A photo of MF DOOM, used on the cover of Madvillainy

MF DOOM: The Big Three

It took me way too long to start listening to MF DOOM. I always knew how popular he was, and how important he was to so many people. It must have been for good reason. We only recently lost him, yet his impact on hip hop has grown even more since. I’ve been listening to DOOM a lot recently, and I thought that I’d show you what I consider his three most important albums.

Operation: Doomsday

I couldn’t talk about MF DOOM without mentioning his groundbreaking debut album. With this record, he exploded on the scene and permanently changed underground hip hop. The MF DOOM moniker came from a very dark place. Daniel Dumile was performing as part of a hip hop trio known as KMD, under the name Zev Love X. They released their first album, Mr. Hood, in 1991 as part of Elektra Records. While the album was being recorded, Onyx left the group, leaving Zev and his brother DJ Subroc. Shortly before the duo finished 1993’s Black Bastards, Subroc was killed in an accident on the highway. Zev Love X was forced to finish the album alone, and Elektra dropped him from the label before the album was released.

It took Dumile until 1997 to reenter the hip hop game, and this is when DOOM was born. Operation: Doomsday dropped in 1999. The album introduced Dumile’s dense, stream of consciousness rhyme schemes and an eclectic mixture of sampled loops (from smooth jazz to soul tracks) and snippets from cartoons. Here, he began the MF DOOM storyline, basing it off of Marvel supervillain Dr. Doom. He would continue the story across his releases, using the cartoon snippets and even entire tracks to build an ongoing narrative. He went on to introduce new characters represented by his numerous aliases. MF DOOM’s records are concept albums, in my opinion.

I really dig this video. I hadn’t seen it until I started writing this article.

MM.. FOOD

MM.. FOOD feels pretty detached from DOOM’s debut, at first. The album is a metaphor and double entendre-ridden collage about food. I guess the name makes sense. But a lot of what makes MF DOOM who he is exists on this record too. It returns to clever spins on jazzy beats, cartoon snippets, and his loose, rhythmic flow. Dumile said in 2003 that he was “bringing it back to the old”, and this was true both here and on his debut. MM.. FOOD firmly established him as a lyrical powerhouse and a shrewd beatmaker. I think this album is his magnum opus; some of his best beats are on this record. It’s memorable, unique, and it proved that MF DOOM was underground rap’s “King Midas”. It is often overshadowed by its predecessor, however.

The quintessential DOOM song.

Madvillainy

Madvillainy came out just before MM.. FOOD. But today, most DOOM fans agree: this is his greatest work. The album was released under the name Madvillain, as a collaboration between Dumile and acclaimed producer Madlib. They met thanks to the manager of Madlib’s label, Stones Throw Records. He gave some of Madlib’s beats to a friend in Kennesaw, where DOOM was living at the time. He loved the music, and eventually arranged to meet with Madlib. Soon enough, they started working together. Madlib ended up in Brazil to do a lecture for the Red Bull Music Academy, and most of the instrumentals for the record were created while he was there.

Problems arose prior to the album’s release: someone stole the unfinished demo and leaked it while Madlib was in Brazil. The duo was frustrated, and they took time off to work on other projects. For the final version of the album, DOOM changed how he rapped and made a couple of changes to the lyrics. Madlib’s label asked him to make a proper ending track for the album, so the track “Rhinestone Cowboy” was produced. DOOM and Madlib fit together perfectly, as both Madlib’s production and MF DOOM’s style of rapping were seen as unorthodox and left-field. It became a widely acclaimed record for both artists. It’s not hard to see why; DOOM’s dense lyrical wordplay and Madlib’s distinctive production make for a once-in-a-lifetime record.

I love the samples Madlib used here.

ALL CAPs

DOOM’s death is heartbreaking to me. I don’t think we’ll get a rapper quite like him ever again. He unfortunately passed in October 2020, though his cause of death has not been made public. Dumile was only 49 years old. He had a unique style, presence, and authenticity, and his work is some of the best in hip hop history. To come back from tragic circumstances and change the world is really impressive on its own, but DOOM did something more than that: he inspired (and continues to inspire) countless artists. When I listen to his music, even I wanna grab the mic and rap from my subconscious. If that doesn’t tell you enough about his importance, then nothing will. All caps when you write the name.

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