Last week, Spin published an interview with the ever-elusive rapper MF DOOM to celebrate the 15-year anniversary of the unimpeachable classic Madvillainy. While the interview was otherwise packed with the types of behind-the-scenes anecdotes that make fans like myself swoon, there was one portion of the Q&A that stood out as curious.
Midway through the piece, in response to a question about whether he ever played Madvillainy for his son during the recording process, DOOM said the following:
“I don’t really do music at home [...] I write rhymes and shit to get money. Other than that I don’t listen to hip-hop music.” —MF DOOM
Reading this initially, I was admittedly a bit taken aback by the candid nature of DOOM’s admission. Here is DOOM, a legend in the game—cited so frequently by aficionados of “real hip-hop” as one of the few emcees who adequately demonstrates the appropriate level of respect for the “sanctity of the genre”—expressing his complete indifference towards the art form as a whole.
In expressing this particular belief, DOOM sounded almost, dare I say it, like a “disrespectful member of the new-school.” To draw a rough parallel, compare the statement he made to Spin with the perspective Cardi B espouses in the following video.
“I like to make money! I don’t really give a fuck about being lyrical,” Cardi said emphatically, drawing ire from some hip-hop traditionalists in the process.
Regarding just how much overlap there is between these two perspectives, you can begin to appreciate just how silly it is for puritanical rap fans to spend their time on Twitter, complaining angrily about the rappers they believe are cynically cashing in on the genre for their own selfish benefit.
If you wish to make the argument that Cardi B is some sort of culture vulture with no vested interest in the genre beyond her bottom line, then you’d be forced to make this same argument about DOOM. Imagine how foolish you’d sound trying to make the claim that DOOM, for the better part of his 31-year rap career, has been some sort of insidious leech. Whether he possesses a profound reverence for the genre or not, it doesn’t take away from the immeasurable influence his catalog has had on the culture at large.
Of course, this debate becomes a bit thornier when you start to factor in problematic considerations of cultural appropriation. It’s one thing for Vince Staples to claim, as he has done unwaveringly throughout his entire career, that he’s simply using rap as a money-making scheme because the treacherous nature of his alternative career prospects has been well-documented. The same can’t exactly be said of Lil Dicky, however, who didn’t choose rap over the streets, but over his steady advertising job.
Hearing Lil’ Dicky speak transparently about how he strategically used his rap success as a springboard to launch his career in comedy, I tend to afford him little sympathy when he makes misguided statements like, “Unless you’re an extremely stupid person that began life as a poor, violent man, only to see your fortunes turn once you started rapping, you won’t be able to relate to 99 percent of today’s rap music.”
It’d be one thing if this was MF DOOM making such a dismissive generalization—he’s given so much to the genre I might be willing to afford him the benefit of the doubt—yet, by his own admission, Dicky is merely passing through at his convenience, so these comments seem infinitely less tolerable coming from him.
In this regard, Dicky’s remarks here call to mind a similarly ill-informed opinion Post Malone expressed in a 2017 interview:
"If you're looking for lyrics, if you're looking to cry, if you're looking to think about life, don't listen to hip-hop," Malone said, generating a great deal of controversy by neglecting to consider large swaths of the genre before making such broad pronouncements.
As a white artist making a handsome living working in a historically black art form, it’s probably a bit of an understatement to say Post Malone was speaking outside his jurisdiction here. At this stage in his career, MF DOOM may not have to hold the current iteration of the genre in the highest esteem, but it’s not a double standard to say that Post Malone does. It’s the basic tax white artists as successful as Malone should have to pay for the privilege of sharing this space with the black community.
As convoluted of an issue as this is, it seems like the best way forward is to decide who we are going to afford this leeway to on a case-by-case basis. As a general set of guidelines though: members of hip-hop’s upper class can get away with being indifferent towards hip-hop because they’ve already made their contributions to the culture, while anyone who’s chosen to pursue rap instead of a more dangerous path gets a free pass to exploit the genre as freely as they like, because the mere act of having made this choice is unambiguously positive.
Alternatively, we can stop being so dogmatic about this idea of “sanctity” in the rap community, and realize that none of this really matters anymore.
Hip-hop is here to stay, regardless of whether MF DOOM listens to it or not.