On New Year’s Eve last year, we learned of the tragic passing of legendary MC, DJ and producer – the monster, the king, the villain best known as MF DOOM. Daniel Dumille came to earth in 1971 to a Trinidadian mother and a Zimbabwean father. A british citizen all his life, his family moved from his birthplace of London to Long Island, New York where the true story of the metal faced villain began.
Daniel’s first foray into the underground New York rap scene came as part of Black nationalist jazz-rap ensemble K.M.D., a trio consisting of his brother DJ Subroc, Onyx the birthstone kid and of course DOOM himself, then operating under the name Zev Love X. Their debut album, Mr Hood, was a critical success. By stitching samples together with boisterous vocal performances, K.M.D created the illusion of conversation between rapper and sample. They were already testing the limits of what rap music could be as a medium for storytelling; a mission that DOOM would embody after his brother’s untimely passing in 1993.
After Subroc’s death a second album was released. Black Bastards showcased a meaner, grittier side to the group’s output peppered with a darker humorous edge than before, but this would be the last release from the group and the beginning of a long silence from the villain. In the late 1990s, at the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe in Manhattan, DOOM made his masked re-entry into the hip-hop scene. He would never be seen without a mask from then onwards.
With each record the pop-cultural references of the production became more abstract, topics more comical and the villain himself more irreverent. Albums like ‘Operation Doomsday’, ‘Mm…Food’ and ‘Madvillainy’ are regarded as undisputed classics within the rap community, inspiring artists as wide ranging as Tyler the creator and Open Mike Eagle – the latter famously crowning him with the title “Your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper”.
We miss MF DOOM a lot. Although he was no stranger to tragedy, never could it hold him back. To celebrate that spirit in his life and music, on what would have been his 50th birthday, we asked First Word Records founder DJ Gilla to put together a mix of timeless highlights from his discography and to share some words about DOOM’s personal impact and his dedication to artistry and villainy in equal measure.
Why does MF DOOM mean so much to you?
When the news came through of his death it was one of the most surreal moments of what was a very surreal year. The timing of the announcement on NYE was part of that, but also it just struck me as bizarre that he would be dead. It didn’t seem possible to me. He’d become the mythical cartoon villain that he portrayed to such an extent that I felt he was beyond simple concepts such as mortality.
There have been times over the years where my interest in current hip hop has waned, but never with DOOM. His dedication to artistry was matched only by his commitment to villainy – no-one else has done that.
What makes a MF DOOM record so unique?
DOOM is one of those rare artists that is entirely unique. We describe a lot of artists as unique, and most of the time it isn’t really accurate. But for him it is. He straddled multiple generations of hip hop without pandering, or seemingly being remotely influenced by what was going on in the wider music scene. His ability to do that without every feeling dated is such an achievement. His approach to lyricism is what really sets him apart for me – it’s such a singular way to approach music.
When did you first hear MF DOOM’s music and what impact did it have on you?
I’d heard Rhymes Like Dimes via friends I used to DJ with, but Madvillain was the record that opened things up for me. Madlib was in such an incredible vein of creativity at that time, but the DOOM record took things up a notch. It was music that hit equally hard in the club or at home and for me that combination of MC and producer has never been matched.
What’s your most sacred MF DOOM record and why?
If it’s a whole LP it’s got to be Madvillainy, and in particular the track ‘Accordion’ – everything about its construction is perfect, particularly when you hear it with the original sample (check this in the mix!). His flow is inimitable and so specific to each beat. I could listen to the whole album on repeat for days…
Any standout memories from dropping an MF DOOM track in a set?
One in particular stands out – warming up for Cinematic Orchestra at Soundwave Festival – probably 10 or 11 years ago now. I played ‘Air’ – his collab with Dabrye and even thinking about it gives me chills.
How did you approach this mix? What did you want it to say about MF DOOM and his music?
It was hard! There’s so much great music. I wanted to touch on his roots with his pre-DOOM career and the major collabs he worked, as well as his production (which is under-rated I feel). It was tricky fitting it all in! I think it shows just what a consistent and innovative artist he was. Has there ever been a bad DOOM verse? I don’t think so – and when you think about it that’s kind of crazy.
What would you say is MF DOOM’s biggest legacy on music?
First up there will never be anyone like him again. He was a totem for anyone who wants to plough their own lane, ignore everything else around them and just focus on the music. I don’t know if an artist like him could exist in the way he did if they were coming through in the current era – although I’m hopeful that they could. But really he’s just the ultimate inspiration for individuality and putting art above all else.
MF DOOM – Supervillain Intro
Daedelus – Experience
Madvillain – Accordian
MF DOOM feat. J Dilla – Gazillian Ear
MF DOOM feat. Kurious – ?
MF DOOM feat. Pebbles The Invisible Girl – Doomsday
DANGERDOOM – Sofa King
MF DOOM – Charnuska
Quincy Jones – One Hundred Ways
MF DOOM – Rhymes Like Dimes
Czarface & MF DOOM – Break In The Action
Abstract Orchestra – Raid
Madvillain – Raid
3rd Bass – The Gas Face
NEHRUVIANDOOM – Caskets
MF DOOM – Doom, Are You Awake (Skit)
Cortex -8 Octobre 1971
MF DOOM – One Beer
MF DOOM – Licorice
MF DOOM – Ballskin
Madvillain – Bistro
Gustav Holst – Venus, The Bringer Of Peace
Dabrye feat. MF Doom – Air
KMD – Black Bastards
JJ DOOM – Guvnor
MF DOOM – Styrax Gum
MF DOOM feat. J Dilla – Lightworks
DANGERDOOM – Benxi Box
Madvillain – All Caps
MF DOOM – The Mystery Of Doom