Your Favourite Rapper's Favourite Rapper: A Tribute to MF DOOM
As the world leaned into 2021 with eager optimism, it was announced that legendary hip hop producer and rapper MF DOOM had tragically passed away. Billed as one of the most creative rappers of all time, DOOM (real name Daniel Dumile) was a master of wordplay, storytelling, and mystery. The faceless rapper adopted a metal mask and went by many names, each of which told a story and formed a part of the complex narrative of MF DOOM. Although he never achieved a platinum selling album, DOOM’s style and lyrics have inspired an entire generation of musicians. In recent days, countless artists have expressed regret at this loss of an icon. Radiohead’s Thom Yorke has labelled him an inspiration and his ways genius, and rappers around the world have followed suit, from Tyler the Creator to Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). The level of respect commanded by the mask is hard to fathom.
Words from MF DOOM’s Instagram, written by his wife: “Thank you for showing me how not to be afraid to love and be the best person I could ever be”.
His life began in London as a British-American born to a Trinidadian mother and Zimbabwean father. Although a British citizen until the day he died, Dumile’s family had little to no connection to British culture and soon relocated to Long Beach, New York. This was the state where MF DOOM would later be born, after a series of terrible experiences and early forays into music.
Dumile’s verse at 2:47 was his entrance to the hip hop scene.
Going by the alias of Zev Love X, Dumile co-founded the hip hop group KMD with his younger brother (known as Subroc) in 1988. Dumile made his debut by featuring on the now famous ‘The Gas Face’ by 3rd Bass. Just when everything was going well for the young brothers, Dumile’s feet were swept out from underneath him. Within the same week, his brother Subroc was struck and killed by a car, and their group’s second album was shelved before release. This was down to the controversial name “Black Bastards” and artwork containing a derogatory depiction of a black individual being lynched. What followed was several years of hiatus for Daniel Dumile, who became half-homeless and resentful against the world and the music industry. His scars may have remained forever, but the wounds slowly healed, and he returned in 1997 with a new identity: MF DOOM.
This was when the rapper began covering his face. To begin with, he would perform at open mic nights with his face obscured by a pair of tights. Soon after, he graduated to famous the metal mask he is best known for. This was loosely based on the Marvel comics supervillain Doctor Doom, which also became the basis for his character of MF DOOM. Dumile later spoke out about this decision, which he made for multiple reasons. Firstly, he believed that the music industry had become too saturated with and obsessive over identity. DOOM wanted to be known for his sound alone. Also, the mask just worked well with the supervillain narrative he wanted to build through his music.
Album artwork for Take Me To Your Leader - King Geedorah.
Within Dumile’s fictional universe there also existed the personas of Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah (a giant alien three-headed lizard monster who channelled knowledge to DOOM). Dumile’s productions often contained audio montages and samples from old VHS tapes and cartoons. These cutscenes were geared towards building the backstory, personality, and meanings around DOOM the supervillain and the other characters. Aside from this incredibly creative approach to hip hop, MF DOOM was also a hugely gifted lyricist, who would constantly rhyme entire bars in his raps. He would also frequently carry his flow over the bar line (which defies conventional wisdom), and completely leave out expected words in rhymes. This complicated style added to DOOM’s enigma and unpredictability. For those confused about or unconvinced of his technical ability, the video below is a great example of why MF DOOM is most likely your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper. It shows all of the rhyming schemes in Dumile’s ‘Meat Grinder’, released on the 2004 album Madvillainy.
The complex rhyming schemes of ‘Meat Grinder’ - Madvillain
MF DOOM released an array of solo and collaborative albums, but Madvillainy is arguably the chief reason that Dumile held this status amongst other artists. Released under the alias Madvillain (a combination of the names MF DOOM and producer Madlib), Madvillainy has consistently ranked amongst the top 500 albums of all time across multiple publications, and it stands today as a true piece of music history.
MF DOOM passed away on the 31st October, 2020. For anyone who wishes to pay their respects, we can’t think of a better way than by digging through his catalogue. Just remember, ALL CAPS when you spell the name.
‘All Caps’ – Madvillain