The Evolution of MF Doom
We trace the career of the most inimitable figure in hip-hop.
Photo via RESPECT
MF DOOM is the most inimitable figure in hip-hop. As prolific as he is elusive, the London-born and New York-bred Daniel Dumile owned artist anonymity long before SBTRKT donned his feathers and Daft Punk were still wearing bags on their heads. From behind the privacy of a metal mask, DOOM has painstakingly crafted a world of his own that's invited a cult following of fans like no other rap artist. It's a world drenched in sci-fi and comic book references, built through multiple personas, inseparable visuals and, of course, laboriously constructed bodies of music. Whether it be a concept album or left-field collaborations DOOM's world is one of a kind.
Now with a new premiere on the horizon we look at the milestones in the many chapters of DOOM.
KMD AND Zev Love X
Growing up in Long Island, Dumile split his time between music and immersing himself in comic books and video games. Aided by his brother DJ Subroc, music gradually took centre stage, with rapping and production becoming more than just a hobby. By 1988 they had formed Kausing Much Damage, otherwise known as KMD.
Picked up by A&R Dante Ross following a guest spot on 3rd Bass' "The Gas Face," KMD released their debut album Mr. Hood in 1991. At that time, with all members identifying themselves as members of the Ansaar Allah community, the LP had a heavy focus on Black American issues, managing to address religion and racism but offsetting the subject matter with samples from Sesame Street. Though it was with lighter tracks like "Peachfuzz" that they gained moderate success.
However, in 1993 they made a stark departure from their upbeat debut with Black Bastards, a project that was swiftly shelved, Elektra Records deeming the title and cover image too controversial. The group were dropped from the label shortly after. Black Bastards, after furious bootlegging of the LP gave KMD cult status, did eventually make it to release years later in 2000, but Dumile as his alter ego Zev Love X dropped off the music radar completely.
THE FIRST EMERGENCE OF METAL FACE AND OPERATION DOOMSDAY
Photo via GrandGood
During the tail end of 1997 Dumile re-emerged performing at open mic nights in New York, like Nuyorican Poets Café, using a range of disguises. But it was an old metal prop mask that became synonymous with his first full length release, Operation: Doomsday, under the moniker MF DOOM, released via indie label Fondle 'Em Records in 1999. Gone was the melodic and upbeat afrocentrics of Zev Love X, in was the Dr. Doom Marvel comic inspired alias and a vigilant quest for anonymity, said to be spurred on by a distaste for the music industry post-KMD.
Explaining the emergence of this alter-ego to Wire, DOOM said:
"The MF DOOM character is really a combination of all villains throughout time. The classic villain with the mask—Phantom of the Opera-style. Of course there's a little twist of Dr. Doom in there, even a little Destro from GI Joe. It's an icon of American culture. I kinda made it a mish-mash of all the villains together, and my last name is Dumile, so everyone used to call me "Doom" anyway. It's a parody of all the villains."
Close friend and graffiti writer, Blake Lethem, detailed how what had started simply as a way for Dumile to get his music out there minus the limelight, be it just covering his face with a bandana, evolved into creating an entirely new persona. Speaking to Frank 151, Lethem describes how he aided the creation of the MF DOOM character, starting with an old spray painted Darth Maul mask and finishing with the fully sculpted face plate that marked Dumile becoming Metal Face Doom.
VIKTOR VAUGHN, KING GEEDORAH AND MONSTA ISLAND CZARS
Having earned relative cult status with Operation Doomsday, DOOM kept his followers on their feet working prolifically under a handful of different pseudonyms. In 2003 he collaborated with a slew of producers, including RJD2, to release Vaudeville Villain under the alias Viktor Vaughn. The same year also marked the appearance of King Geedorah, a pseudonym he used to produce extensively for Monsta Island Czars' Escape From Monsta Island! LP, as well as putting out a full LP as Geedorah via Big Dada entitled Take Me to Your Leader. A semi-conceptual album, DOOM explained:
"Geedorah is a space monster. He's not from the Earth. I made it different on purpose. A blend of ill lyrics and instrumentals. To me its way iller than any of the wack shit out now... This whole album is Geedorah's alien perspective on humans."
MADVILLAINY AND THE MEETING OF MINDS
The meeting of producer Madlib with DOOM for Madvillainy proved to be one of the most accomplished albums in hip-hop history. Released in 2004 by Stones Throw, the much anticipated final product mutually exposed both to a wider rap audience, as well as being furiously lauded across the board by mainstream music publications.
In an interview with EgoTrip, Jeff Jank, revered art director behind Stones Throw and the man responsible for visual curation of the likes of J Dilla and Dudley Perkins, explained the importance of Madvillainy in bolstering DOOM's first real public appearance. Along with DOOM's reluctance to use Eric Coleman's photo as the cover, he revealed how soured moods after a track leak, liquor, weed and both Madlib and Doom's need for solitude were responsible for the slowed creation of Madvillainy. Jank also cited some pretty unusual inspiration for the now iconic final cover:
"Another thing—just sort of a little inside joke of mine—was that the black and white photo [of DOOM] reminded me in some way of the first Madonna album cover, just her in black and white—it said "MADONNA" and the "O" was orange. I saw the two pictures side by side and laughed at it like it was some rap version of Beauty & the Beast. So I put a little piece of orange up in the corner, partly because it needed something distinctive, and partly to match the colour with Madonna."
Upon its release, the overwhelming critical reception praised the confident use of short tracks as well as a return to the melodic for both Madlib and DOOM, with Madvillainy clocking in at a modest 45 minutes long. Later, speaking to HipHopDX, DOOM cited Madlib as one of his biggest inspirations, praising their working relationship:
Madlib's record collection is crazy and the nigga's beat ethic is nuts. Sometimes producers get technical and they get real like, "Go up in the snare and okay, wait, no, you need to go down." But this nigga? He's like "Get the record. Let me put the beat on. That's the loop. Let me get the drums." He just do that shit and the nigga be having hundreds and hundreds of beats like that.
MM...FOOD AND THE RETURN OF METAL FACE
The MF DOOM persona made a triumphant comeback, since its inception on Operation Doomsday, with the Rhymesayers released MM...Food in 2004 . It was another thematic adventure seeing DOOM tackle all things culinary and while it wasn't as well received by critics as Madvillainy, fans praised MM...Food for its lyrical richness and a more playful DOOM, as well as welcoming back his sorely missed production with stand out tracks like "Hoe Cakes" and "Rapp Snitch Knishes".
MM...Food? also saw a return to DOOM working closely with artist Jason Jägel. Alongside Frank 151, DOOM helped curate two illustrated lyrics animations, celebrating the very best of of his laboriously crafted visuals.
DANGERDOOM AND FLIRTING WITH THE MAINSTREAM
2005 saw DOOM collaborate with another cherry-picked talent in the form of producer Danger Mouse, under the alias Dangerdoom for LP The Mouse and the Mask, released via and licensed to Lex Records in the UK. The project became a meeting of commercial savvy with rap nerd pedanticism, as a smorgasbord of names were pulled in to guest, from the absurd, with Aqua Teen Hunger Force providing the smutty but satisfyingly stupid chorus for "Sofa King," to mainstream names like Cee-Lo providing a hook on "Benzie Box" and Talib Kweli gracing "Old School." It was, however, the long awaited collaboration between DOOM and fellow cryptic-lyricist Ghostface on "The Mask," that garnered the most attention.
JJ DOOM AND BEYOND
In 2009, following DOOM settling in the UK and the commercial success of The Mouse and the Mask, Brit label Lex Records released Born Like This under the shortened name DOOM. Though it was a much darker effort than Madvillain and Dangerdoom converts may have been accustomed to, having been laced with bleak references to Charles Bukowski and underpinned with themes of disillusionment and anti-establishment, it became the first of his solo albums to chart, debuting at number 52 in the US. Though one of his gloomier turns, Born Like This was intertwined with a series of DOOM firsts; including his first ever series of live performances outside of the US, musical dalliances with the likes of Thom Yorke and Gorillaz and another EP in the form of Gazzillion Ear . Fast forward to the present day and it's yet another collaborative project announced last year with Lex cohort Jneiro Jarel as JJ DOOM, that's got DOOM die-hards falling in love with him all over again.
The next chapter of DOOM has seen him out the gloriously dark "Owl" with The Child Of Lov as well as hooking up with New Jersey producer Clams Casino on "Bookfiend," the reworking to the as yet unreleased track "Bookhead." Where can you get the first listen of "Bookhead"? Well, we'll be dropping the video for it, directed by legendary street artist Steve "ESPO" Powers exclusively on You Need To Hear This. So stay tuned to Noisey.
You can watch the behind the scenes of "Bookhead" right HERE
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