MF DOOM: Hip Hop's Super Villain

MF DOOM is the most enigmatic emcee around. Here's why the man who dubs himself the Super Villain is actually hip hop's saviour...
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MF DOOM is the most enigmatic emcee around. Here's why the man who dubs himself the Super Villain is actually hip hop's saviour...

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Anyone who has nothing more than a vested interest in Hip-Hop could be forgiven for thinking that it’s going through something of an identity crisis. Most of the modern day commercially successful rappers are wrapped up in braggadocio and bravado, too concerned about lazily making generic club tunes that will guarantee them another platinum record and a big, fat pay check, than they are about making real music. They quote all these iconic emcees and claim they inspired them to start rapping as a kid, and then produce some uninspiring, soulless David Guetta sounding bollocks that will top the charts and get a shit load of views on YouTube.

This isn’t some sort of hipster snobbery, with me acting like I’m too cool to like anything in the charts; it is, unfortunately, a blunt look at the state of the majority of Hip-Hop that is circling the mainstream. You do occasionally get successful artists with plenty of talent but, with the ever-increasing focus on image and marketability as much as actual talent, records labels are more focused on making money than promoting good music. They are just as much, if not more to blame than the artists - I mean ,who wouldn’t want to become successful, sell out arenas, and earn millions? We had the Mobos here in Liverpool a few weeks ago, and the list of all the nominees made for genuinely depressing reading.

Still, the wonderful thing about the internet is how easily accessible good music from all over the globe is nowadays. Thankfully, I don’t listen to many of the acts that I first heard as a kid on MTV Base when I was getting in to Hip-Hop, y’know the Ja Rule’s and 50 Cent’s of the world, but I look back on it as a necessary education, and listening to that sort of stuff compared to what I listen to now just makes me appreciate the Hip-Hop that has now made its way on to my iPod. There is one particular name - or one particular man, rather – that, over the past few years, has been played through the speakers at Casa Del Woo more than anyone else: he is Daniel Dumile a.k.a The Super Villain a.k.a Metal Face a.k.a Metal Fingers a.k.a Viktor Vaughn a.k.a King Geedorah a.k.a Zev Love X a.k.a MF DOOM.

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From personal experience, unless you’re a Hip-Hop head you’ve probably not really heard of MF DOOM, which is a fucking travesty. But it’s alright, because you have now, and if you’re new to the work of the Super Villain then lucky you; you’re in for a real treat. As an artist and a producer DOOM is untouchable, and his continued resolution to stick to his principles and not sacrifice creative influence over his work to secure a lucrative record deal, in this day and age, is genuinely admirable. Forget quality over quantity, or vice-versa, he’s been prolific on both sides of the glass over the past fifteen years under the DOOM persona, and the sheer volume and consistency of his work is insane. He is, by default, the greatest rapper Britain has ever produced; he was born in London but his family to moved to New York when he was young. Still claiming him and Slick Rick as ours, though.

MF DOOM is the most enigmatic emcee around, which is no mean feat. Alter egos and pseudonyms are standard practice in Hip-Hop, but nobody holds a crown to DOOM, who could be forgiven for suffering from multiple personality disorder with all the variety of names he records under. Rather than wear a crown, though, he wears a mask; the DOOM character that features most prominently in his music is modelled on Doctor Doom, the Marvel comics’ arch-villain. Dumile has used it as his main alias ever since he came back on the music scene in the late nineties after a four year hiatus, but the villain motif was more than just a creation; it was his instrument to channel the anger he felt from those who had wronged him earlier in his career. DOOM was very much a good guy gone bad.

Older Hip-Hop heads will have originally known him as Zev Love X, who was part of KMD (Kausing Much Damage), a group from New York that burst on to the scene in the late eighties. The crew consisted of Zev Love X, his younger brother DJ Sub-Roc, and Onyx the Birthstone Kid (the original third member, Rodan, left before the group got signed to Electra Records and was replaced by Onyx). Their debut album, ‘Mr. Hood’, dropped in 1991 and is a classic old school Hip-Hop record that tackled that serious issues affecting Black America in a comical manner, like a lot of other artists of the time. The album was laced with smooth beats and witty lyrics that were symptomatic of a lot of more casual rap music coming out at the time, and it contained vintage samples from old television shows; all of this, particularly the obscure sampling, is something that still plays a huge role in DOOM’s work to this day.

But, unfortunately, Hip-Hop as a whole wasn’t going the way he wanted it. Even then, as a teenager, DOOM refused to conform to the demands of Elektra, his record label: music was his platform to express himself, and his defiance towards the path that Hip-Hop was taking, with MTV and the like dictating things, meant tat the follow up to ‘Mr. Hood’ had a much darker vibe. All three members of KMD were Black Muslims, and ‘Black Bastards’, their second album, had a much more serious tone; its black nationalist, five-percenter undertones and controversial artwork, which shows a Sambo figure being lynched, had Elektra feeling uneasy. Onyx eventually left the group during the recording of the album, and shortly before the record’s scheduled release date in 1993, Sub-Roc was killed by car when crossing a Long Island expressway.

Elektra Records used the opportunity of Sub-Roc’s untimely death to drop KMD. A few days after his brothers passing, the label's management instructed Dante Ross to give Zev Love X the Black Bastards master tapes and $20,000 as incentive to leave the label, which he did. Then DOOM went underground, completely off the grid. He was, in his words, recovering from his wounds and swearing revenge against the industry that so badly deformed him. He spent some time in Atlanta as well as New York, living damn near homeless. Then, in 1998, a mystery man started performing at open-mic nights around New York – his identity was hidden as he’d wear a stocking over his face. Eventually he was revealed to be performing under the moniker MF DOOM.

Finally, in 1999, the wait was over. Dumile was back in the game as MF DOOM, armed with a mask to hide his true identity and a mic to wreak havoc on Hip-Hop. DOOM released a few singles on his long-time friend Bobbito Garcia's label, Fondle 'Em Records, before his debut solo record ‘Operation: Doomsday’ finally dropped. Around that time, the final KMD record still actually hadn’t been officially released, but was heavily bootlegged, until it was formally came out on the same label later that year, controversial cover art and all. The two albums served as an unplanned juxtaposition of who he was once was, and how he became who he is. DOOM was just the tip of the iceberg, though, and the new millennium didn’t know what was about to hit it.

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DOOM took to his lab, and a wealth of bootlegs, compilations, guest appearances, mix-tapes and instrumental albums (the Special Herbs series Vol. 0-9 is the finest set of instrumentals you’ll ever hear) surfaced on a variety of different labels, but no further full-length records arrived until 2003, when DOOM introduced some of his accomplices to the world: ‘Take Me to Your Leader’ (Big Dada Recordings) by King Gheedorah, based on the three-headed gold dragon King Ghidorah, a space monster from the Godzilla films; and ‘Vaudeville Villain’ (Sound-Ink records) by Viktor Vaughn, another play on Doctor Doom, whose real name is Victor Von Doom. Another Viktor Vaughn record, ‘Venomous Villain’ (Insomniac, Inc), followed in 2004, but that was the last we really heard of Gheedorah and Vic. They’re still around, though, waiting for the right time to pounce.

His other two solo albums to date are both very much MF DOOM records, with 2004’s wonderfully named ‘MM...Food?’ (Rhymesayers Entertainment) which, in case you hadn’t guessed, has a food theme running throughout it, capped off a ridiculous spell of five excellent records released in around eighteen months. Before issuing his next full-length album, 2009's ‘Born Like This’ (LEX records), he shortened his pseudonym to just DOOM (the MF stood for Metal Fingers, the producer, which was another one of his guises). The record featured Wu-Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Ghostface Killah (Ghostface rhymed under the name Tony Starks), and there has been a Doom Starks record in the works for five years, which is anticipated to be finished sometime this year.

DOOM’s collaborations, whether as a producer or an artist, are as legendary as his solo work. His best known collab was when he teamed up with Madlib for the Madvillain record (Stones Throw) in 2004, which garnered critical acclaim and remains as fresh and revolutionary today as it did nine years ago, and is undoubtedly a game-changing record. His other brilliant collaborations include Danger Doom’s (with Danger Mouse) ‘The Mouse And The Mask’ (Lex) and ‘Keys To The Kuffs’ by JJ DOOM (with Jneiro Jarel, also on Lex). His work as a producer is grossly underrated, although he tends to stick to just producing singles for now. In recent years he has embraced his inner-Brit and worked with the likes of Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn and Beth Gibbons.

His workings with Lex Records seem to indicate that he has finally found a musical home after years of bopping around different labels. It may also have something to do with the fact that, after venturing on a European tour in 2010, he was refused entry back in to America on account of him not actually having a green card; he holds a British passport as he was born here and never sought to change it. Still, DOOM has made no secret of his preference to be living back in his birthplace rather than the States, despite being away from his family, and now he is more focused on his work than ever before – and his reinvigorated work ethic can only be a good thing for music fans everywhere.

It’s not smiles, however. In true villain fashion, DOOM has caused controversy with his live shows, having allegedly sent impostors to perform several of his dates. Whilst the man himself has never admitted to it – although his promoter did give the game away by saying it was an intentional ploy to gain heat - he did say in a recent interview: "everything that we do is villain style. When you come to a MF DOOM show, come expecting to hear music, don't come expecting to see.” He originally claimed he lost around five stone in 2007 which led to significant changes in his appearance, but such is his penchant for mischief and chaos that it’s hard to discredit the accusations.

Whatever the truth is, there is no doubt that DOOM captivates and intrigues like few other artists can. There is no need to recommend single records to purchase; just go and get your hands on everything he has ever worked on. His body of work over the past two-and-a-bit decades is truly remarkable, and thankfully it shows no signs of letting up. He may be the Super Villain, but in reality DOOM is very much Hip-Hop’s hero.

The DOOM takeover on Benji B's Radio 1 Show last year features a whole host of his best tunes and an interview with the man himself. Best two hours you'll spend listening to all year: