We love us some comic books here at AiPT. (Surprising, right?) We also love us some music.
So it was only a matter of time before we explored the career of an artist who incorporates plenty of comic book flavor into his music; an individual shrouded in an aura of mystery and secrecy; his music released under pseudonyms, all of which draw inspiration from various fictional comic book characters and similar entertainment properties. We’re talking Daniel Dumile, most commonly known under his pseudonym MF DOOM, an aloof individual who commonly shies away from the spotlight but is highly regarded in hip-hop circles as one of the genre’s elite MCs.
Even his most avid fans have little knowledge of the British-born American hip-hop underground sensation; he rarely removes the metal Dr. Doom-esque mask which serves to protect his identity from the public. Dumile’s interesting comic book antics could easily be blown off as a form of sensationalism — reminiscent of Mike Jones’ (WHO?) brief rap stint in the early 2000s. However, as Jones has fallen off the map completely after being banned from his hometown Houston, Dumile has remained, providing solid production for the last ten plus years. Dumile’s strange approach to music can thus be seen more as a musical form of method acting. In order to continue his flow of inspiration, Dumile is seemingly constantly in character like some rap game Daniel Day-Lewis. He also features one of the most unique flows of all time, as evidenced by this Rapper’s Flow Encyclopedia entry on Genius.
Dumile’s upbringing is about as complicated as his public persona; he was born to a Trinidadian mother and Zimbabwean father in Britain, and moved to Long Island when he was just a young child.
Dumile’s mixed upbringing may be a clue into why he continues to switch his style and his characters up so frequently. When he was seventeen, Dumile joined his brother DJ Subroc and friend MC Rodan to form the hip-hop group KMD. While with KMD, Dumile went by the moniker “Zev Love X”.
Parody of the classic Fantastic Four #1 cover from 1961.
Established underground hip-hop group 3rd Bass recognized KMD’s talent and signed them to their label. The group released one album together, entitled Mr Hood, which Dumile produced in a similar fashion as his future tapes. Dumile sampled language learning tapes throughout the album, in order to develop a narrative revolving around the mysterious antagonist “Mr Hood”. Additionally, the group saw some mainstream recognition after being featured on 3rd Bass’ The Cactus Album.
Sadly, just as the group was beginning to gain some traction in the underground hip-hop scene, DJ Subroc was struck and killed by a car on the Nassu Expressway. The group released their second album Black Bastards following Subroc’s death and the remaining members subsequently parted ways.
Following Subroc’s death, MF DOOM was absolutely devastated. Friends and family claimed he seemed to have little motivation in life after his brother was gone and claimed that he was “damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches” as a result.
In 1998, Dumile chose to leave New York, eventually settling down in Atlanta, where he claimed to swear revenge against the “industry that so badly deformed him”. Sometime in that time period, Dumile returned to Manhattan and began freestyling at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, all the while refusing to show his face — instead wearing a woman’s stocking over his head. In this time, Dumile developed his first pseudonym, MF DOOM, based on the Fantastic Four’s archenemy, Doctor Doom, known for the metal mask which always covers his face.
Somewhere along the way, Dumile managed to find a mask of his own, a replica of the mask from the movie Gladiator. From that point on, Dumile refused to go out in public without said mask covering his face. In 1999, Dumile finally released his first solo work: Operation Doomsday, which can be seen as Dumile’s musical version of his creation story.
As with a majority of his albums, the first words are spoken not by DOOM himself, but by an unknown individual in a television sample. Old school television/comic book music is sampled, a strange robotic voice drones, and dialogue involving “Doom” sets the story up from the beginning while DOOM continues fueling the narrative by providing various samples from ’60s era Fantastic Four shows. Thus, the beauty of this album is not necessarily just the lyricism, but the impressive production as well. The storyline that DOOM develops throughout makes the album a synesthetic experience; while listening, one can liken the experience to a 1960’s comic book cartoon come to life.
Despite his character’s nefarious nature, Dumile’s true personality somehow still shines through in the album: he’s a total nerd. Dumile’s voice is slurred and somewhat guttural, and his flow seems to sputter at times. Occasionally, his words blend together in an awkward way, as if he’s rushing to try to rhyme a bit faster than he can.
But Dumile’s strange voice is not necessarily a bad thing — it’s what makes him unique. In addition, Dumile is an incredible producer. He blends samples from jazz songs with those from older, stretched out television themes perfectly. His production is exceptional at setting a specific mood, and his voice often works well in matching it. Operation Doomsday is a bit rough around the edges, which is to be expected from a debut album, but it is a perfect representation of what makes him a unique performer and what makes his music entertaining. In “Hey”, Dumile somehow manages to take the most juxtaposed samples possible and blend them perfectly. A villainous blend of hi-hats and horns provides the background sample, while Scooby Doo’s trademark “Huuhh?” is repeated at key moments in the song. And in the end, he polishes it off by claiming “You could’ve got away with it if it was not for them meddling kids!”
Very bizarre, but it somehow manages to work perfectly. That’s the beauty of MF DOOM.
Noise reduced MF thinks in Dolby/ Chop that ass in half like Obi Wan Kenobi
Definition “super-villain”: a killer who love children/ One who is well-skilled in destruction, as well as building
In 2003, Dumile teamed up with MF Grimm among other New York rappers to form the “Mosta Island Czars,” a collective consisting of rappers whose names drew inspiration from the Godzilla film series. MIF released Escape From Monsta Island! in February. Dumile only performed on one song on the album, but was key in helping its production. In June, Dumile released Take Me to Your Leader under his MIF pseudonym, King Geedorah — based on King Ghidorah, a three headed dragon present in the Godzilla series.
Although his voice is the same, Gheedorah is a completely separate character from MF DOOM, and he makes it apparent from the start. The general theme remains the same; characters throughout the album’s narrative question who Gheedorah really is, while simultaneously quivering in fear.
Dumile also uses original Godzilla samples throughout, in order to introduce himself and build the story. Although Dumile raps on only a few tracks on Take Me to Your Leader, it marks a big leap in his development. The samples are smoother, yet even more unique and his flow (when he does make appearances) is less sputtery, but remains dripping with his trademark style. In “Next Levels”, a calming piano melody remains in the background during the verses and a saxophone infused beat seems to serve as somewhat as a chorus between the three rappers verses. And in “Fastlane”, a squealing electric guitar blares in the background, allowing listeners to envision a high speed drive on the highway.
Following his well acclaimed tape Take Me to Your Leader, Dumile decided to switch things up once again, by changing his performer name to Viktor Vaughn (who comic book fanatics should recognize as the alter ego of scientific genius/madman Doctor Doom, Victor von Doom). While performing under the pseudonym, Dumile released two albums, Vaudeville Villain and Venomous Villain. Venomous Villain is a solid album, but is overwhelmingly instrumental. The tape that shines out of the two is Vaudeville Villain.
The Viktor Vaughn tapes are much more grim, filled by the grimy beats and much more serious subject matter. “Lactose and Lecithin” epitomizes the albums; a mysterious scientist claims to know know the eponymous antagonist at the intro, and Vaughn discusses the violent matter in which he disposes of the scientist. In the background, grimy synthesizers, a slow melodic drum beat and strange alien saucer noises provide Vaughn with a beat in which he describes diabolical crime. “Raedawn” is yet another gritty tune which somehow manages to shine on an exceptional album. In “Raedawn”, Dumile raps over an experimental, screechy synthesized beat which contains intermittent whistle blows, and sounds like much like a malfunctioning radio transmission . The strange radio sounds make it seem as though Vaughn is not human, seeing as though he cannot be picked up by technology. “Raedawn”, which lies approximately halfway through the album, remains one of Dumile’s truly nefarious tracks – his story matches the beat perfectly and the combination invites listeners to embark upon a diabolical journey through the grimy, industrial city Vaughn has developed.
Although Dumile switched his style up once again on his Viktor Vaughn tapes, but still remained true to his style – developing a unique story revolving around Vaughn. It is worth noting that both tapes were not produced solely by Dumile for the first time, which may explain the departure from his normal sound.
Return of MF DOOM
During his stint as Viktor Vaughn, Dumile decided it was time to return to his roots, and once again developed music as MF DOOM. Beginning in 2004, Dumile had the most successful stretch of his musical career. Although Venmous Villain was considered somewhat of a flop, that’s partially because he produced one of his best records (if not best) to date just prior to its release: Madvillainy.
Madvillainy starts in a similar fashion as his normal albums, but this time more grandiose and much more introspective. On the opening track, a narrator claims:
As luck would have it, one of America’s two most powerful villains of the next decade is turned loose to strike terror into the hearts of men…
Madvillain, more accurately, the dark side of our beings.
Perhaps it is due to this seminal connection that audiences can relate their experience in life with the villains and their dastardly doings.”
The best description I’ve heard of Madvillainy is that the instrumental version seems lacking without MF DOOM’s voice and that MF DOOM’s lyrics wouldn’t be quite the same without Madlib’s production. Madvillainy is a seemingly perfect album; Madlib’s jazzy production matches DOOM’s dastardly personality in perfect fashion. Overall, there is nothing really lacking in Madvillainy, so there’s nothing much to say other than to listen to it if you haven’t already – it’s a hip-hop essential.
MM..Food marks a critical change in the career of MF DOOM. Instead of his usual theme of villainy, MF DOOM takes a departure from his supervillain alter ego to discuss exactly what the title suggests: food. From this album onward, MF DOOM maintains a more affable character, rather than an unapproachable villain, which is a nice change of pace. This album is one of the best examples of MF DOOM’s unique and entertaining production. Even the album art is more lighthearted and features MF DOOM eating cereal and pouring what appears to be malt liquor into the bowl.
MM..Food is frustrating in that it doesn’t provide much hip-hop material, but instead provides some of DOOM’s most interesting instrumentals. A stretch of 4 songs and approximately 6 minutes of the album follows the cooking advice of a mysterious stranger, all of which is entertaining the first listen, but all of this occurs over beats you wish DOOM was instead rapping over. In the midst of a more instrumental album, DOOM provides us with some exceptional songs, such as “Potholderz” (which has possibly the coolest DOOM beat out there), and “One Beer”, in which DOOM gives us a minimalistic soul driven beat in which he verbally “drinks rappers under the table”.
Check out this video of Mos Def reciting some of his favorite MF DOOM rhymes from this album. The first rap he’s talking about in this album, Rapp Snitch Knishes:
The Mouse and the Mask
The following year, MF DOOM He collaborated with producer Danger Mouse and Cartoon Network’s late night television program Adult Swim to produce a more lighthearted and joking album, The Mouse and The Mask, under the pseudonym DANGERDOOM. All throughout, Adult Swim characters provide entertaining quips and skits, and the characters themselves even provide listeners with a verse or two.
The Adult Swim influence is one of the greatest strengths of the album, but is also one of its biggest weaknesses as well. The presence of cartoon voices seem to disrupt the flow of the album, and get a little obnoxious past the first listen. That being said, the best songs on the albums are outstanding, and include features from mainstream artists such as Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killah, and Ce-Lo Green. One of the best songs on the album “Sofa King” is based on one of the most immature jokes possible, which was included in an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force. The characters are forced to repeat “I am Sofa King, we Todd Ed” (say it out loud and you’ll figure it out).
This song is an accurate representation of the humor used throughout, for better or for worse. But somehow, DOOM manages to pull this off as well. In The Mouse and the Mask, DOOM found a producer that once again complimented his voice perfectly – the only problem is he doesn’t rap as much as the audience asks of him.
Recently, MF DOOM seems to be hitting a hitch hip-hop wise. His last solo release *Born Like This* was pretty underwhelming. Since then, DOOM has served primarily as of a producer and mentor for younger, up-and-comers. Two of his most recent releases are *Key to the Kuffs*, a collaboration with Jnerio Jarel as JJ DOOM, and *NehruvianDOOM* with Bishop Nehru.
*Key to the Kuffs* follows DOOM’s return to his homeland of England and is an interesting new take on DOOM’s past, but his rapping on the album seems to have regressed. Perhaps this is due to his attempt to take on a more British persona, but either way it doesn’t work as well as he intended. 14’s *NehruvianDOOM* was an utter disappointment to loyal DOOM fans. Bishop Nehru is a lyrically skilled artist, but he’s pretty bland at times, especially on this album. To DOOM fans, *NehruvianDOOM* consisted of great beats that should’ve been reserved for a more interesting artist.
Recently, DOOM has come under considerable amounts of criticism for sending masked imposters to perform in his place. DOOM claims his recent weight loss may be the reason these rumors exist but regardless, it drove a wedge between DOOM and his loyal fans. It’s hard to tell if these rumors are true, because not many know what Dumile himself actually looks like. The long string of disappointing albums paired with his imposters forces fans to question his *true* identity outside of rap. Does DOOM care about his fans? Has he stopped caring about his music now that he’s gained mainstream attention? Or has he grown weary of the media attention he’s received and chosen instead to return to the solitude that he’s accustomed to? This mystery makes DOOM seem even more mysterious and villainous, and could be a more strict measure of his method acting. Regardless of the truth, this recent scandal is just a continuation of DOOM’s string of disappointments in the past couple of years.
DOOM plans on collaborating with Ghostface sometime in the future, but the album has unfortunately been postponed several times. If this collab ever comes out, I hope it springs DOOM back to his usual form.