On December 31, 2020, Daniel Dumile’s wife Jasmine wrote the words that would shake Hip Hop fans to their core. Daniel Dumile aka MF DOOM aka Viktor Vaughn aka Zev Love X transitioned from this earth on October 31, 2020. The enigmatic emcee left us in much the same way as he arrived; shrouded in mystery. DOOM’s career spanned generations of Hip Hop fans. It all started with his debut with KMD in 1991, his re-emergence as DOOM in ‘98 and finally with his untimely death at the age of 49 in 2020.
Fans of all ages learned and discovered DOOM in their own way and on their own terms. For fans like myself, the love of DOOM began with Madvillainy, his collaboration with Madlib in 2004. DOOM’s style of rapping can be grating to the ears and downright confusing at times but at some point, it all comes together. Everything begins to make sense and you realize you are listening to one of the best to ever do it.
“Living off borrowed time, the clock ticks faster”Accordion, Madvillainy (2004)
The Origin Story
DOOM’s career and life were steeped in mythos. The supervillain spent years crafting a persona behind his infamous mask and off-kilter flow. However, his origin story begins in a rather ordinary way. Dumile’s music career began as one-third of the New York rap crew KMD. They consisted of DOOM (then known as Zev Love X), DJ Subroc (Dumile’s younger brother) and Onyx the Birthstone Kid. In 1991 the trio released their debut album, Mr. Hood. When listening to the album today, you can hear the influences that would later permeate DOOM’s music in the ’00s. However, Hood is filled with a youthful exuberance that is a stark contrast to DOOM’s later work. Songs like Peachfuzz, Humrush and Trial ‘N’ Error showcase the immense talent Dumile possessed with the mic. Unfortunately, the trio was destined for tragedy…
“By the hairs of my chinny-chin-chin, gots many plus plenty//String by string, I think I counts like twenty”Peachfuzz, Mr. Hood (1991)
Enter: The Mask
In 1993, Subroc was killed in an accident on the Long Island Expressway in New York. Simultaneously, Elektra Records dropped KMD. This is the point where the legend of DOOM begins to form. Dumile went into a tailspin after the death of his brother. He quit making music and disappeared for a number of years. It seemed as if a once-promising career was over before it ever really began.
However, in 1997, a rapper with a stocking mask covering his face began freestyling in cafes around New York City under the moniker: “MF DOOM”. Picturing a pantyhose clad DOOM rapping in a club is my favorite aspect of DOOM’s rise back to prominence. The man was bloody, broken and grieving yet he couldn’t tear himself away from his love of music. He was a true MC and an author in his heart and soul. He channeled the pain of his life into music.
In 1999, he finally revealed himself as MF DOOM, formerly Zev Love X of KMD. Operation: Doomsday was released under the new moniker and a supervillain was born. Operation: Doomsday is DOOM at his most raw and dangerous. His later releases would be slightly more refined but this debut was full of anger, resentment and a motivation that is apparent immediately upon first listen. DOOM had come to destroy rap.
“Bound to go three-plat, came to destroy rap//It’s a intricate plot of a b-boy strap”Doomsday, Operation Doomsday (1999)
“MF – The Supervillain”: 2003-2005
In two years the mercurial microphone menace put out an astounding six studio albums under three different monikers and also mixed in a couple of collaborative efforts. DOOM’s evil plan was in full swing starting off with a King Geedorah album (Take Me To Your Leader). DOOM raps on only four songs on the album but his presence is felt throughout behind the boards. He followed the Geedorah album up with two Viktor Vaughn albums until finally following up Operation: Doomsday with MM…FOOD. This run of releases reintroduced DOOM to the masses and his legend was growing by the day. Producers like the equally legendary Madlib took notice. Four months after MM…FOOD, we got Madvillainy.
The collaboration between Madlib and DOOM was a perfect match. Madlib’s sample-heavy production meshed perfectly with DOOM’s free-associative raps. Their collaboration is one of the greatest albums of all time. For me, it was an introduction to DOOM and a turning point. I had never heard someone rap the way DOOM did and it blew my mind. It opened me up to a whole host of underground rap that otherwise I may never have heard. After Madvillainy, DOOM collaborated with producer Dangermouse to make one of my favorite DOOM albums of all time: The Mouse & The Mask. The record sampled Adult Swim cartoons and signaled a shift in the way DOOM was consumed by Hip Hop heads. The secret was out and the villain was loose upon the world.
“This was when the mask was brand spanking new//Before it got rusted from drinking all the brew”Sofa King, The Mouse & the Mask (2005)
LEGACY (ALL CAPS)
In the years since 2005, DOOM has collaborated with everyone from Czarface, Bishop Nehru and Jneiro Jarel. He’s on features with De La Soul, Ghostface Killah and even The Gorillaz. His introductory lines on “November Has Come” have been ingrained in my memory since the first time I heard them: “Slow it down some, no split, clown bum//Your gold hits sound dumb, hold it now, crown ’em.” Whether he was behind the boards or on the mic, DOOM’s presence elevated the quality of music he was a part of.
For me personally, DOOM represented a shift in mindset when consuming Hip Hop. He taught me that music didn’t have to be done in one specific way. Rhymes could be weird and abstract. Beats could blend genres and have nerdy samples. “An emcee” could be anyone you wanted him to be. To me, the mask represented the courage to just be yourself, unapologetically so. We didn’t need to see his face to feel DOOM’s passion. We just needed the music. DOOM was a tragic antihero living within a self-created world. Listening to him brought us fans into his world and for that, I’ll be eternally grateful.
Your Favorite Rapper’s Favorite Rapper
Culturally, MF DOOM will go down as one of the most unique and misunderstood artists of all time. He’ll be on some people’s GOAT lists while others will claim he’s overrated. Conversations like that are irrelevant when discussing the metal face villain’s journey though. As he stated upon his reentry, he “came to destroy rap.” He also came to show that real Hip Hop could be made without the backing of a major label. He proved this time and time again releasing each of his albums under a different record label. He’s long been considered your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper and I think that ultimately will become his legacy.
DOOM will never die. His influence is heard everywhere in Hip Hop. No matter how often he’s imitated, there will only ever be one DOOM. Daniel Dumile the man, lived a tragic life. MF DOOM, the artist, was the reflection of that. The way he weaved the two together (along with numerous personas) was the art. Losing him was a blow but he’ll never be gone. His music lives on eternally.
“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?Doomsday, Operation: Doomsday (1999)
Rest in peace to the metal fist terrorist aka King Geedorah aka Viktor Vaughn aka Zev Love X aka Metal Fingers aka MF DOOM aka Daniel Dumile.
“Just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man’s name…”