Who is your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper? Many listeners of hip-hop would not know that answer, yet many of the artists that have commercially blossomed over the years know their choice- it’s MF DOOM. Such names as Drake, Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt have consistently mentioned and pointed out MF DOOM’s songs and lyrical ability. While hip-hop, or rap, became more commercialized as a musical genre through the years, the work of MF DOOM always stayed ‘underground’. His passing late in 2020 struck me hard as a fan and incited the desire to review his brilliant biography.
Best MC with no chain you ever heard
MF DOOM, his real name Daniel Dumile, was raised in Long Island, New York, although he was born in London, England. His musical career started in a band with his brother, which went under the name KMD. However, while the band was making their way up in the music industry, even signing to a label Elektra ruled by Warner Bros in 1990, his brother died in 1993, which led to a 5-year disappearance of MF DOOM. He even got dropped by the label, and described that he was sleeping on benches until he settled in Atlanta in 1997.
As he said himself, he wanted revenge against the industry that severely wounded and deformed him. That very much explains why he stayed underground for the whole of his career. Thus, in 1998 Daniel started performing in open mic sessions under a metallic mask. The mask symbolized the disagreement of the immense commercialization of hip hop, where it valued the looks over the sound. As everybody got to know quickly, DOOM was a huge supporter of Marvel comics, as the metallic mask resembled the supervillain Doctor Doom. Yet, the nickname DOOM came way before that as it was a phonetic play on his last name Dumile. His first solo album Operation Doomsday came in 1999, and the rest is history.
What makes MF DOOM truly distinct was the aforementioned persona of a villain from Marvel’s comics. He is one of the few people in the industry that has had success creating an alter-ego which the fan would enjoy listening to. Whether it was the mask, the enigmatic and baffling story-telling, dazzling word choice- the rapper knew how to make sure that there was an attachment not to his own self, rather to his character. It was never about Daniel Dumile, it was always about MF DOOM, Vaudeville Villain Viktor Vaughn and other alter-ego’s he went under.
This is an extremely rare case of a musician creating a parasocial relationship with his persona, rather than his own self. A parasocial relationship is a one-sided relationship, where one person is heavily involved, spends time and emotional energy with the party, yet the other party, usually a media character, is completely unaware of the other’s existence. While we might have seen such phenomena related to actors in films, or fictional characters in books, it is less popular in the music industry and most musicians build their brand on their own name and their looks.
One of the popular hip-hop reviewers on YouTube, Shawn Cee, has expressed that it feels like DOOM will always be here, however, only Daniel Dumile has left us. Such thoughts are what solidify the parasocial relationship with what was MF DOOM and what will remain existent regardless. Nonetheless, it leaves us to wonder whether the rapper would have had more commercial success and more fame to his name had he not created the persona. Yet, the character is exactly what made him unique and extravagant, which also may be a factor to why he is the most popular underground hip-hop artist of all time.
Impact on current hip-hop
As the title of the article indicates, MF DOOM’s impact reached far beyond just the underground scene, as many of the commercially successful artists have thanked him for the inspiration he has given them.
Nas called him one of his favorites, Drake has reposted many of his songs and called him the one of the greatest ever, Tyler the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt both were huge fans and base their rhyme schemes on DOOM’s lyrical composition.
The inspiration other artists draw from him is not only with the way that he wrote and rapped, but also through his unique production style, with samples as weird as his intricate rhymes. He paved the way for many upcoming producers and helped incite the creativity that we have in hip hop today.
Clearly, although I am not here to judge his career from the musical perspective, he was a very technical musician and even a poet. He knew how to arrange his word schemes in order to make the listeners jaw drop and evoque a true sense of thought and reflection. On top of that, his multiple personas that he created himself, allowed for the perfect mix for an artist in the music industry. It is safe to say that there will not be another MF DOOM, and while he’s gone, his music will stay forever.
Cover by: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago