MF DOOM 1971 — 2020

A black and white drawing of MF DOOM holding and looking down at a skull with a mask the same as his. The mask he’s wearing covers his eyes and comes down in two parallel lines on either side of his mouth. The skull in his right hand is only visible from the side, but we can see it has the same design as his mask. He’s wearing a cape, holding a microphone, and has a sword attached to his hip. The shading is all done with dots, and there’s a dark circle behind him, like he’s a comic book character. Illustration by Kate Lacour.

I was sitting in my car outside the CD Warehouse (or Sound Warehouse or Warehouse Records; I forget) circa 2003. In my possession was the new MF DOOM (as Viktor Vaughn) album, Vaudeville Villain. I ripped the wrapping off the CD and popped it in my CD player. Immediately, I was sucked in by the intro which sampled an old Spiderman cartoon. I was just getting over an obsession with Ghostface Killah’s Supreme Clientele album, which also began with a sample from a Marvel cartoon. This was a good sign.

Then the title track started. The music was interesting. The drums sounded a little clean—not as gritty as I was hoping, but that’s OK. When the rhymes started, though, I was hooked: ​V. Vaughn, the traveling Vaudeville Villain / Who don’t give a flying fuck who ain’t not feelin’ him. Doom’s voice was low and crunchy. It was almost its own bass track. The rhymes continued: ​Ay caramba—Oh shit! Was that a Bart Simpson reference?—On borrowed-time rhymes, gassed by the silver screen / They act like their monkey ass can heal back like Wolverine​. Did he just say Wolverine???

That’s it. That’s all I needed to hear to know that this would be one of those albums. You know, one of those you leave in the stereo for weeks. Back then, if an album was good enough, it could last a full six months in steady rotation.

This was a discovery. Not only a great album, but a great artist; an artist that had a back catalog of albums that I had yet to hear. A whole world of greatness was ahead of me. My first thought was that I couldn’t wait to let my friend Don hear this. The sweet satisfaction of introducing someone to an album was an earned experience. You did the research, you did the work, maybe you spent the money, and now you get the credit.

How did I get here? My good friend Mark introduced me to MF DOOM. Mark’s recommendations never missed, and deserved much more than a dismissive, “Yeah, I’ll check that out.” Mark briefed me on MF DOOM’s background. Born Daniel Dumile, DOOM was formerly in the group KMD under the name Zev Love X. KMD disbanded after Zev’s brother, DJ Subroc, was killed and Elektra Records dropped them due to their album art being too controversial. After a hiatus and apparently being homeless for a while, Zev Love X reemerged as MF DOOM, concealing his face with a metal mask, vowing revenge on the music industry. I was mesmerized. Sign me up. So Mark gave me the knowledge, and now it was mine to give.

Later that day, Don and I sat in my Honda Civic. “Man, you gotta hear this!” As the music played, I stared at his face like a weirdo, eagerly awaiting his reaction. Don’s reaction was overwhelmingly positive. “Mission accomplished,” my ego said.

Down the rabbit hole we went, consuming all the DOOM we could find. Operation: Doomsday was incredible. The beats were inventive and the wordplay was refreshing. Then the Madvillainy album dropped and obliterated us. Madvillain was the duo made up of DOOM and Madlib. Everything about the Madvillainy album exceeded our expectations. Madlib’s beats—which he apparently made using a cheap SP-303 sampler, a tape deck, and some records—were warm and gritty, providing the perfect soundscape for DOOM’s clever yet thoughtful lyrics. Then Doom hit us with MM…Food. Produced by DOOM himself, it felt like the official sequel to Operation: Doomsday. I remember being a little skeptical of the idea of a food-themed DOOM album, but mainly I had faith that he could pull it off, and of course he did. From “Beef Rap”: ​I suggest you change your diet / It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it / Or even a stroke, heart attack, heart disease / It ain’t no starting back once arteries start to squeeze.

Honestly, after MM…Food I slowly tuned out and didn’t really keep up with the subsequent MF DOOM releases. I don’t know why. I’m sure there was some other distraction. I know there were collaborations with Danger Mouse and Ghostface Killah, and he was rumored to be sending imposters to perform in his place at live shows. Brilliant.

Years later I heard he was deported and not allowed entry back into the U.S. I’m not sure we really deserved him. And now I’m saddened to hear of DOOM’s passing. He gave us so much when music needed him the most. He was less like the villainous persona he adopted, and more like a superhero. Now he’s left us at a time when we face real villains, and we’re the ones wearing the masks.

Ay caramba.

illustration by Kate Lacour

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