MF DOOM: Hip-Hop’s Hero Masked As The Villain

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There have been a lot of hip-hop tragedies lately, but there’s nothing that has personally hit me harder than MF DOOM. The man behind the mysterious mask was Daniel Dumile, and when the news broke in December that the rapper had passed away two months prior, the whole community was in shock and mourned together.

You never knew what you were going to get with MF DOOM. Notorious for hiring stand-in performers for his live shows, the rapper was known as a trickster. And the bamboozlement seems to even continue after death. For years, we celebrated Metal Face’s birthday on January 9th. It was only this year where we all learned his real birthday was July 13th. Friends and collaborators poked fun at outsiders for thinking we knew anything about the artist, but things like these come as no surprise to fans who have gotten accustomed to the enigma that is MF DOOM.

But for those who have followed his career, it’s become clear that we have to distinguish the difference between the character and the human. Although famously known as the supervillain, MF DOOM’s impact on the world is much more good than bad.

The rapper cultivated a scene where being yourself was cool. His collaborative work with a wide variety of artists continued to advance the culture. And his music was so relatable, it inspired today’s generation of hip-hop music.

DOOMED? A Career Clouded By Calamity

With the good comes the bad, and it’s no secret that DOOM experienced his share of adversities. The rapper’s career started in 1988, when he joined rap group Kausing Much Damage (KMD) under the alias Zev Love X. He would go on to perform in the collective alongside his brother, DJ Subroc for 5 years. 

On April 23, 1993, KMD and Dumile’s career trajectory tragically changed forever. DJ Subroc was hit by a car while crossing the Long Island Expressway, and passed away. In a June 1994 article from The Source, Dumile opens up about how his brother’s death affected him. Initially, he came off as unbothered, saying, “N***** be passing away so much. The shit is crazy now. To tell you the truth, you just don’t give a fuck no more. I mean you give a fuck, you care about what goes on… but to a point where you now know that shit is real.” Later on; however, he adds that in a way, he carries the torch for Subroc. “What I’m doing now, creatively, is different. It’s like him-and-me-combined-as one type shit.”

After Subroc’s untimely death, KMD split and is dropped from Elektra Records. The rapper ends up taking a long break from hip-hop, and never really revealed much about the sabbatical. A 2005 profile with The Wire offers that he spent that time raising his son and splitting his time between Atlanta and New York. He tells the magazine, “At that time, I was damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches and shit.”

Daniel Dumile reemerges in the scene in 1997, taking those years of hurt and misfortune, and creates the supervillain character we all know as MF DOOM. Ironically, the rapper gains notoriety for defining his signature sound through his quirky cartoon sampling, witty puns, and vulnerable streams of consciousness.

Arguably, MF DOOM would have never been born if it weren’t for Dumile carrying his brother’s legacy. With his new name and new persona, the rapper continuously uses his Metal Fingers (another one of his many nicknames) to write bars dedicated to Subroc. He mentions his sibling throughout his first studio album, Operation: Doomsday, and later even tributes the song “Kon Karne” to his brother, in his fifth studio album, MM..FOOD.

MF DOOM’s Impact On Music

The imprint MF DOOM made on music is indisputable. You can hear the influence of his sound in some of today’s biggest rappers like Freddie Gibbs, Earl Sweatshirt, and Tyler, The Creator. Even Radiohead’s Thom Yorke named the villain as his favorite rapper, telling DAZED, “The way he freeforms his verses and puts it all together, I don’t think anyone else quite does it like that.”

DOOM pushed the culture and emphasized the word community in hip-hop community. Some of his greatest bodies of work were collaborations, and you can find his name alongside other underground legends like De La Soul, Madlib, and Czarface. The late legend also uplifted the younger generation of rappers, partnering up with then-17-year-old Bishop Nehru to create duo NehruvianDOOM.

Although he’s gone now, his work with others lives on. Posthumously, MF DOOM verses are still appearing. The anonymous artist was recently featured on The Avalanches’ Since I Left You deluxe album, IDK’s USEE4YOURSELF, and a collaborative album with Czarface called Super What? was released back in May.

Making Nerdy Cool

Dumile’s influence spanned far past music, too. With a name taken from Marvel supervillain Doctor Doom, the rapper’s affinity for cartoons has never been hidden. His branding was cultivated upon being a comic book villain, and his music was jam-packed with the samples to prove it.

DOOM proudly repped the nerd label, and would refer to himself as such throughout his career. As DANGERDOOM, you can hear him say, “Brush your teeth, rinse and gargle/ A true nerd who messed with new words since Boggle” on the track “Mice Meat.” In “More Rhymin’,” he spits, “Get the message by bird mail or turds flail/ Villain man, best nerd male you heard wail.” 

“The rest is empty with no brain but the clever nerd.
The best emcee with no chain ya ever heard”
-MF DOOM, “Figaro”

In full circle, DOOM’s tunes were constantly played on Cartoon Network series like The Boondocks. His collaborative album with Danger Mouse, The Mouse and The Mask, featured the casts of the network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Sealab 2021. Cartoon Network even heavily promoted the album prior to its release.

Regardless of if he wore a mask or not, it was clear MF DOOM wasn’t afraid to show people who he truly was.

The Hero In Disguise

MF DOOM will always be known as the supervillain, and nothing will ever change that. But his work presented the dichotomy of the character and his character. Through his poetry, he taught us loyalty to his friends and family, wit through his clever bars, and humility by successfully staying pretty anonymous through his career.

In the entertainment industry, it’s hard for your career not to be overtaken by the downsides of fame and fortune, but MF DOOM was able to remain true to himself and stay quite far removed from the trap of fame. 

Even so, the masked musician left an impression that’ll be felt in music forever. His legacy was built off of innovation and community. And while the rapper might not have topped all of the charts, every artist knows his name. If there’s one person who can claim to be “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper”—it’s for sure MF DOOM.