Obituary: MF Doom, Elusive and Masterful Rapper

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MF Doom, elusive and masterful rapper, has died aged 49.

New Years Eve. As many celebrated and waved goodbye to a painful year, 2020 had one last trick up its sleeve. The wife of the underground hip-hop icon MF DOOM announced late into the night that the rapper had died on Halloween of last year. Jasmine Dumile posted a photo of the rapper and a heartfelt message on his Instagram page. She called him the “greatest husband” and father and thanked him for showing her how not to be “afraid to love.” 

To his family and associates he was Daniel Dumile, but to many – he was widely known by the stage name MF DOOM. The MC was one of the most influential rap lyricists of the 2000s and some fans believe possibly all time. Born in London in 1975, Dumile grew up on Long Island and would go on to live the majority of his life in New York.

In 1988, he adopted the persona of MF DOOM, inspired by the character of Doctor Doom from Marvel Comics’ Fantastic Four. From then on, he would rarely perform or be seen in public without his signature mask. His British origins, along with his personal life were obscured along with his identity for years. Nevertheless, he was a true British poet in the tradition of Keats, Wilde and Shakespeare. His importance as a poet cannot be denied. 

His 2002 album Madvillainy, a collaborative effort with producer Madlib, is cited by countless rappers and fans as one of the most influential records in rap history. It can be found near the top of just about every ‘Best Hip Hop albums of all time’ list. In 2005, he gained further notoriety working with producer Danger Mouse on the 2005 project DANGERDOOM. Always the enigma, he was committed to an aura of mystery and character study on every level. Throughout the course of his career, he chose to adopt a variety of monikers from MF DOOM to Viktor Vaughn to King Geedorah to Zev Love X. 

There was never much in the way of commercial success attained by DOOM. Despite this, he was a staple of the underground and was universally admired among hip-hop fans and artists alike. Behind the theatrics of the mask and anonymity was a technically proficient lyricist and every aspect of his artistry was undoubtedly unmatched. The rhymes, flows and cadences displayed in his work consistently challenged established artistic structures. Each verse was full to the brim with metaphors and clever wordplay. Multiple listens to decipher the hidden or multiple meanings of words were necessary. 

Even beyond the names, DOOM was a shape-shifter, embodying every aspect of his characters. He could craft a world into his music. On Madvillainy, he adopted the villainous Madvillain persona, and would rap from that perspective on dense and complex tracks like “Accordion” and “All Caps”. On DANGERDOOM, he leaned into the project’s cartoonish nature with Adult Swim audio clips and tongue-in-cheek lyrics like the playful “Sofa King”. Elsewhere on 2004’s Mm..Food, he was able to craft an acclaimed album based entirely on food metaphors and imagery, without ever dipping into needless parody.

Character, charisma, humour, wordplay – DOOM had it all; He always reflected the mirror back on hip-hop throughout his career, challenging people to think deeper into the lyrics . He strived to improve the underground hip-hop scene, challenging his listeners with multidimensional wordplay. He was a creative pillar for many, including a lot of the current musical landscape, not just hip hop. His music and creativity meant a lot to many and he will be sorely missed.

Words by Warren Bradley.

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