Before its close, 2020 stole one last legend. The most mysterious man in hip-hop, MF DOOM, passed away on Halloween, and his “transition” to a new life was announced by his family on New Years Eve. The death of the highly respected rapper, known for his incredible rhyme schemes and enigmatic personality, shook the music world to its roots. As the hip-hop community copes with the loss of an underground icon, it is important to reflect on the life, legacy, and style that influenced so many.

MF DOOM, whose real name was Daniel Dumile, left this world in the most characteristic way possible. The mythical man was known to ardently avoid the spotlight, using multiple pseudonyms and constantly wearing a ‘metal-face’ mask in public to hide his true identity. For this reason he was rap’s self-determined supervillain, someone who did not seek fame or sell his image, but rather focused on cultivating an uncompromised sound for his listeners.

 

 

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With a similar style, Dumile and his family withheld his death from the public for two months, allowing time for grief and compassion without distraction. He even managed to release a song with BADBADNOTGOOD in the meantime, exciting fans who were unaware of his fate. When the Instagram post by his wife, Jasmine, announced his passing, it did so without flair or excessive decoration. The message simply celebrated the love and life of Dumile, and confirmed his “transition” to a new stage of existence.

As the news broke, there was an outpouring of support on social media from musical masterminds of all kinds. MF DOOM was commonly called “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” and the heartfelt posts from Joey Bada$$, Amine, Tyler the Creator, Denzel Curry, Thundercat, legendary producer Q-tip, and hundreds more, prove he probably was one of the most influential MCs to ever be. Dumile talked with both Tupac and Tyler, the Creator, rapped in four different decades, and left a lyrical legacy like no other. It’s no wonder the life he lived was uplifted by so many.

 

 

Dumile was born in London in 1971 and shortly thereafter moved to Long Island, New York. Despite never becoming an American citizen, he lived and loved the place he grew up. At early ages he began DJing and reading comic books, iconic activities that would interest him throughout his whole life.

His professional music career began in 1988 when he and his brother, DJ Subroc, formed the group KMD with another MC, Rodan. They worked together on two albums, Mr. Hood in 1991 and Black Bastards in 1993, though the latter was never released due to the early death of DJ Subroc, or Dingilizwe Dumile. DOOM was known as Zev Love X at the time, but found himself overwhelmed and underappreciated by an industry that also stole the life of his brother.

For the next few years, MF DOOM went missing from music. He would later reveal that he was “damn near homeless, walking the streets of Manhattan, sleeping on benches.” As he was lost, grieving, and angry, Dumile crafted the supervillain alter-ego, rapping in front of open-mic crowds and rebelling against the industry and identity that tried to control his creativity.

In 1999, Dumile emerged as MF DOOM on his debut album, Operation: Doomsday. Adorning a metal mask and spitting similar messages, the project displays how Dumile was inspired by Marvel’s Dr. Doom. His music is mysterious and melancholic, yet the fiery free-form lyrics are the work of a true mastermind. As his first project earned notoriety in the rap game, especially in underground scenes, DOOM began his most important work.

 

 

Over the next few years, Dumile became a nameless nomad. He released music under numerous pseudonyms, including Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah, and began working with notable producers such as Madlib, Jneiro Jarel, Danger Mouse, and Bishop Nehru. For each collaboration, DOOM would craft a new nickname, forcing fans to go searching for his sound in record stores. He and Jarel became JJ DOOM; him and Mouse became Danger DOOM; the duo with Bishop Nehru became NehruvianDOOM; and his magnum opus with legendary producer Madlib — the album Madvillainy — was released under the moniker Madvillian. To some it seemed confusing, to others it was entrancing. Regardless, it strengthened MF DOOM’s mystique and contributed to his rejection of fame and corporate fortune.

It was not just the nicknames, however, that Mr. Metal Face would manipulate every album. He would also work closely with collaborators to select a sentiment that would fit the sound of both artists. Perhaps the most pivotal point in Dumile’s career was the aforementioned Madvillainy. An outstanding album, Madlib and MF DOOM put their minds together and mixed a masterpiece. DOOM’s twisting, turbulent rhymes weave through Madlib’s raw, chopped, and chiseled beats. The 46-minute project has a depth and darkness that is oddly complemented by the convoluted samples, resulting in true synthesis between the two artists’ styles. If you need more convincing, the album was praised by critics around the world, uncovering the underground rap scene for many.

 

 

Madvilliany influences hip-hop even to this day, sparking a whole generation of artists, including Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, and Flying Lotus, who focus on one-of-a-kind sounds over commercial success. Sweatshirt once hinted that it had the same power on the rappers of the 2000s and 2010s as Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the 36 Chambers had on the MCs of the 1990s. MF DOOM proved to the people that there was power in individuality, and that one did not have to conform to create greatness. Much like Wu Tang itself, Dumile refused to rap for anything besides his own heart and the betterment of hip-hop. He just happened to be so good at what he did that others could not bother but to listen.

MF DOOM would close out his career with all sorts of creative pursuits. He managed to work with inspirations around the industry, including Thom Yorke from Radiohead, The Avalanches, and even the TV program Adult Swim. However, he was always silently snooping behind-the-scenes, dropping records here and there, picking personas to hit with punchlines.

At the end of the day, MF DOOM will go down as the most mysterious yet majestic rapper to ever MC. His raspy, rancorous voice will forever be an inspiration to the independent, a revolutionary to those who reject fame, and a legend among lyricists. The music world will miss MF DOOM, but his legacy will always remain, carried along in the heart of hip-hop.