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MF DOOM: July 13, 1971 – October 31st 2020
Amidst this year’s (admittedly more restrained) New Year’s celebrations, the heavy news was announced that music’s most beloved supervillain MF DOOM had passed away 2 months earlier on the 31st of October in a statement put out by his family. DOOM, whose real name was Daniel Dumile, had endeared himself to hip-hop fans, and indeed many music fans in general, through the winning mix of his villainous stage persona, jazzy production, complex rhymes, and samples of old superhero cartoons.
Following a brief stint in rap group KMD in the late 80s and early 90s and the death of his brother, Dumile reappeared in the late 90s with a new persona: MF DOOM, a supervillain modelled off the classic Marvel antagonist Doctor Doom. This led to the album Doomsday in 1999, which emerged full of character and giving listeners their first taste of DOOM’s style.
The DOOM persona was a stroke of brilliance, and gave a distinctive character to his music, allowing it to embrace the superhero genre in similar ways that the Wu-Tang Clan fused rap with martial arts films. There is a simple pleasure to be had from hearing verses boast of villainous plans for world domination and takedowns of inferior rappers, in between extensive samples from old Fantastic Four cartoons. His mask, inspired by those worn in the film Gladiator, became an iconic symbol, and he was seldom seen without it, giving a sense of enigma to Dumile as an artist.
DOOM had perhaps his most active and prolific years in the early 2000s, starting from the release in 2003 of the albums Take Me to Your Leader and Vaudeville Villain under the additional pseudonyms King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn respectively. The next year saw the release of his second solo album under the DOOM moniker, Mm Food, possibly rap’s first food-themed concept-album, on which he built upon the creative production and rhymes of his debut, this time finding as many creative ways as possible to tie it into the food theme. That same year saw the release of what many see as DOOM’s best work, Madvillain, his collaboration with prolific experimental hip-hop producer Madlib, whose jazzy beats and obscure samples were the perfect match for DOOM’s abstract verses. Subsequently, he released his third and last solo album under the DOOM name, Born Like This in 2009, and apart from this mainly focused on collaboration projects with other artists including Danger Mouse, Jneiro Janel, Bishop Nehru, and Czarface.
For an artist who never quite achieved massive mainstream popularity with his music, it was a pleasant surprise to see the range of artists paying tribute to him, including Tyler, The Creator, Thom Yorke, Playboi Carti, Gorillaz, Flying Lotus, and more. More noticeably, his song ‘Coffin Nails’ was selected to be part of Joe Biden’s inauguration playlist (which has an unfortunate tinge of irony given that DOOM was deported from his home in the US during Biden’s tenure as Vice-President).
Perhaps it is a testament to DOOM’s artistry that, despite claiming to be a supervillain, he has ended up as one of underground hip-hop’s biggest heroes. While the loss of such a major figure at the young age of 49 is undeniably devastating, there is joy to be had in knowing that his strong body of work will maintain DOOM’s reign of terror for a long time to come. Just remember, ALL CAPS when you spell the man’s name.