Hip-hop loses the influential underground rapper MF Doom

Your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper passed away in October, leaving behind a legacy of complex rhyme schemes and a unique stage persona


Photo courtesy of Okayplayer.com

Abigail Rodriguez, Arts & Culture Editor

The rap game lost a big one in 2020.

Underground rapper and skilled lyricist MF Doom died on October 31, though his death was not made public until December 31, 2020. Doom’s wife, Jasmine Dumile, announced his death on New Years Eve; many have expressed their condolences and paid their respects to the man who has been dubbed “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper.” 

Born Daniel Dumile in 1971 in London, England, Doom moved to Long Island, New York at six months old. He, along with his late brother Dingilizwe Dumile, better known as DJ Subroc, began their hip-hop careers in a graffiti crew turned hip-hop group by the name of KMD [(Positive) Kause (in a) Much Damaged (Society)]. After the death of his brother, Doom was broke and homeless due to KMD being dropped by their label. This tumultuous time in his life led him to take on the persona of MF Doom and get back into the industry “on some revenge sh*t,” as explained by rapper JPEGMAFIA who drew inspiration from Dumile’s work. 

Suited with a Gladiator mask and fueled by a tragic start in the industry, this “Mad Villain” used his unparalleled rhyme scheme and ability to transfigure words and phrases in order to convey the stories of whatever character he chooses. 

The masked, villainous Doom character acted as an outlet for Dumile to get out his anger and frustrations and make the world around him in his image through music. Based on the Marvel villain Doctor Doom, fans like RV’s own senior Gabriel Wilson were drawn to this comic-like portrayal. “That [supervillain] aesthetic brought me in,” said Wilson when asked about Doom’s appeal.

“I make hip-hop, but use Doom as a character to convey stories,” Dumile explained in an interview with writer David Ma in 2018. “You have writers that write about crazy characters but that doesn’t mean the writer himself is crazy.”  

Dumile used other characters as well to portray stories such as King Geedorah and Viktor Vaughn. Dumile released albums “Madvillany” and “Operation: Doomsday” under the MF Doom persona, which included the iconic mask that he says separated him from the actual Doom character. He also released “Vaudeville Villain” under the Viktor Vaughn alias and “Take Me To Your Leader” under the alias King Geedorah. 

Dumile is not only known for, but praised for his rhyming skills. He uses what are called multi-syllabic rhyming phases. For example, as pointed out by “Vox” writer Estelle Castwell, in his song “Beef Rapp” he said:

The worst hated, God who perpetrated odd flavors

Demonstrated in the perforated Rod Lavers” 

Each bolded section is an internal rhyme, a popular poetic technique that underground rappers like Doom integrated into their songs. Other rappers, notably Notorious BIG, also utilized internal, multi-syllabic rhyming in songs like “Hypmotize.”  Fans believe Doom’s flow and storytelling abilities have made their mark on not just the underground hip-hop scene, but the hip-hop genre as a whole. Wilson even went as far as to dub him “The King of the Underground,” and many would agree. 

Among those who have been inspired by Doom are popular rappers like Logic, JID, Denzel Curry and Tyler the Creator, to name a few.

“Logic… would build up his character of being a young Sinatra… he took a lot of that [idea] of [using] characters and roleplaying from Doom,” said Wilson.

Fellow rapper Q-Tip referred to him as “your favorite MC’s MC,” in a tweet he released in response to the news of Doom’s passing. Other Hollywood and hip-hop fans, like Ghostface Killah, Danger Mouse and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def).

Doom’s legacy made headlines last week amid the excitement for President Biden’s inauguration. One of Doom’s songs, “Coffin Nails,” was chosen to be part of Biden and Harris’s inauguration playlist, to be played on Wednesday. Loyal Doom fans were quick to critique Biden for his choice. In 2010, while Biden was Vice President to Barack Obama, Dumile was denied reentry to the US after a European tour, citing concerns about his citizenship (his American citizenship has long been in question).

Despite the recent politicalization of his legacy, Doom inspired many during his time on Earth, and fulfilled a promise he made to his brother. When they were young, they determined that if one were to pass, the other would continue in their career in music and be successful. The personas, the stories, the rhymes and the legacy are what Doom leaves behind.