There’s an incredible amount of stuff to unpack from “Black to the Future,” Mark Dery’s seminal series of interviews in which he coined the term “Afrofuturism.” Most of the stuff here is pretty new to me—I’m by no means a sci-fi buff, so the majority of the work referenced in these conversations went over my head (that isn’t to say thought that there isn’t an incredible amount to learn, even if you aren’t familiar with a lot of sci-fi canon). As I read more, however, I started thinking about on Afrofuturist whose work did have a big impact on me: MF DOOM.
One of the things that struck me about MF DOOM’s music when I first started listening to it some time ago in high school was just how different it sounded from anything I had heard before. This is a rapper who not only has an incredibly unique voice and flow but also raps over some of the most interesting production I’ve ever listened to. His samples come from a variety of sci-fi and fantasy sources, and feature snippets from the Godzilla to The New Fantastic Four.
I think there’s something to be said for DOOM’s use of the villain persona (MF DOOM being an obvious play off of Dr. DOOM from the Fantastic Four series, as well as his aliases King Geedorah, from Godzilla, and Viktor Vaughn, another Fantastic Four reference). He chooses these characters who present a very straightforward representation of good and evil, and under these names produces work which is of considerable merit. But for an evildoer to achieve recognition for his works does not make him famous, but rather infamous. DOOM acquires notoriety, just like the powerful characters from whom he takes his names.
But there’s also plenty of notoriety in the music industry already, especially in hip hop, which was born as a counterculture movement from people who had been historically oppressed huge entities which often seemed all-powerful. The gangsta rap music popular in the 80s and 90s celebrated its own villains, rappers who were former drug dealers and gangsters who developed plenty of notoriety and celebrity for their actions.