Neil Kulkarni pays tribute to the masked rap supervillain, whose passed away on New Year’s Eve
Even after a year in which music fans of all genres have been bludgeoned by bereavement, the news that emerged as 2020 ended that Daniel Dumile, aka MFDOOM, had died on 31st October, aged 49, hit hip-hop fans hard. Tributes immediately flooded in from across music — Thom Yorke, Questlove, Q-Tip, JPEGMafia, Flying Lotus, EL-P, Danny Brown and Tyler, The Creator just some of the names to pay tribute to Dumile’s unique talent.
Dumile was born in London in 1971 and moved to Long Island, New York at a young age. The first time many hip-hop fans heard his unique lyrical tangents was in a barnstorming cameo on 3rd Bass’ classic ‘The Gas Face’ — he appeared (and coined the title) as a member of KMD, an NYC rap trio wherein he performed under the name Zev Love X alongside his brother Dingilizwe, aka DJ Subroc. KMD were one of the great unsung crews in golden age hip-hop — their debut LP ‘Mr Hood’ stood alongside DeLa Soul’s ‘3 Feet High’ and Tribe Called Quest’s ‘People’s Instinctive Travels’ as a dazzling, hilarious, sampladelic highlight of the Daisy Age of rap.
Even in those early days though, Dumile’s flow didn’t quite fit into pre-existing rap narratives. His wordplay was dazzling, delirious, hysterical yet also focused, committed, bristling with political bite. KMD’s followup, ‘Black Bastards’ (one of the great lost albums of rap) scared its label Elektra not just with its title but its uncompromising sleeve featuring a lynched racist caricature: the crew were paid off, dropped, and shortly before the album’s completion Subroc was killed in a car accident. Zev Love X disappeared.
By the end of the ‘90s he’d resurfaced though, assuming a new identity, MF DOOM; fashioning his unique mask after Fantastic Four’s nemesis Doctor Doom, and dropping his debut ‘1999 Operation Doomsday’. ‘Doomsday’ was a stunning, whacked-out, psyche-rap masterpiece seething with off-kilter rhymes and a uniquely wide sample-palette, a record that gave Dumile the confidence to develop further alt-personas Viktor Vaughn and King Geedorah.
Perhaps the summit of his post-KMD work was in 2004’s ‘Madvillainy’ set, created alongside equally-unhinged producer Madlib and still a high-point in avant-garde, stoner-rap. Further collaborative albums with Danger Mouse, Bishop Nehru and Czarface, as well as guest appearances on tracks by Gorillaz, The Avalanches and BadBadNotGood further cemented DOOM’s status as a God of underground hip-hop.
For anyone cocking their ear away from the mainstream of US rap in the last two decades, Dumile’s loss hits hard. We will genuinely never see his like again. Rest In Power, you mad genius.