Every music genre is advanced, and thus, sustained by its most essential, singular and independent figures. The capacity to innovate, born of the instinctive touch for and dedicated scholarship of essential art produces prodigious talent. Daniel Dumille, p.k.a. MF DOOM personifies this ordained talent and earned authority like few other artists across genres. A mystery, a supervillain, DOOM stands above all as the defining folkloric figure of underground and alternative hip-hop. Appearing seemingly from thin air to cut a verse or even an album, everything DOOM did intrigued. Calling the MC enigmatic is as incomplete as it is cliche; the ideal of MF DOOM is curiosity, the purpose of his great experiment is to harness the affect of legend. Taking a dive into any of DOOM’s Genius pages produces troves of rhymes overflowing with charisma, obscurity and oddity, qualities that make culture’s greatest heroes and villains.
From his critical darling, post-backpack progeny, purveyors of the avant-garde like Kanye West, Danny Brown and even Playboi Carti, the masses have become increasingly exposed to the artistic, theatrical, narativistic and aesthetic limits of rap music. Over the course of his deliberately covert career, MF DOOM would produce some of underground, jazz and experimental hip-hop’s seminal sounds, styles and records, including the landmark solo efforts Operation Doomsday (1999) and MM..FOOD (2004). His collaboration with the equally prodigious Madlib would produce one of the most impactful, talked about and cherished rap albums of all time; 2004’s Madvillainy. Across scores of pen names and producer collaborations, DOOM would work to define the dense, referential and cerebral style of rap that would shape a generation of alternative hip-hop artists. Dumile, rap’s masked phantom, envelope, pusher and elder statesman, made hip-hop aware of its boundless possibilities, his wisdom ringing truer than ever as rap cemented its long earned status as the soundtrack of an era. His shadow looms large, his mask larger still.
The following are selected stories of what the otherworldly figures Viktor Vaughn, America’s Most Blunted and the Metal Face Madman of Rap mean to the DXCEGAME Staff. We welcome your stories as well. While there is always time to mourn, the spirit of the culture that Daniel Dumile worked so hard to progress is celebration. Celebration of talent, celebration of performance, and above all, celebration of excellence and idiosyncrasy; the things that DOOM would become the best to ever do and the gold standard for doing so.
I was about eight years old when I discovered the Metal Faced Villain on our family desktop computer—I was mesmerized hearing “Hoe Cakes.” The glitzy piano and synth chords hammering over the raw beatboxing beat was unlike anything I had ever heard, and it introduced me to a mystical universe that only DOOM could navigate. I had no idea what the [redacted] he was saying, but I knew that I loved what I heard and I wanted to hear more. As I grew older, I dug deeper into MM..FOOD, and also Operation: Doomsday, and plus Special Herbs…really anything that DOOM graced I found to be fantastically vibrant and eerie still. I quickly understood that he was a talent that was far from ordinary and unabashedly existed in that extraterrestrial space to the fullest.
Metal Fingers had a production style that was incredibly stripped back but also precise and intentional. DOOM was always known to keep the best girls’ backs bent, but he was also known for laying dependable drums under a looped soul or rock song (or funk or video soundtrack or jazz or…) in a way that could make you say, “How the hell did he pick out that snippet?” while meticulously bobbing your head. He had a particular ability to take a simple, 90s-esque drumbeat and carry hip-hop’s timeless production aesthetics to uncharted territories with a uniquely eclectic array of samples, ranging from Isaac Hayes and Sade to the Doobie Brothers and the Fat Albert Halloween Special (to name a few). And after splicing in old cartoon dialogue and storytelling, DOOM could effectively construct a one-of-a-kind experience akin to flipping through channels that broadcast from different dimensions and realities.
As an MC, King Ghedorah reigned supreme over the rhetorical space between clever realism and goofy non sequiturs. He was able to string together lines with unexpected twists and turns that were aurally stunning (no one could spit a full four bars using one or two vowels quite like DOOM) and genuinely humorous (“Yuck, is they rhymers or strippin’ males?//Out of work jerks since they shut down Chippendales”). He was a rhythmic anomaly, delivering sharp and percussive rhymes (“It’s four sides to every story//If these walls could talk they’d probably still ignore me'”) mixed effortlessly with off-beat, poetic punchlines (“Spit so many verses sometimes my jaw twitches//One thing this party could use is more *cough* booze”). Even while performing these lyrical olympics, MF DOOM maintained his metaphysical essence by using the third person and by creating dialogue in his raps—some of my favorite Metal Face moments are his rapped conversations (“She said excuse me you be illin’ with the wordplay//He said thank you very much I’m billin’ til’ Thursday”).
Part of what attracted me to the music (and being) of MF DOOM was his fantastical essence as a rapper and artist. When I listened to MM..FOOD on repeat as a little kid, I was drawn in not only by his production and flow, but by the cover art. And as I discovered more and more of DOOM’s artistic personality, I understood him not as a pop culture figure or a celebrity, but as an abstract comic book antihero that explored realities that didn’t exist on our planet. He wasn’t a rapper who aged with time, following a career trajectory and cultural trends. Instead, he existed nonlinearly—a cartoon antagonist that I adored as much as a child as I do now, with a catalogue of art that will never be unremarkable. And, just as his music will never age, his essence as an omnipresent evil authority in hip-hop will never dissipate. This is why DOOM will live forever.
DOOM always emphasized the separation of his physical self from Metal Face. And so, although Daniel Dumile has passed, King Geedorah, Viktor Vaughn, Metal Fingers, and DOOM are all still here watching over us, presiding over hip-hop, and providing an everlasting example of how to be our own zany characters in whatever universe we can dream up.
I am, most of the time, a passive music listener. I have a tendency to use my anxiety as an excuse for many things, one of them being the active, focused consumption of media (“it’s just too much,” I’ll say). And so I give the artists whose content feels more–more cerebral, more grinding, more endlessly intoxicating–a little time before I engage. MF DOOM’s death taught me that this time is precious, and I’m spending too much of it in stasis. The Villain forced me to move.
How is language supposed to work? This was my first thought when I listened to Madvillainy. I struggled to distinguish between individual words; semantics mattered less than sound, meaning came not from singular definitions but from oceans of reference, history, entire movements encapsulated into a single verse. Daniel Dumile was a student of language in the nerdiest, most obsessive, wormhole-iest fashion: as he told Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2009, “I liked different etymologies, different slang that came out in different eras. Different languages. Different dialects.” It’s a rolling reel of pictures, collaged comic book strips, movies, TV shows, books and essays. It’s story in every form, (somewhat) distilled into music.
Talented storytellers understand that “story” is not just plot: the structure is equally important (if not more, although edicts on How a Story Ought to be Told quickly become meaningless; we simply have too many fucking arguments for every method). “Tripping off the beat kinda, dripping off the meat grinder//Heat niner, pimping, stripping soft sweet c-minor”: the rhyme bounces you between each word, immediately trapping you into the song. It’s like a lyrical onomatopoeia, but with sensation instead of sound: the rhythm “trips” you, tells you what “tripping” is, an experience that is inadequately explained by words but can only be shown through movement. A misstep, a fumble, a dance that’s locked in potential, it’s quick and light in the air yet heavy in the feet, the knees, or whatever the point of contact. It’s silly, but sometimes it happens and you’re certain that death has finally caught you. It feels like forever and it feels like nothing. It’s a moment of uncertainty. When will it stop? Who will catch you?
We might think a “supervillain” is one thing (examples are just so distinctive), but the nature of a supervillain can never quite be defined. “Villain” is for stories: it’s a literary type rooted in opposition, in negative space. Facing the villain is the “protagonist,” who is often defined positively as the “hero” of the story; however, this is a misunderstanding of the protagonist’s narrative role. A protagonist is simply the interiority we see the most, the one who we hear more from and thus are more prone to empathize with. The nature of a “supervillain,” in its paradox of a singularly immense magnitude // purely relational existence, challenges the very concept of a protagonist: who matters most in a story? The supervillain drives the plot; the supervillain is blown up to more extradimensional proportions; the supervillain tells us that our obsession with a singular main character is simplistic and often misguided: “nice boys who just happened to be on the wrong side of the law, three hundred and sixty degrees.” In an increasingly celebrity-focused culture (in music, pop art, media, politics…the list goes on), MF DOOM reminds us that celebrity is protagonist-obsession; celebrity might move us, but only ever by three hundred and sixty degrees.
I was late, very late, to this. Now, I barely understand it. As I was drawing the graphic for this article, I played MF DOOM’s discography on repeat and tried to encapsulate the music’s intense layering, the vibrancy, the range of colors. But there’s so much more, and that’s why I felt the need to write. I’ve been tripped by the Supervillain: stumbling through syntax and syllable, trying to grasp at the next word. Finally, I feel like I’m moving. I wish I had met you sooner, Villain; thank you.
I had never even heard of him until I got to college. I was sitting at dinner talking about rap and the name came up. The details were shaky, I didn’t understand much of what I heard—he always wore a mask, he hated performing, his shit was weird but it was good—but one thing that was made clear to me was that I had to listen to Madvillainy and decide for myself. The next day, I walked to class and let “The Illest Villains” start. I was filled with so much tension. Between the drums, the weird synths, the stitched-together comic book theme, I had no idea where the hell it was going. Then the album transitioned straight into “Accordion”, and I’ve been hooked on Metal Face ever since.
One of the joys of discovering MF DOOM has been the experience of discovering the community around him. Me and a friend were in the middle of the Black Forest when he played me “The Mic Sounds Nice” for the first time—and beyond that surprise was the pleasant joy of finding out someone else appreciated MF DOOM’s music and had been touched by it as much as I had.
DXCEGAME’s own Zac Veitch introduced me to MF DOOM as a producer. I had at that point listened to a lot of his work, but hadn’t known that he made beats. So, when he played a lush, intoxicating, acoustic instrumental and claimed MF DOOM made it, imagine my surprise. I was further shocked to learn that the beat was titled “Chrysanthemum Flowers”—many of DOOM’s beats get their name from plants, it’s no coincidence that they’re so dense, always feeling in bloom. That DOOM located his collection of instrumentals in the petals, blades, and scents of plants should come as no surprise for MF doom simply because it is a left turn; of course he moonlighted as a producer of eerie, disparate instrumentals and loops.
Daniel Dumile still resides in the vast catalogue of music he created, and the large community of fans that he left in his wake. His untimely passing feels so sad and shocking because it feels like an abrupt end to something we would have liked to see play out—like someone skipping a DOOM song that you really liked. However, his style and taste live on in the projects of musicians he inspired, as well as our own memories of being so captured by that very taste and style.
I bought Madvillainy on CD for a dollar at Half-Price Books when I was 14. I had never heard of MF DOOM, Madlib, or Stones Throw, but I thought the cover looked cool. When I got home and popped the CD out of it’s cracked plastic case and into my cheap Memorex mini boombox, I had a musical experience I had never encountered before; I was actively challenged. I rewound each track two, three, four times, picking out new lyrical double entendres with each repetition, discovering the subtlest of sounds buried deep in each beat. Like most 14 year olds in 2011, much of my music taste came from the radio and the occasional hand-me-down CD from a cool older cousin, and I could easily separate the music I consumed into what I liked and didn’t like without much thought. DOOM shattered that binary. DOOM forced me to ask myself why I liked what I liked. DOOM made me second-guess every sound I heard. The aggressive singularity of Madvillainy shattered the musical mirage I had been living under, and before I knew it I was ignoring the radio entirely and digging through YouTube to find MM…FOOD, Vaudeville Villain, Take Me To Your Leader, The Unseen, Yesterday’s New Quintet, Donuts, and anything else that gave me the same feeling of perplexed excitement that Madvillainy did. This obsession with abstraction grew past the Stones Throw camp, even past hip-hop, as I began to open my eyes to the vast and dense spectrum of the avant garde. All because of DOOM. Simply put, Daniel Dumile taught me how to listen to music. No matter how many words I write, I can never thank him enough.
Daniel Dumile leaves an entire universe in his wake. DOOM breathed color and life into a parallel universe of his own making, blessing us with the privilege to explore it alongside him. Hip-hop lost its Stan Lee, its Tolkien, its Bowie. It’s shocking how an artist who so often actively chose to remain on the margins, who vocally abstained from what came to be known as mainstream hip-hop culture, could so succinctly embody what hip-hop truly is. On his classic track “Doomsday,” DOOM provides an airtight two-bar definition of hip-hop; in just eighteen words he manages to capture all of hip-hop’s internal conflicts, idiosyncrasies, and ultimately, it’s complicated purpose: “Definition supervillain, a killer who loves children, one who is well skilled in destruction as well as building.” Hip-hop is violence as self-defense, a militia with an empathetic heart of gold, a killer who loves children. Hip-hop is not only about the building up of those whom society has broken down, but is a rallying cry for revenge towards said systems, it is the destruction of that which destroys, it requires one to be well skilled in destruction as well as building. Hip-hop is a villain towards those who sought to eradicate it, and a hero to the many it saved. DOOM was hip-hop incarnate. And while Daniel Dumile has passed on, the characters he created never will. DOOM, Viktor, JJ, and Geedorah still lurk in early-morning New York alleyways. Metal Fingers is still in that dilapidated room rummaging through dusty vinyl records. His voice still hangs eerily in the background of every hip-hop record that seeks to break convention and shift the paradigm. DOOM is eternal.
For each of us, there are moments of irrevocable change that occur on the journey through this thing called life. These epiphanies come spontaneously throughout our time on Earth, but without a doubt the most seismic shifts in the human experience come in adolescence, the earth-shattering tremors that reveal the world beyond the horizon. For many young people, the life-long development of self image first emerges from the brave new world of culture that you are thrust into. New freedoms and friends, technologies and terrors all lead our youthful souls to that which speaks most to them. More often than not, we find this through art, passion, and the essential desire to love and belong to something. As the world grows bigger and bigger, one finds oneself straying from the sanitized, industrialized and, at times, cynical versions of our favorite disciplines, opting for the road less surveyed and on to the murky, at times clandestine but always dope, world of the “alternative.”
I got my first computer when I was 13, a gift from my grandparents so I could grind out the cutthroat process of getting into one of Chicago Public Schools’ selective enrollment options. I wrote a few papers and made a few spreadsheets, but what I did most on that cherry red Dell was browse 2 Dope Boyz, Kanye To The, OK Player and every rap blog I could. I was a passive rap fan before I had any real level of internet access –my parents had a dial-up desktop that I exclusively used to play Runescape until at least Obama’s inauguration– and considered myself pretty in touch. In 2011, it was still rap dot genius dot com, and it was basically just forums, far from the multimedia music hub it has grown to be. After getting sucked into the distinct world of blog-era rap, my eyes were opened to what felt like a lost history of music. I got my first taste of the underground from those Rap Genius threads, user generated best-of-the-year lists landed the likes of Danny Brown’s XXX, Rocky’s Live.Love.A$AP, and Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, ULTRA on my iPod touch. From there I worked retroactively, getting hip to Shabazz Palaces, J. Dilla and a litany of underground icons through the musings of faceless digital names with lots of opinions. In one such board I found a discussion of the best rap projects of the 2000s, and one unfamiliar title kept coming up: Madvillainy.
DOOM and Madlib’s manifesto changed my life. It was the first time art ever made me feel cool, like I was part of a culture, something exclusive. A year later, I would bond with lifelong friends during freshman year listening sessions, getting unreasonably stoned from skinny blunts and trying as hard as possible to master that breathless, iambic heptameter flow that is etched deep in the memory of any DOOM fan. When my best friend Mike copped the “All Caps” tee-shirt from the Stones Throw website, it was the first time art ever made me feel jealous. “Fancy Clown” stayed on repeat with 808s & Heartbreak and Channel Orange after my first breakup. My adolescence was in many ways defined by MF DOOM and the world he introduced me to. I would not love hip-hop the way it deserves to be loved if not for him. When we speak on him to our children and theirs, just remember it’s all caps when you spell the man’s name.
To Daniel Dumile, the man who taught me what it means to be a rapper:
The first time I heard your music I was 16, washing dishes and delivering pies at the neighborhood pizza joint down the street from my childhood home in Kansas City, Missouri. It was a hot summer day, the kind where your shirt clung to your chest like a toddler holding their father’s leg. As Doomsday faded out across the grease-stained tile walls of the dish pit, I pleaded with my coworker to run the song back a second time. The beat was as smooth as black ice and though I didn’t catch much of what you were saying, what I did pick up had my head spinning. Ever since that day you’ve been teaching me.
When I heard you’d passed I couldn’t believe it. You’re The Supervillain; A mythical MC who wielded the microphone as if it had been forged in a reality far from the one I occupied. It seemed like the curtain had been pulled back and we all forgot that you were just one of us; a loving husband and father, and a human being trying to share his art with the world.
If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Through your weaponization of the infamous DOOM mask, you reminded me that the main focus of being a rapper, or a writer of any kind, is about the art itself. As technology and media have advanced so exponentially alongside capitalism, rappers fell victim to the same commodification that all popular culture had before it. The dollar sold the person back to the people, and forced a carefully crafted image of what a rapper is deep into their psyche. But your anonymity rejected that, and when brandished alongside the density and message of your art it became a supernatural force that consequently changed the world of hip hop.
You showed me some of the most complex wordplay and rhyme schemes I’d ever heard, and within them still managed to carry a compelling blueprint of the human experience. Your poetry was truly your own, and inspired a world of young poets who followed you. Your beats were playful and mean, sometimes choppy, sometimes smooth, sometimes perfect and always weird. You reinforced and inspired the growing duality of the rapper/producer I was already fostering at that time, and showed me that DIY is truly a mentality, not some specific point on a line’s supposed progression of status. You are the prototype of the artist I strive to be every day. A light who shone brilliantly with or without anyone watching at all. Larger than life doesn’t even begin to describe you. Cool isn’t cold enough to do you justice. “Living off borrowed time, the clock tick faster”, I just hope you felt how loved you are in your slice of time with us.
A SUPERVILLAIN OF THE MOST DASTARDLY BREED! LONG LIVE THE WORST KNOWN MF DOOM!