MF DOOM: your favorite rapper’s favorite supervillain

Cassette tape with light shining through it's clear body.

Definition ‘supervillain’: a killer who love children
One who is well-skilled in destruction, as well as building

MF DOOM (from the song “Doomsday,” on “Operation: Doomsday,” Fondle ’Em Records, 1999)

by Kevin Keogh

MF‌ ‌DOOM‌ ‌was‌ ‌a‌ ‌writer’s‌ ‌writer,‌ ‌a‌ ‌rapper’s‌ ‌rapper,‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌producer’s‌ ‌producer.‌ ‌He‌ ‌dwells‌ ‌in‌ ‌an‌ ‌ultra‌-elite‌ ‌group:‌ ‌the‌ ‌rapper/producer,‌ alongside artists like Dr.‌ ‌Dre,‌ ‌Kanye‌ ‌West,‌ ‌and‌ ‌the‌ ‌RZA.‌ ‌What‌ ‌separates‌ ‌this‌ ‌group‌ ‌of recording artists from‌ ‌other‌ ‌rapper/producers‌ ‌is‌ ‌their‌ vision, advanced ‌skill,‌ ‌and‌ mastery of rhyme and production. Dr. Dre was one of Gangsta Rap’s pioneers with N.W.A, crafting beats (with fellow member DJ Yella) and producing artists who would define a genre and an era.

Kanye West began his music career as a producer, achieving great success in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a prolific run of production credits before releasing his debut studio album (“The College Dropout,” Def Jam Recordings, 2004). The RZA altered the hip-hop soundscape with his production technique of speeding up the tempo of a sample, commonly referred to as “chipmunk soul,” (a style used by early Kanye West) and rapping as if the tongue were a sword for dueling. DOOM was fun, weird, and extremely clever — a revered lyricist for his unorthodox rhymes and delivery. His use of stream-of-consciousness was dizzying, but something avid listeners are accustomed to hearing today. For example, a reference to former disgraced Serbian President Slobodan Milošević would be perplexing coming from any rapper but DOOM.

To my Metal Face bros with stomachs of cast iron
Who been in to win and blast to the last siren
On the slow-mo, the con artist with the so-so chick
Chased them all like how he did to Slobodan Milošević

MF Grimm (from the song “Voices, Pt. 1, Featuring MF DOOM,” from “The Downfall of Ibliys: A Ghetto Opera,” Day by Day Entertainment, 2002 )
MF DOOM performing at Hultsfred Festival, 2011.
Photo of MF DOOM, taken at Hultsfredsfestivalen 2011, by Possan (Wikimedia Commons, used by permission – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=46405939)

DOOM’s career was composed of two impressive and far-reaching acts.

Act I (1988), there is no MF DOOM, only Zev Love X, his first pseudonym. As Zev Love X, he was co-founder of rap group KMD (Kausing Much Damage) with his brother, DJ Subroc. In 1991, they released their first album, “Mr. Hood” (Elektra Records, 1991). KMD was experimental and political. Zev Love X and fellow KMD member Onyx spoke before the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration supporting a voter registration bill. In 1993, shortly before the release of KMD’s sophomore album, “Black Bastards,” DJ Subroc was hit by a car and killed while attempting to cross the 878 Nassau Expressway. Later that week, “Black Bastards” was shelved and KMD was dropped by their label, Elektra.

Act II (1999), after being dealt a fatal blow to his music career by loss, over the next five years, Zev Love X was reborn as MF DOOM, marked by the release of his debut studio album “Operation: Doomsday” (Fondle ’Em Records, 1999). Borrowing from the Marvel Comics supervillain Doctor Doom (it’s also interesting to note “doom” is in his given name, Daniel Dumile, his surname pronounced doom-ee-lay), Dumile blended an alluring comic-book mythos with reality. DOOM was a self-styled comic-book character brought to life, one you could almost touch. The way he manipulated samples, especially superhero cartoon dialogue and music, and programmed drums with a neck-breaking bounce, provided the ultimate soundtrack to his supervillain rebirth.

So I give ’em something to remember like the Alamo
Tally-ho! A high Joker like a Spades game
Came back from five years laying and stayed the same

MF DOOM (from the song “Rhymes Like Dimes,” on “Operation: Doomsday,” Fondle ’Em Records, 1999)

An unusual element of excitement and fun is present in DOOM’s work when he partnered with other artists, which he frequently did. He’s released twelve collaborative projects in total, and left a few more unfinished. When collaborating with another artist, he took his name and their name and combined them, forming a new group of sorts, furthering DOOM’s appetite for aliases. For his seminal album “Madvillainy (Stones Throw Records, 2004) with rapper and producer Madlib, they became Madvillain (Madlib + Super Villain). With Danger Mouse came DANGERDOOM, with Jneiro Jarel came JJ DOOM, with Westside Gunn came WESTSIDEDOOM, and with Ghostface Killah came DOOMSTARKS (MF DOOM + one of Ghostface Killah’s aliases, Tony Starks).

Each DOOM release is a single puzzle piece from his collective artistic identity. After overcoming the traumatic setbacks of losing his brother and musical partner, and being let go by his major label, DOOM came back for revenge, transforming into a nonconforming artist who created music on his own terms, choosing the independent route to gain the creative control he needed. After DOOM’s passing, rapper Busta Rhymes wrote this about him: “This man has meant something to our culture that no other MC has because he figured out something that none of us [had] before him, and that was to be completely free.”

True freedom of expression is hip-hop culture, and DOOM was the embodiment of that freedom. It was DOOM’s creative freedom that garnered him his cult following and status as the quintessential underground rapper. Aside from the charisma and authority of his vocal delivery, he allows his personal (i.e., Daniel Dumile, not MF DOOM) and relatable emotional connection to come through all of his work. This frequently manifests in him writing about his brother’s death. In the song “Doomsday,” he raps in the chorus, “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?”

In his own DOOM way, he was also a tortured artist. Much of his passion for music came from the bond he had with his late brother, DJ Subroc, and after his passing, it was that same bond that drove him to continue creating. In addition to his brother, DOOM’s son, King Malachi Ezekiel Dumile, passed away at the age of fourteen, in 2017. This additional trauma slowed down DOOM’s output considerably.

Catch a throatful from the fire vocal
Ash and molten glass like Eyjafjallajökull

JJ DOOM (from the song “Guv’Nor,” on “Key to the Kuffs,” Lex Records, 2012. Note: DOOM rhymed the name of a seven-syllable Icelandic volcano. Damn!)
Photo of Nike Dunk SB High MF DOOM Shoes, by TanSenpai from Philadelphia (Wikimedia Commons, used by permission, United States, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

DOOM’s cult following is all-inclusive. From Tyler, the Creator, to Drake, to me, he inspired an entire generation of hip-hop fans and artists to be a part of the hip-hop culture. There’s a great video of Tyler, the Creator, and Earl Sweatshirt meeting DOOM backstage at a festival in Europe. They’re absolutely beside themselves meeting one of their biggest idols, who also pays them his respects. They’ll cherish that moment with DOOM forever.

Other rappers have employed key DOOM instrumentals, like Joey Bada$$ on his debut mixtape, “1999” (Cinematic Music Group, 2012). DOOM was one of a few major producers who inspired me to start making beats after I discovered his “Special Herbs multi-disc instrumental albums. DOOM is the great teacher during any artist’s or fan’s formative years in hip-hop, opening up a world that’s something other than the mainstream — although one could argue DOOM transcended both the mainstream as well as the underground — existing solely on his own plane.

A great quality about DOOM is you’re never too late to get into his music. DOOM having now made his own transition into the unknown is like… when Darth Vader strikes down Obi-Wan Kenobi, “If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” DOOM is now truly omnipotent. The mysterious and enigmatic rapper’s death was announced December 31, 2020, having passed away two months prior on October 31, our traditionally masked day of Halloween. A fitting addition to the growing legend of the timeless MF DOOM.

What the Devil? He’s on another level
It’s a word! No, a name! MF – the supervillain!

MF DOOM (from the song “Doomsday,” on “Operation: Doomsday,” Fondle ’Em Records, 1999)

Kevin Keogh

Seattle-based music producer, DJ, and writer
kevinkeogh187@gmail.com
@kvnkeo

photo credits
(where not otherwise credited)

“Ghost mixtape” / by David Soluna on Unsplash
“London night” (footer) / photo & design done on Canva

Night scene on the streets of London, England.