Features I by I 08.06.13

The genius of MF DOOM in 10 essential tracks

It’s actually really hard to try and fully convey the full magnitude and influence of infamous British-born rapper Daniel Dumile.

His music, released under his unique range 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.

1. MF Doom
‘Gas Drawls’
(Operation Doomsday, Fondle ‘Em, 1999)

‘Gas Drawls’ is simply the perfect first introduction to DOOM: it’s raw, it’s got that tinny hiss on his vocal track that adds to the overall ambience and tunes up the jack of the drum break, and it’s more straight-up than any of his weirder lyrical excursions. It’s simply DOOM on a focused display of his capacity as an emcee.

2. MF Doom 
‘Go With The Flow’/’Rhymes Like Dimes’
(Operation Doomsday, Fondle ‘Em, 1999)

Operation Doomsday was undoubtedly DOOM’s early defining moment. The Fondle ‘Em released album captured the sound of him finally reappearing all reinvigorated and super energetic after his former group, KMD, came to an abrupt end following the death of his brother Subroc. …Doomsday still feels like one of the best statements of intent possible – hence why the album’s been repressed multiple times over – and ‘Rhymes Like Dimes’ captures DOOM’s early approach to production gloriously with its simple looped and layered outlook. But it’s more about the combination of that beatmaking style and the endless barrage of lyrics, especially on ‘Rhymes Like Dimes’, that exemplifies his bewildering approach to the artform.

3. King Geedorah
‘Anti Matter’ (Ft. Mf Doom & Mr Fantastik)
(Take Me To Your Leader, Big Dada, 2003) 

People used to question my obsession with the Take Me To Your Leader album and I guess it was all with pretty good reason after watching their faces react when I’d start to tell them that it’s written from the perspective of King Geedorah, a mythical three headed gold leviathan from outer space. But ‘Anti Matter’ gives DOOM and Mr Fantastik’s dense wordplay the perfect space to breathe and features the first appearance on this list of DOOM’s drawl-like ‘singing’ which he’d go on to use consistently – to mixed effect – throughout his career.

4. Viktor Vaughn
(Vaudeville Villain, Sound-Ink, 2003) 

The Vaudeville Villain album that DOOM made as Viktor Vaughn featured a very different style of production as he forsook the sampler himself and instead entirely straddled beats from the Sound Ink label’s group of associated producers: Heat Sensor, King Money and Max Bill (as well as one cut from Def Jux affiliate, RJD2). As such, it gave the record a much thicker and direct sound than his intentionally zany, patchwork solo albums, and allowed DOOM to really take stock and shine as a lyricist. See ‘Lickupon’: a blow by blow assassination of anyone who considered themselves his competition at the time.

5. Madvillain
(Madvillainy, Stones Throw, 2004) 

That’s the Ninja Tune signed producer Daedelus (a person DOOM would go on to collaborate with on Daedelus’ Exquisite Corpse album) playing the title instrument in the video there, but your focus should more be on the musical impact of the pairing of DOOM and Madlib, responsible for sampling one of his Cali contemporaries so brazenly.

‘Accordion’ still gets the biggest crowd reception at DOOM’s live shows and that’s undoubtedly because it’s the key that opens his most celebrated work, the Madvillainy album. Maybe it’s got something to do with the track having such an easily recognisable introduction – accordions aren’t exactly ten a penny on rap records – or maybe, just maybe, it’s because he gets to say things like “shit-ta”, “aye aye captain” or “don’t touch the mic like it’s AIDS on it” in front of a crowd of drunk people. I dunno…

6. Madvillain
(Madvillainy, Stones Throw, 2004) 

Madvillainy is a quintessential concept piece – the whole album works best and makes the most sense when digested in one sitting, but  people always seem to be able find their own piece to love within it. ‘Raid’ is definitely one of those blink-and-you’ve-missed-it moments that pairs an overtly jaunty Madlib backdrop with one of the most direct and easily translatable DOOM verses on the album. Basically put, DOOM’s the shit and he knows it, so stop talking about it like you don’t know, because you should – he’s been putting in work and putting out records for long enough.

7. Viktor Vaughn
‘Fall Back Titty Fat’
(Vv:2/Venomous Villain, Insomniac, 2004) 

DOOM’s second album as Viktor Vaughn was a super short turn and a lot of people like to dismiss it in the wake of his shiny success records like MM..Food, Doomsday and Madvillainy. But, much like on Vaudeville Villain when he lets other people bring the beats, you just get a righteous display of his rapping ability. ‘Fall Back Titty Fat’ might just be where Tinie Tempah took his double time and d&b ending formula from.

8. MF Doom 
‘One  Beer’
(Mm…Food, Rhymesayers, 2004)

Like Stones Throw themselves do, you can also credit this one to Madvillain considering that a) it’s the same creative partnership and b) it was released by Stones Throw on 7” prior to popping up on DOOM’s MM..Food album. In the context of DOOM’s nourishment-themed record though, it’s a massive standout, sparking even more demand for a second Madvillain full-length both times it was released.

Incidentally, Madlib actually remixed and released the entire album over again as Madvillainy 2 (also on Stones Throw) whilst waiting for DOOM to get back into that particular headspace. But if you’re just out there on the internet looking for incredible remixes of Madvillain material, check the Four Tet remix of ‘Money Folder’. (You’re welcome.)

9. Dabrye
(Two/Three, Ghostly International, 2006)

I’ve already talked about DOOM’s success rate as a guest on other people’s music (or, more accurately, that his snide sense of humour and dictionary-like dexterity can capably bury any other emcee he goes alongside with). But, aside from his poignant verses for the likes of Gorillaz, Fog, Herbaliser, Babbletron, Quasimoto, Jake One, Daedelus and the like, this one rap he dropped on ‘Air’ from Dabrye’s Ghostly International released Two/Three album always takes the biscuit.

Production-wise, Dabrye’s always managed to sound like he’s channelling the future, and the combination of the two parties simply works, with that quick swelling, low point synth underlining every one of DOOM’s bars perfectly.

10. Doom
‘Microwave Mayo’
(Born Like This, Lex, 2009)

All things considered, DOOM’s 2009 Born Like This album was a pretty fucking emphatic comeback record. After working with the London based LEX Records on his collaboration with Dangermouse (as DANGERDOOM), DOOM hit out with another visionary solo disc. With production credits limited to himself and a small handful of trusted allies (including Madlib, Jake One and a certain J. Dilla), he reinstated his looming presence over an altered hi- hop landscape with real poise. ‘Microwave Mayo’ gets the tip here over a track like ‘Ballskin’, if only for a killer reference to Gene Roddenberry’s kitsch space adventure, Star Trek.

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