In hip hop, MF DOOM is in a class of his own. The self-titled antihero’s influence easily reaches into the deepest corners of the underground, making him probably one of the few rappers everyone can agree on. His mysterious mask, the many comic book references and his complex lyrics have cult status. Celebrated across genres today, however, the British-American Daniel Dumile’s entry into music was anything but easy. Back then under the name Zef Love X, he founds the group KMD in 1988 together with his brother DJ Subroc. In 1991 they release the vinyl Mr. Hood, a playful album of funk and jazz samples that even makes it onto Pitchfork’s “Best of the decade” list. Here we already get an inkling of the rapper’s later style. Soon, however, the group comes to an end after Dumile’s brother suffers a fatal accident and the label leaves them stranded with their second record. The rapper goes through a years-long low, leaves the music and retreats. It’s not until the end of the 90s that we hear from him again, when he appears on Open Mics, with a small but important addition to his appearance: an iron mask. His persona MF DOOM is born.
Inspired by the Marvel villain Doctor Doom, who becomes evil after a personal tragedy, Dumile releases his first solo record Operation: Doomsday in 1999. Here, on jazz and soul beats, he tells of the setbacks of his past and, by means of samples and skits, repeatedly draws parallels to the Marvel universe. Recorded not in the studio but in his own four walls, the raw lo-fi album forms the basis for everything that will follow from the hip hop anti-hero in the years to come. His DIY approach is consequently reflected everywhere you see the rapper, as well as on MF DOOM merch. The name, though his most famous, is just one of many pseudonyms: over the years, Dumile creates his own universe of characters and stories. Thus, in 2003, his film-inspired album Take Me to Your Leader is released under the name King Geedorah, and shortly thereafter Vaudeville Villain, on which he transforms himself into the stranded time traveler Viktor Vaughn. A year later, he teams up with the scene-famous DJ Madlib and releases an album under the name Madvillain, which many consider his masterpiece. The cover of the vinyl is at least as famous as MF DOOM himself. The associative lyrics, Madlib’s multi-faceted beats and the short, to the point tracks eventually give the hip hop villain legendary status and even inspire artists like Thom Yorke.
After the mainstream success of Madvillainy, Dumile is not allowed a creative break – his albums VV:2 and Mm..Food are released in the same year. Widely acclaimed by the press, the latter forms a concept album on which MF DOOM wittily combines stories from the street with the theme of food. He attracts public attention especially with his live performances, when he often sends a double on stage to avoid having to perform himself. His releases remain multifaceted, and he follows up with another solo album and various collaborations, such as with the internationally respected DJ Danger Mouse, producer Jneiro Jarel or rapper Bishop Nehru. Dumile can also prove himself as a producer when he releases a whole 10 records of his own beat creations over the years with his Special Herbs series. Towards the end of his life, his public appearance reduces, which probably has to do with the death of his son in 2017. In October 2020, Dumile dies at the age of only 49. The cause of death unclear, he leaves behind a rich oeuvre and an influence on hip hop that few can match.