Remembering MF DOOM – The Passing of a Beloved Supervillain

MF DOOM
Photo Credit: Getty Images/Cover Art

Daniel Dumile AKA MF DOOM passed away October 31 of 2020. His wife announced his passing on December 31 without stating a cause of death. I think is how Daniel would have wanted it. Never has the death of a supervillain been met with such an outpouring of sadness. He was a supremely talented artist with one of the most unique and mesmerising flows. Rappers around the world would often comment on how they were jealous of his flow and creativity when delivering punchlines.

But he didn’t seem all that interested in fame and accolades, instead, preferring to let his music speak for itself. So much so, that he was known to send imposters to his shows, including most famously comedian Hannibal Buress. Stating that I’m the director,”. “Whoever plays the character, plays the character…” It’s hard to know whether he was attempting some of the greatest performance art of our time, or just doing what supervillains do. Maybe it was both?

Like all supervillains, DOOM’s story begins with good intentions.

Origins

Daniel Dumile was born in London. A coincidence, he says as his mother was visiting relatives at the time of his birth. He moved to New York not long after.

Before he was DOOM he went by the name Zev Love X. He was 1/3 of the group K.M.D which he formed with his brother DJ Subroc (Dingilizwe Dumil) and another MC named Roden. Onyx the Birthstone Kid would replace Roden and the group would make their recording debut on 3rd Bass’ Cactus Album.

Zev as he was known then featured on 3rd Bass’ song “Gas Face”. Two things are incredible about this song. Firstly, You can hear the beginnings of DOOM’s flow in lines like:

“Is I’m talking coffee or cocoa, is you loco?
Cash or credit for unleaded at Sunoco”

Secondly, in the film clip, you can see his face! Like his whole face with nothing obscured.

Shortly after featuring on “Gas Face” K.M.D signed a deal with Elektra Records and released their first album, Mr Hood, in 1991. The album was the genesis of what would become MF DOOM. Its subject matter was heavy, focusing on racism and black empowerment. However, the delivery was comical in tone. The heavy subject matter was juxtaposed with samples from children’s TV shows like sesame street. Even featuring skits in which Bert (of Bert and Ernie fame) interacts with “Mr Hood”.

Mr Hood reached number 67 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Chart. And, featured two singles that hit the top 20 on the Billboard Hot Rap Chart. Not a bad start for three kids in New York.

K.M.D got to work on their follow-up album Black Bastards, in 1993. Onyx left the group sometime during recording the album. Before the album was completed DJ Subroc was killed while trying to cross the Long Island Expressway.

Zev finished the album on his own and advanced copies were sent out in 1994. But, in early 1994 Elektra Records decided to shelve the album and drop K.M.D from the label. It’s believed that the cover art, (as seen below), was too controversial.

The cover depicts a Sambo-like character being lynched. Yes, it’s a bit confronting, but would I be right in saying that most meaningful art is? It’s a shame, but maybe if this album does get released we never get MF DOOM?

Dumile was given the masters to the record and $20,000 as a parting gift from Elektra. Then, he disappeared into the Hip-Hop abyss.

Exile

Dumile spent the next 5 years in exile. Living “damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhatten, sleeping on benches”. At some point in the late 90s, he settled for a time in Atlanta, Georgia. Dumile has said that during this time he was recovering from his wounds and swearing revenge against the industry that deformed him.

Then, a tights laden figure began to appear. Spitting freestyles at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York’s open mic nights. 3 singles appeared, released by Bobbito Garcia’s Fondle Them Records label.

It took people a while to realise that the singles “Dead Bent”, “Greenbacks”, and “The M.I.C.” were released by Daniel Dumile (A.K.A Zev Love X). Only, he wasn’t Daniel Dumile anymore. When he released Operation: Doomsday he had reemerged from the Hip-Hop abyss as the supervillain MF DOOM.

Supervillainy

MF DOOM’s flow was far removed from Zev Love X, It was muddy, loose and rapid. DOOM could take you in one direction only to switch it up before the punchline. He could make entire bars rhyme and contain a rhyme pattern within a rhyme pattern.

Like many supervillains, he would take on other personas, alter egos and characters.

DOOM followed-up Operation: Doomsday by taking on the persona King Geedorah. Under this alter ego he released Take Me to Your Leader. As close to a concept album as we’ve seen in Hip-Hop. The album created a new world for DOOM and ironically the album only featured two songs in which King Geedorah would provide rhymes. Preferring to let his production talk and relying on a tonne of collaborators to make one of the more unique albums in Hip-Hop history.

DOOM would then take on the Viktor Vaughn alter ego. And release two albums under this persona. Victor Vaughn was a time-travelling street hustler. The first album Vaudeville Villain in 2003 introduced that character and was lauded for its lyricism.

DOOM’s most successful album Madvillainy was released in 2004. A collaboration between DOOM and Madlib. Madvillainy was a commercial and critical success. It’s widely considered the crowning achievement for Daniel Dumile.

Instead of riding the wave and cashing in on the success of Madvillainy. DOOM decided to release a second album under the Viktor Vaughn. He retreated further underground when most rappers would have cashed in. At this point in his career, it seemed that DOOM was trying to do everything he could to remain an enigma, to take down the industry from the outside and do things well outside the norm. Even releasing an album mmm..Food which is legitimately an ode to one of my favourite things… Food.

He would only release one more solo album. 2009’s Born Like This. The rest of his catalogue is filled with collaborative albums with other underground artists. The last in 2018 with Czarface.

Sometime during 2010 upon trying to return to the United States from a European tour. He was denied re-entry. Unbeknownst to him, he had never been naturalised. So, in true DOOM fashion, he decided to settle back in London, rather than go through the lengthy process to gain permanent re-entry into the USA. He resided in London until his death.

As if DOOM hadn’t lived through enough tragedy in his life in 2017 his son King Malachi Ezekiel Dumile passed away.

Legacy

Like I said earlier. DOOM was known to take on different personas. He took this idea so far, that he would often send stand-ins to play the character. He stated that “You’re paying for the experience of dealing with a supervillain”. And therein lies his genius.

He positioned himself as an enemy to the industry. The industry that deformed him. His mask enabled him to become whoever he wanted and allowed others to do the same. We all wear masks in our lives, rappers are no different. Do you really think the rappers you see on Instagram are showing their true selves? DOOM was freed by the mask and was able to unapologetically true to himself. And that is what resonated with fans. That is the reason he became a “beloved supervillain”.

And if that’s not enough to convince you just take a look at some of the tributes from your favourite artists on Twitter.

 

 

 

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