As someone who listened to a lot of alternative hip hop in the early to mid-00s, it’s actually really hard to try and fully convey the magnitude and influence of the infamous British-born rapper, Daniel Dumile.
His music, released under his unique plethora of guises, has an impossible number of high watermarks. His Stones Throw-released 2004 album, Madvillainy - a record made completely in collaboration with Californian producer, Madlib – was his first proper critical and commercial success. But even that was a wayward, slapdash swirl of blunted jazz loops and Dumile’s wonderfully skewed rhyming couplets. It wasn’t really a ‘pop’ moment in any traditional kind of sense but it certainly tipped the hip-hop mainstream off to Dumile’s work as MF DOOM (a name inspired by the Fantastic Four’s masked arch enemy, Dr Doom) and a solo catalogue that stretched back to 1999 and his bonafide classic debut album, Operation Doomsday.
As an artist DOOM’s still wildly unpredictable but (on record at least) he’s incredibly reliable, repeatedly proving himself to be one of those rappers whose work you have to have the moment it comes out, no matter what name he puts it out under. And that’s the real joy of him – aside from the fact that he wears a bastardized Gladiator mask on record covers and in public appearances – the guy thinks about his craft constantly and cares enough to invent different characters, storylines and narratives for each of his projects, often flicking between these personalities on individual tracks. As a result of such freewheeling you’ve got releases credited to Dumile as MF DOOM, his solo work from before he dropped the MF (which most commonly stands for Metal Face in reference to his mask, or Metal Fingers when he’s producing); King Geedorah, a three headed leviathan from outer space; Viktor Vaughn, a separate alias also culled from Marvel Comics’ Dr Doom supervillain (full name Victor Von Doom); and a string of full-length collaborations with the likes of Stones Throw progeny Madlib (as Madvillain), uber producer Dangermouse (as DANGERDOOM) and jazz twisting beat scientist Jneiro Jarel (as JJ DOOM).
DOOM’s someone whose music I could listen to for hours, even if you had to forego his raps and just listen to his production work and his nine Special Herbs instrumental albums – which I’ve done, a lot, before. I’ve already put in the time defending him to other hip-hop fans who’ve failed to connect to his trademark TV soundtrack jacking, primitive production with me extolling the virtues of his relentless and clunky cartoon sample mining till I’m argued into concentric circles. Lyrically, he’s like no other emcee, constantly injecting his raps with a dry sense of humour and an anatomical kind of wit rarely seen outside of his discography. Much like UK rapper Jehst, he’s the one artist whose guest verses always completely eclipse other people’s tracks (see DOOM’s bars on ‘Da Supafriendz’ from Vast Aire’s ultimately disappointing solo album Look Mom, No Hands) no matter how wild, hot or verbose the artist is. Often it’s not what he’s saying that’s so arresting, or laugh out loud impressive; it’s the way in which he’s saying it. It’s the colloquialisms and observations that he shoehorns into his verses that enable you to keep coming back to his music and find new syllable patterns and new favourite lines years later.
As such, the idea of picking out DOOM’s essential tracks is kind of akin to picking your favourite teenage sexual conquest: they all have their own shape, merit and (physically arousing) memories tied to them. Often, as in the case of DOOM’s King Geedorah album on Big Dada or the first Viktor Vaughn album, the records are thematic and individual pieces are tied quite closely to the tracks that surround them. Knowing that one can’t just post YouTube links to entire albums for you to listen to, digest and fall in love with at your own pace, what follows is a collection of highlights from the career of one of hip-hop’s most prolific underground artists.
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