police violence is a new thing.  It isn’t, but Jay Caspian Kang’s write up of the radicalization of the leaders of this movement is a useful connection point.  Here Kang outlines the articulation of long-standing injustices into first-person experiences of tear-gas saturated outrage in Ferguson.

Mckesson was radicalized that night. “I just couldn’t believe that the police would fire tear gas into what had been a peaceful protest,” he told me. “I was running around, face burning, and nothing I saw looked like America to me.” He also noticed that his account of that night’s tear-gassings, along with a photo he took of the rapper J. Cole, had brought him quite a bit of attention on Twitter. Previously, Mckesson had used the social-media platform to post random news articles that interested him, but now he was realizing its documentary power. He quickly grasped that a protester’s effectiveness came mostly from his ability to be present in as many places as possible: He had to be on West Florissant when the police rolled up in armored vehicles; inside the St. Louis coffee shop MoKaBe’s, a safe haven for the protesters in the city’s Shaw neighborhood, when tear gas started to seep in through the front door; in front of the Ferguson Police Department when shots rang out. He had to keep up a steady stream of tweets and carry around a charger so his phone wouldn’t die.

via ‘Our Demand Is Simple: Stop Killing Us.’ – NYTimes.com.

 

 

 

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