Words by Sam Willings
The clock was nearing midnight on New Year’s Eve 2020 when it transpired that MF DOOM, the Supervillain, had died, aged 49. Also known as Viktor Vaughn, King Geedorah and formerly Zev Love X, the underground MC built a cult following that adored him for his unique, complex lyrical style. With his face hidden behind the metal mask inspired by Marvel villain Dr. Doom, he gained notoriety for his villainous verses, enigma, and raw beats peppered with obscure, soulful samples and snippets from superhero TV shows. Although his streaming numbers have risen by 870 percent since his passing, his avoidance of the spotlight leaves many unaware of his finest works.
In the wake of his death, we’re listing 10 tracks that will ease newcomers into Daniel Dumile’s legacy, showcasing his masterful rhymes and iconic collaborations.
Do it like the robot to headspin to boogaloo / Took a few minutes to convince the average bug-a-boo / It's ugly, like look at you, it's a damn shame / Just remember ALL CAPS when you spell the man name
There’s one rule to follow when mentioning Dumile’s stage name: “remember all caps when you spell the man name”. DOOM teamed up with the renowned Beat Konducta, Madlib, to release the seminal Madvillaiiny album in 2004, which has gone down as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time. As Flying Lotus recently put it: “All you ever needed in hip-hop was this record. Sorted. Done. Give it to the aliens”. All Caps is based on a sample from the late 1960s TV show, Ironside, but could easily fit into a comic book show of its own.
Those on top of my head stand seven thick / Hairs that even if I wanted to I couldn't pick / Pigment, is this a defect in birth? / Or more an example of the richness on Earth?
The 1980s rap group KMD comprised Zev Love X (DOOM’s first alias), DJ Subroc (DOOM’s younger brother) and Onyx the Birthstone Kid, and saw underground success for several years. Tragically, Subroc was involved in a highway accident in 1993 and his death resulted in KMD being dropped from their label. It was from here that Zev Love X made his transition into MF DOOM. Who Me? is an early example of DOOM incorporating samples from TV shows into his work and its lyrics stem from a disliking to the Sambo caricature, asking: “Who (is that supposed to be)? Me?”.
“Ever since the womb ‘til I'm back where my brother went/That's what my tomb will say/Right above my government, Dumile”
Arguably the most celebrated track of his debut album, Operation Doomsday, MF DOOM introduces himself to the listener on Doomsday – which is also the first song on the album, following a skit. A lot of the lines he rhymes become recurring themes in his discography: “I wrote this one in the B.C.D.C O-section”. In his future works, DOOM often references places or times he wrote the rhyme.
“Sing it, bring it, back to your laboratory / While he's in his oratory, glory it’s like a horror story / The mask is like Jason / They told the place not to let the basket type case in”
It’s hard to pick out a highlight from Vomitspit; this is MF DOOM at his finest. He lays his lines down on a slick, calming beat and shows off his rhyming style in full effect. There are so many lyrics in the track that rhyme that it can be quite hard to keep up, with multiple rhymes in each line. The video below breaks this down as you listen, giving you a visual aid to follow through the track. Vomitspit is one of the last tracks on MM...FOOD, his awesome second album.
Call him back when you need some more yak, Horshack / Doin' 80 down the Van Wyck on horseback / Your man sick, but he wreck tracks, puto / Get back too, bro, exactamundo
The title track of Vaudeville Villain is the first introduction to Dumile’s other menacing alter ego, Viktor Vaughn. Released in 2003, the album depicts the everyday misadventures of a time-travelling street criminal, with verses laden in pop culture references and brash expositions. Vaudeville Villain is the perfect opening for the sinister and often humorous tales that follow.
Catch a throatful from the fire vocaled / With ash and molten glass like Eyjafjallajökull / The volcano out of Iceland / He'll conquer and destroy the rap world like the white men
How many rappers, lyricists or poets do you know that would think to rhyme Eyjafjallajökull? DOOM does it in the first few lines in Guv’nor, in part of his collaboration with Jneiro Jarel, JJ DOOM. The album Keys To The Cuff quickly became an album loved by critics and fans alike, with Thom Yorke citing Guv’nor as his favourite single of 2012. It’s no wonder – the boastful lyrics over an almost jarring beat make it delectably addictive.
Rap snitches, telling all their business / Sit in the court and be their own star witness
Rapp Snitch Kishes is one of MF DOOM’s most played tracks on streaming services and was even quoted by veteran sportswriter Mike Lupica on a TV segment. In the song, DOOM and Mr. Fantastik describe how artists that rap about their crimes are in danger of being prosecuted for them later in life – “Where no brains but gum flap”, as DOOM says in the track.
We rock the house like rock 'n roll / Got more soul than a sock with a hole / Set the stage with a goal / To have the game locked in a cage getting shocked with a pole
This is probably one of MF DOOM’s most quoted tracks, with lines like the ones highlighted just too good to not remember. Rhinestone Cowboy is another Madvillain classic, with references to the duo’s crazed fanbase, some of whom heard Madvillainy 18 months before its release after it was leaked online. “It speaks well of the hyper base. Wasn't even tweaked and it leaked into cyberspace”, DOOM says in the track. This is also the closing track on the album, with a villainous outro that truly fits the theme of the album.
“Born alone, die alone, no matter who your man is / Hope he live long enough to tell it to his grandkids”
Dumile’s other alter ego King Geedorah is based on King Ghidorah, a science-fiction monster; clearly he’s not in the business of creating superhero characters. King Geedorah’s debut album, Take Me To Your Leader is all self-produced and he only features as an MC on four of the tracks. Fazers is the most popular track and is built on a sample that has yet to be discovered by avid sample spotters online, only heightening its legendary status. The album is rife with sci-fi elements and sees DOOM exhibit the same flows that he’s famous for and proves his worth as a skilled beatmaker as well as a mastermind lyricist.
“Do a show, same time, watch it / And guaranteed to give 'em more than just hock spit / MC extraordinaire, technique sort of rare”
Although this is another collaboration between DOOM and Madlib, this track wasn’t released under their Madvillain alias. Still, Avalanches exudes genius, as expected from the dynamic duo. The highlighted lyrics relate to DOOM’s most notorious act: sending imposters to fill in for him at live shows. It’s not clear how often this happened, but it all plays into his role as the Supervillain. In a few cases, fans booed the imposter off the stage, only to then go wild as the real DOOM step out and take centre stage.
This list only scrapes the surface of DOOM’s discography and myriad appearances in other artist’s work. We haven’t even listed his dark and raw 2007 album, Born Like This – be sure to check that out ASAP. For some more shining examples of MF DOOM’s talent, check out DANGERDOOM, his collaboration with Danger Mouse, NEHRUVIANDOOM, a collaboration with Bishop Nehru, Czarface Meets Metal Face and November Has Come on the Gorillaz seminal album Demon Days. There’s plenty more to dig into on streaming services and online, too. Long live MF DOOM!
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