Happy Birthday to MF DOOM, Hip Hop’s Most Revered Enigma

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Before he became MF DOOM, the legendary limerick-style spitting super-villain emcee with various aliases, there was Daniel Dumile. Born in London and raised in Long Beach, he made his first splash in hip-hop as Zen Love X in the group KMD (Kausing Much Damage). They found moderate success and MTV airplay with tracks such as “Who Got Me” and “Peachfuzz”.

However, the trio’s success was shortlived: DJ Subroc – Love X’s brother and KMD partner – was killed in a car accident on the Long Beach Expressway while recording their upcoming album Black Bastards. After the project got shelved due to the cover’s incendiary artwork and perceived racially-charged lyrics, the group was dropped by Elecktra Records the same week and eventually disbanded.

Many speculate that those events helped form the artist we currently know as DOOM. He took a four-year hiatus from music, living homeless on the streets of New York and freestyling at open-mic events incognito. He swore revenge against the industry that, in his own words, “had badly deformed him”. He returned to the scene in 1999 with Operation: Doomsday, a darkly comedic off-kilter album that holds up today as an underground hip-hop classic. Looking at a career revival, it was here that DOOM kickstarted his run as the most sui generis underground artist of his time.

Tallying over 20 albums in the following two decades, DOOM remained deeply rooted in enigma in an era fascinated with money, bling and extravagance. He never revealed his face and frequently switched back and forth between aliases. He was King Geedorah, the three-headed nemesis of Godzilla; the next, he was the stick-up kid Viktor Vaughn. On his instrumental tapes, he went by Metal Fingers. This evasive strategy reached its climax in 2003, when he released three critically acclaimed albums under three different pseudonyms: Madvillainy, King Geedorah, and Viktor Vaughn. The former, Madvilliany, currently stands as one of the greatest hip-hop records ever.

What makes DOOM so great on and off the mic is his willingness to do whatever he wanted. He shared an open resentment towards industry constructs which stripped artists of any humanistic qualities. He stuck his middle finger up at a genre predicated around image and garnering money instead of the love of the art. He believed it didn’t matter what you looked like because the music spoke for itself. Hence, anybody can be the face behind the mask. DOOM pushed this ideology often, as he’s known for sending imposters to his live shows.

Stylistically, DOOM’s influence has had a resurgence as of late. His impact has trickled down from the legends to the game’s newcomers (Joey Bada$$, Earl Sweatshirt). Admittedly, His monotonous flow is an acquired taste and it goes against the recommended polish of popular rap. But when you break down his lyrics, his uniqueness coupled with extreme internal rhymes and laugh-out-loud humor is undeniable. Just look at Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def) joyously rapping a few MF DOOM lines during The Ecstatic recording sessions back in 2009:

Below, I’ve included a few of my favorite MF DOOM songs. Take a listen, and mask up one time in honor of one of the greats. #ALLHAILMFDOOM

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