On Dec. 31, the world learned that hip-hop’s self-proclaimed “supervillain,” rapper MF DOOM, had died at the age of 49 two months earlier, on Oct. 31.
Countless tributes and words have since flooded the web, trying to do justice to the artist’s legacy. One of those words is “underground.” While it’s true that DOOM never had that mainstream smash hit that got him radio plays in between umpteenth spins of the likes of Post Malone, DOOM may have actually had more influence on hip-hop in the 2010s than any other rapper not named Quavo, Offset or Takeoff.
DOOM’s free-associative lyricism, sloppy flow and esoteric production choices made a seismic impact on the underground in the mid-2000s. Though hip-hop had unquestionably become a force to be reckoned with, some still had their doubts that the genre could hold up artistically against its soul, rock and R&B ancestors.
With the release of 2004’s Madvillainy, DOOM’s landmark collaboration with producer/rapper Madlib, he truly reached an entirely new level of artistry. Madvillainy is rap’s Giant Steps or Blonde on Blonde, the moment when DOOM sharpened his voice into a weapon of subcutaneous destruction — a ghostly drone that felt disconnected from any face or identity other than the embodiment of villainy.
Despite the wide-ranging and fairly sizeable nature of DOOM’s discography, it’s impossible not to continuously return to Madvillainy in awe of its perfection.
“All u ever needed in hip-hop was this record,” Flying Lotus tweeted after learning the news of DOOM’s passing, referring to Madvillainy. “Sorted. Done. Give it to the fucking aliens.”
The artistic chemistry between MF DOOM and Madlib was the kind of musical telepathy that has only occurred a handful of times in music history: John Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, EL-P and Killer Mike, and hardly any others.
While DOOM created several records that can be considered classics — MM…Food, Operation: Doomsday, and the oft-overlooked Danger Mouse collaboration The Mouse and The Mask being a few — Madvillainy continues to stand alone, a monolith to the pinnacle of hip-hop’s potential and artistic achievement, one that continues to ignite a love and deeper understanding for hip-hop in all those who reach out and touch it.
The 2010s were the decade when the fringes of hip-hop eventually became its center. Rap found its Bob Dylan in Kendrick Lamar, its seemingly omnipresent Neil Diamond-like crossover king in Drake, its tortured Joker in Tyler, the Creator, its kaleidoscopic acid chemist in Travis Scott, and its brilliant troublemaker in Kanye West.
As their songs climbed up the charts, DOOM’s musical paternity of hip-hop’s current generation became as obvious as a baby's on Maury.
While history dictates that the current rap titans should be appropriating the hallmarks of mid-2000s mainstream hip-hop — Eminem’s speed and scare tactics, 50 Cent’s hooky excesses, or Lil Wayne’s insanity — they’re actually drawing more from DOOM’s playbook than any other. DOOM’s thoughtfulness has re-emerged in Kendrick, his gloriously sloppy flow in Earl Sweatshirt, his ability to cultivate a mythos in Tyler and his unorthodox production choices in Kanye.
MF DOOM has frequently been referred to as “Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper,” a label that adds further interest to DOOM’s already purposefully murky legacy. For the past two decades, being a fan of DOOM meant admission to a sort of masonic society, code phrases and all.
While DOOM’s trademark persona was one of villainy (his name and masked nature were a reference to the Fantastic Four comic book villain Dr. Doom) his actual persona was one of perpetual mystery. Perhaps in his own mind he equated villainy with mystery — the notion that villains are men in dark castles that only emerge to conduct their dastardly deeds — and in that sense, he did live up to his persona. As he said on MM…Food’s opening track “Beef Rap”: "He wears a mask just to cover the raw flesh — A rather ugly brother with flows that's gorgeous."
Not much was known about Daniel Dumile, the man behind the mask, outside of the rhymes and samples by MF DOOM or any of his other pseudonyms. Any other information about him only amounts to a breadcrumb trail. Even the news of his death was somehow hidden from the public for two months, and the cause of his death has yet to be announced.
In a genre that has traditionally been led by large, purposely inflated personas, the fact that we knew so little about DOOM was in itself his persona. The fact that DOOM was able to rhyme, scheme and strike terror into the hearts of men for two decades without hardly ever breaking that mythos is a nearly unattainable achievement. His legacy and impact far outweigh the things he may, or may not, have accomplished as a human being.
MF DOOM was born a villain, yet still managed to live long enough to see himself become a hero. To commemorate the legacy of “The best MC with no chain you ever heard” here are eight of MF DOOM’s greatest lines and verses.
“Accordian” from Madvillainy (2004)
Living on borrowed time, the clock ticks faster
“Rhinestone Cowboy” from Madvillainy
Known as the grimy limey, slimy — try me, Blimey!
Simply smashing in a fashion that’s timely,
Madvillain dashing in a beat-rhyme crime spree,
we rock the house like rock 'n roll,
got more soul than a sock with a hole
“Cellz” from Born Like This (2009)
Crime pays, no dental, no medical — unless you catch your time in county, state or federal.
“Rhyme Like Dimes” from Operation Doomsday (1999)
Y’all can’t stand right here
In his right hand was your man’s worst nightmare
Loud enough to burst his right eardrum, close-range
The game is not only dangerous, but it’s most strange
I sell rhymes like dimes
The one who mostly keep cash but brag about the broker times
“Beef Rap” from MM..Food (2004)
Beef rap, could lead to getting teeth capped
Or even a wreath for ma dukes on some grief crap
I suggest you change your diet
It can lead to high blood pressure if you fry it
Or even a stroke, heart attack, heart disease
It ain't no starting back once arteries start to squeeze
Take the easy way out phony, until then
They know they wouldn't be talking that baloney in the bullpen
“Benzi” from The Mouse and The Mask (2005)
Rap these days is like a pain up in the neck,
Cornier, and phonier than a play fight,
Take two of these and don't phone me on a late night
The beat won't fail me, with more rhymes,
Than times he washed his hands and feet daily
And all that kerosene ain't cheap, Villain been deep
Since a teenage creep, peep
He always was a gentleman,
And kept the pen and a pencil in his mental den
Right there, next to where the Rolodex was
Before it turned up all burnt by his solar plexus
He don't know his own strength, when he's on the bone
It's like the microphones length, and width, ain't it funky like dingy socks?
Feel the full effect off cassette in your Benzie Box
“Figaro” from Madvillainy
Everything that glitters ain't fishscale
Lemme think, don't let her faint get Ishmael
A shot of Jack got her back it's not an act stack
Forgot about the cackalack, holla back, clack clack blocka
Villainy, feel him in ya heart chakra, chart toppa
Start shit stoppa be a smart shoppa
“All Caps” from Madvillainy
Villain: the worst guy
Spot hot tracks like spot a pair of fat asses
Shots of the scotch from out of square shot glasses
And he won't stop 'til he got the masses
And show 'em what they know not through flows of hot molasses
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