Some staples of the world’s most powerful super villains are a cryptic identity, an ardent cult following and the power to influence the world around them. For rap’s own super villain of the past 21 years MF DOOM, all of those things held to be true in the biggest way.
Daniel Dumile was publicly announced dead by his family on Dec. 31 of last year after quietly passing away in late October. The world has known Dumile for most of his life as MF DOOM however, the moniker of Dumile’s rap persona influenced by the Fantastic 4 villain Dr. DOOM and characterized by the infamous mask that Dumile always donned in public.
In a musical world where so many big name figures reached their prestige through ostentatious behavior, DOOM had simply been a man behind a mask who was dedicated to every level of art.
“It wasn’t that he was reclusive from the world. He was just more about music than anything else and put everything else in the background,” said rapper and frequent DOOM collaborator Bishop Nehru to Vulture. “He’s a legendary musician, poet and artist, and had an impact on a lot of people without breaking himself, and I think that stands for even more.”
As an MC, DOOM really was a poet; dedicating his bars to a myriad of topics ranging from his brother’s death to his favorite foods and he would weave those themes into intricate rhyme schemes with non sequiturs that kept the audience intently listening. His production was incredibly groundbreaking in the way that he conflated jazz, soul and of all things, cartoons into beats so mesmerizing that it became one of the genre defining sound for the 21st century.
DOOM accompanied his music with perhaps one of the most eccentric artistic acts in rap history. He created other characters for himself to release music under like Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah who were also characters in the wider MF DOOM story arc that he told through his music. There were even live performances that he’d put on in which somebody else would go on stage wearing his signature mask as a “DOOM-bot,” pretending to be him — which may just be the most super villain-esque thing you can do in art.
DOOM was an artist in the sense that he could continue to create unique work while never getting outside of himself. The character of MF DOOM was an enigmatic, crazed scientist who would stew in his lab until he created something incredible enough to change the world and that’s because Dumille truly saw himself that way.
His art wasn’t a fraudulent act, but instead a metaphorical interpretation of how Dumille actually viewed himself and that concept emboldened many who followed him to similarly embrace their own idiosyncrasies as artistic advantages.
“I studied him a lot; how he would take a sample and will just throw more drums on there or just have this loop playing,” Miami based rapper MIGHTYHEALTHY told the Miami New Times. “Every beat of his felt like you were in a cartoon. He influenced me in so many ways, even down to the spelling of my name in all caps.”
Staying true to his super villain nature was why DOOM stayed in the underground for so long even after acquiring more mainstream notoriety in the 2010s. It’s why he only ever signed with independent labels despite financially outgrowing them and it’s why he continued to collaborate with the same artists who were by his side when he was more obscure even as his clout grew to the higher reaches of artist fame.
One of the first artists to work with DOOM outside of his tight circle of New York contemporaries was esteemed producer Madlib. In 2004, these two prolific minds in hip-hop came together to form the duo Madvillian and dropped a perennial classic in the album “Madvillainy.”
The psychedelic, almost surrealist beat selection from Madlib melded with DOOM’s hard hitting, witty lyrics created a project that inspired mainstream artists to think outside of their generic flow. Only underground hip hop artists at the time like DOOM were deviating away from the four bars and a hook structure that had become customary to mainstream hip hop in the early 2000s.
When Madvillainy came out including no hooks on any of its 22 tracks and received widespread acclaim for doing so, it previewed the potential for what rap could become.
“I never knew you could make an entire album without hooks and have it sound that good,” rapper Danny Brown said to Complex in a 2013 article. “[DOOM] broke the rules of songwriting. [Madvillainy] broke rules to me. I'm all about that. That album showed me that music has no rules.”
People have coined the phrase for DOOM as being “your rapper’s favorite rapper,” to indicate how influential his underground hip-hop sound has become to the mainstream rap game nowadays. Countless prominent artists have mirrored his rhyme patterns or used his beats for their own projects, never copying the super villain, but enhancing their own art with his influence instead.
From Childish Gambino shouting out DOOM’s “MM...FOOD” album on a bar in his 2011 song “Fire Fly,” to Joey Bada$$ incorporating DOOM beats on half of his debut mixtape “1999,” the rap game has long worn DOOM influences on its sleeve. DOOM’s “forbidden experiments” as he labeled them, have now become standards in the rap genre and for decades to come, artists will look back at his artistic form and study what made his substance so pure.
“I’m still trying to break down every individual, minuscule, atomic particle of his style, and understand it,” rapper Open Mike Eagle said to Vulture. “He made the best rap music ever. Period.”
Despite his multiple pseudonyms and reserved personality, the only thing that MF DOOM ever concealed his art behind was a mask because it represented the idea that anyone could be as crazed an evil genius as he was.