In 1993 Daniel Dumile was crushed by events that would change his life forever. A beginner in the hip hop scene through the group KMD, rapper Dumile was struck by the sudden death of groupmate and brother, followed by his label shelving their album and dropping KMD. Dumile was forced underground, and the world didn’t hear from him for 6 years. Until he reappeared, a changed villain, MF DOOM.
Whilst Daniel Dumile kept his private life relentlessly hidden, and no one quite knows what he experienced in those 6 years, he emerged as the most unique artist the genre has ever seen. DOOM is unique in the purest sense of the word. Always armed with his metal mask to hide his image from the world, everything that came to embody DOOM’s music was just spectacularly weird. The ordinary and the trendy bored DOOM, they were nothing but highways to unoriginality and “fitting in”, none of which DOOM concerned himself with whatsoever. People talk about legends and always equip themselves with “no one can do that like him” or “there will NEVER be another her”, and in some cases they are right. But in so many cases that seems like a farcical statement. It doesn’t take away from someone’s greatness to recognise that there are many artists that sound just like them, it’s a continuation of their sound throughout the generations. But DOOM manages to achieve the rarest musical feat of them all, true eccentricity. MF DOOM’s flow is his staple. Rappers spend all their time finding the smoothest and most satisfying flows, attempting to embed themselves in the beat and find pockets that no one else can, but DOOM just seems to ignore that. It feels maybe to first time listeners like he’s rapping regardless to the beat, vomiting out the strangest most complex rhyme pattern’s you’ve ever heard. But it soon becomes apparent that he just approaches beats and flows in a way no one thought to. You can NEVER predict where he’s going to go, and whilst it can appear jarring to first time listeners, persevere and you can enjoy the fruits of one of the most creative writers in music. That alongside his gruff, gritty and villainous voice makes for excellence. Dumile also dropped rapping as himself after KMD. There’s the rap villain MF DOOM whose travels the universe assisted by a posse of cartoon cuts and supervillain intros, there’s the three headed monster King Geedorah, and Viktor Vaughn the cocky and violent protégé. These wacky and dark perspectives add to his individualism, listening to his incredible catalogue is like immersing yourself in another world, in a dark comic. He was the king of underground raps and someone who never gave the mainstream a second thought, because he didn’t care. The world has lost one of its most brilliant minds, so here’s the journey of MF DOOM.
Operation Doomsday – MF DOOM (1999)
Many people who were put onto this underground release in 1999 would have been utterly unaware that this was “zev love X” from KMD reincarnated before they finished this album. This album was Dumile’s return to music, but as the villain. The cover is everything you need to know about this album. The metal faced Villain sporting a hoodie and clutching a microphone like a loaded gun is what you get from this album. DOOM is being introduced to the world, but he’s equally unimpressed with its inhabitants, and his sound shows it. In the era of bling, the aftermath of Puffy and the reign of Jay Z, DOOM was coming in on a cloud of jazzy, dusty beats that had a throwback sound, but many haven’t aged a bit. “Doomsday” opens the album up and it’s easily one of DOOMs most popular songs, and it’s not hard to see why. The instrumental is butter smooth, beautiful drums, soulful vocals, and then DOOM comes in with a flow that would change listeners forever. The tracks produced by DOOM himself under the pseudonym Metal Fingerz, to go alongside Metal Face the rapper. This track’s appeal is important to the feel of this album. Out of all the albums in this list, DOOM’s at his least aggressive here. The flow is slightly smoother, his cadence slightly cleaner and his instrumentals a tad more middle of the road. That’s not to say they weren’t strange and complex for the time, but sonically they have a slightly more traditional feel to them, but not all of them.
There are clear signs of the trajectory this artist is on, especially with “Tick Tock”, which has a beat that literally slows down and speeds up as though there’s a toddler playing with the speed dial. “Hey!” is also vintage DOOM, and a clear standout on this valiant debut. DOOM sampled the soundtrack from “Scooby Doo” and turned this song into a menacing, wicked affair with cartoonish charm. Its everything DOOM does brilliantly. DOOM is a woefully underrated producer, his ability to find the strangest samples from cartoons and songs alike and make them into the backdrops for his extravaganzas was second to none. “Walk on By” by Isaac Hayes is one of the most popular songs to sample in Hip Hop due to its drum breakdown, but DOOM took the string section of the intro and managed to turn the track “Dead Bent” into a sobering string fest. Operation Doomsday is a classic, hip hop wouldn’t be the same after this arrival.
Take Me To Your Leader – King Geedorah (2003)
Probably the most underappreciated and unexplored DOOM release, partly due to the alias, King Geedorah sees DOOM sitting comfortably behind the album, and flexing his production skills. DOOM’s focus on the production on this album means he often leaves verses entirely to other rappers, most of which aren’t big names, and for this reason this project isn’t the most memorable as a DOOM project, but it’s a great project all the same. The intro track “Fazers” is one of DOOM’s best tracks, and it’s becoming evident that he’s leaning more into his quirky flow over the gorgeous beat he lays down for himself. “Fastlane” is exactly why MF DOOM should be remembered as a producer as well as an emcee. It’s a feast of prog rock guitars sliding around the mix, setting off like fireworks, whilst Kurious delivers an impressive performance. I can’t help but feel slightly frustrated that DOOM doesn’t rap over some of these beats because honestly, some of the loops on here are his best and he often leaves them to rappers that simply can’t match his excitement. Regardless, this is an important project in his evolution, it’s fantastic beats, great rapping and “Fazers”, “Krazy World” and “Anti Matter” are up there with his best artistic efforts.
Vaudeville Villain – Viktor Vaughn (2003)
Viktor Vaughn, a younger affiliate of MF DOOM, delivers a project full of inky beats, violently witty imagery, and some of the best rapping DOOM ever produced. This is truly one of the greats, but it’s possible that causal fans of DOOM haven’t come across this as its not under DOOMs name. It almost seems like an in joke on DOOM’s part, to deliberately release so many fantastic projects under different names, making them harder to find and less commercially viable. But regardless, this project is brilliant. Probably his most sonically consistent, this album is stripped of any instrumentals or 4-minute interludes and gives the listener nothing but Viktor Vaughn for an hour.
The intro track “Vaudeville Villain” is one of his greatest efforts ever. The track explodes onto the scene with a perilous beat backed by hard electric guitar chords and a wavering ethereal whammy guitar. Viktor leaves almost too much of an impression that he’s on a mission to destroy the rappers that dare occupy the scene: “For a buck, they'd likely dance the Jig or do the Hucklebuck / To Vik it's no big deal, they're just a buncha knuckle-fucks”. Probably the hardest hitting intro he ever created. From there the drums turn into Isaac Hayes, as Viktor assaults the slightly glitchy soul sample of “Walk On By” (again, just in case you didn’t get the message last time) on “Lickupon”. It’s a left-right hook of a way to start a project that’s visceral vendetta doesn’t know when to quit. Through Viktor’s tongue-tying lyricism, the listener is plunged into a drug deal gone wrong, “A Modern Day Mugging”, back and forth with his girlfriend on the impossibly smooth “Can I Watch?” and even the destruction of a vanilla “Open Mic Nite”. This album’s consistency throughout makes it feel like a devilish experience. It’s beats toe the line perfectly between heavy and creepy, but also catchy and entertaining, like a thriller. In terms of Vaughn’s rapping, it’s him in his absolute prime. You cannot miss this album.
Madvillainy – Madvillain (2004)
Here it is. The album some call the greatest of all time. The album that reigns over the underground on an untouched throne of eccentric marvel.
This album can be daunting for someone who’s never listened to it before. It’s reached a level of fan adoration and respect that can only be equated to Nas’ Illmatic, and there’s good reason as to why. This album is the product of MF DOOM, the villainous eccentric, linking up with underground, soul head with a taste for experimental: Madlib. Together they formed “Madvillain”, and produced their only album together, “Madvillainy”. This album propelled both of these artists into a realm of respect and acclaim that only few get to enjoy, but it’s almost indescribable as to why without simply listening to it.
My relationship with this album runs over the course of two years and starts out as one of frustration. To someone that was relatively confined to my comfort zone of hip hop and music in general, when I made an effort to branch out from that, I was confronted with the legendary “Madvillainy”. I put it on, and ten minutes later turned it off again. After skipping around, I didn’t find anything much that wasn’t just “weird”. I dismissed it as a project that was revered for its weirdness, rather than its quality. But I kept coming back as I was exploring new music, from soul to prog rock to hip hop to jazz. Slowly tracks were beginning to creep up on me. The first was “All Caps”. Even I, who was very unfamiliar with production let alone the nuances of a Madlib, got chills every time that rolling, thunderous piano rifff ran down from out of nowhere. Then it was “Accordion”, the slight bounce it had under the audacious accordion riff completely won me over, and DOOM on this song was amazing, I could feel the iconic genius of that first line “Living off borrowed time the clock ticks faster”. As I kept returning to this album over the course of those two years, the album just kept on climbing in my estimation, and I realised I was coming back for doses because nothing out there sounded like this album. It was so void of trend, so stubbornly unorthodox and unfashionable that it garnered its own little universe. This album presents something new to me that I haven’t heard every single time that I listen to it. These two were destined to work together. I don’t mean they worked great together, I mean they were destined to, because no collaboration I have heard compares to the synergy these two have on this project. Freddie Gibbs has taken up the mantle of working with Madlib, and he’s delivered two of the best projects of the 2010’s with Madlib, but when you listen it’s Freddie and Madlib, with this album its only Madvilliany. These two artists merge to become one, it’s magic.
There are sounds you can’t even identify on this project. The beat on “Meat Grinder” does just that. The percussion sounds like teeth grinding, and the beat has this sneaking feel to it, like it’s creepy about in the darkness. “Bistro” is the most blissful minute of my life, and the most warming of Madlib’s career. “Curls” has a beat that still makes no sense to me and DOOM just cannot stop with “Villain get the money like curls / They just tryin' to get a nut like squirrels in his mad world / Land of milk and honey with the swirls / Where reckless naked girls get necklaces of pearls”. “Rhinestone Cowboy” sees you out with it’s piercing and forever haunting screeches that penetrate the lofi atmosphere.
This album is as special as everyone says it is, it’s the gift that will never stop giving.
MM…FOOD – MF DOOM (2004)
Still very much riding the wave that “Madvillainy” had cast him on, MF DOOM returned with his second “DOOM” album, “MM…FOOD”. And yes, the album is completely based around food related motifs. But there’s also much more to this album then that. After “Vaudeville” and “Madvillainy”, it was clear that DOOM wanted to get back behind the boards and produce. “MM” is an album that explores the persona of DOOM thoroughly and has his most memorable and lovable production to date. The raps on this album are mind blowing as usual, he manages to explore different topics like friendship and his past woes, but throughout he remains vigilant in his food motifs. You won’t catch them all, but that’s part of the charm of this project which most consider to be his best solo effort. The songs on here reflect an artist at their summit, and this album as a result has become iconic. You can look up videos of legend Mos Def just singing DOOM’s praises, sharing in the general public’s stupor at his talent after this project dropped. It’s filled with gems from front to back.
“Hoe Cakes” is one of my favourite DOOM songs. The beat is comprised of a raspberry blowing beat box, a chopped clip of woman saying “Super”, and a chord progression that’s instrumental has always given me an 80’s vibe for some reason, it could be a sample. DOOM is all over this track lyrically, but he sounds more comfortable then in previous efforts, there’s a slight hint of recognition that he’s reached the place he wants to be. “Potholderz” is another beat from DOOM that is just utterly brilliant. Its plucky guitars, DJ scratches and adlibs galore. “One Beer” see’s Madlib throwing one more collaboration into the mix, knowing that the public would be better off after hearing DOOM declaring that the champagne cannot seduce him away from his unflinching love for beer. The story then goes on over a beat comprised of rolling and erratic drums that break like waves, as chipmunk vocals ricochet in the background. “Deep Fried Frenz” is a surprisingly revealing effort from Dumile, as he talks of how his relationship with certain friends has deteriorated and they only reach out when they need to use him as a crutch. It’s not often the villain get’s personal, but he does so surround by one of his most infectious and euphoric beats, just to almost revel in the friends he’s leaving in the dirt. My one critique of this album would be the 4-song melody in the centre of this album, which is entirely instrumental apart from cartoon samples and dialogue, with one of them being 4 minutes long. I can see how this adds to the aesthetic charm of the album, but for me I can’t listen to “Fig-Leaf Bi-Carbonate” more than once. That and the fact that DOOM doesn’t rap over what to me is one of his greatest instrumental creations “Guinnnesses”, but to give the guest MCs their due, they do a great job.
THE MOUSE & THE MASK – DANGERDOOM (2005)
Out of all the albums this is the one that I’m least familiar with, usually I would avoid talking on albums I know little about, but this output is such an adored part of the journey it can’t be left off the list. In short, MF DOOM after his masterful run in 2004, teamed up with Adult Swim and buzzing producer at the time Dangermouse of “The Grey Album” and “Demon Dayz” fame. What resulted was much more light-hearted and celebratory piece of work for DOOM, who feels like he’s just enjoying himself on this project. The potency is still there but it’s seems more in gest, it’s lyrical exercise over some smooth and cartoonish production from Dangermouse.
BORN LIKE THIS – DOOM (2009)
This album never gets mentioned with the greats and I think that’s a sin. At the moment (it changes a lot) I prefer this to “MM…FOOD”, which some DOOM fans may think is like committing treason. But to me this album has it all. Production wise we have DOOM delivering his darkest, iciest beats yet, Madlib pops back in for a terrific instalment, and he pays homage to the best by having two Dilla tracks, one of which makes for a top 5 DOOM song of all time. DOOM disappeared for 3 years, and for that reason this was always seen as a comeback record, which gives it a certain amount of pressure. This album doesn’t have the charm or grandeur that “MM…FOOD” has, but that’s what makes it so great (BATTY BOYZ however is a huge misstep, even though it’s meant to be playful and play into the villainous nature of this character, this song’s homophobia is pretty unredeemable). If the villain in MM…FOOD is likeable and fun, this album is Hannibal. It’s frosty, mean and has atmosphere by the bucket load. The features here are concise and brilliant, with DOOM showing his Wu-Tang appreciation, sharing storytelling with Ghostface on “ANGELZ”, and giving Raekwon an entire track to murder on “YESSIR!”. I usually don’t like it when DOOM absents himself from one of his great beats, but when it’s Raekwon that’s taking the mantle, there’s no issue. No one can fit that throwback, muddied sound like Raekwon.
But we haven’t even discussed “Gazzillion Ear”, the epic opening track with production from none other than my favourite producer of all time, J Dilla. And on this track, he shows you exactly why he’s earned his title. The track bursts through in a blaze of bouncy but murky bass drum kicks, and the “Donuts” sirens ring in the background, almost as a warning that the villain has arrived. DOOM sounds more gravelly than ever, but his pen is just as sharp and his verse culminates in a pregnant pause before “Dillaaaa..” and the beat switches from beneath him into Dilla’s take on “Midnight Express”. Previously called “The Phantom of the Synths”, the instrumental is a sea of synth lines and oriental influence, but before you can bask, the track snaps back to the original beat with a transition too smooth for its own good. DOOM then takes “LIGHTWORKS” from “Donuts” and brings it home with a performance that Dilla would have been proud of. It makes you wish that Dilla had lived on so we could see these two works together again. “THAT’S THAT” has taken on a reputation of it’s own. The violin lead sombre beat that sees DOOM focusing all his attention on creating one of the most complex rhyme pattern that’s every been put to paper. This album to me is easily up there with the greatest.
REST IN PEACE.